I'm practicing a martial art and I'd like to work on my cardio. To do that most people run, but I've had knee problems so I'd rather pick up swimming instead (I also enjoy it more to be honest...). I'd say I already have a decent swimming technique.

My question is this : how should I train ? Should I go for interval training with short, fast distances in crawl with recuperation periods, or just swim long distances in crawl ?

Bearing in mind that my main goal isn't to progress in swimming itself, but rather to work on my cardio (primarily) and maybe along the way buff a little.

I think I'll be doing besides swimming two, maybe three practicing sessions of my martial art in a week, and if I have the time go to the gym once a week.

What do you guys recommend ?

  • 1
    I have no comprehensive answer with proper sources so I will only shortly comment what works for me. I divided my training into 2 parts: 1) Technique and Sprints/Intervals -- I do technique exercises, also with paddles + fins, dolphin kick, butterfly, crawl etc. When I have my stamina back I go for a few 50 m sprints, exhausting pace. Resting during technique exercise. This will take me 1 hour. Then 10-15 minutes rest in warm relax pool and then --> part 2) long distances at slow/average pace. 3x 400m or 1x 1500m crawl and I am quite KO, satisfied and I can go home, eat, sleep, repeat.
    – tsykora
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 22:32
  • thanks for your answer ! that sounds like a tough workout ^^
    – user10653
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 18:03

3 Answers 3


As someone who's been a competitive swimmer for many years, my input is this:

You state that you're doing 3x martial arts and 1x gym workouts per week, which can be plenty or not enough depending on your physical fitness level. It's up to you how much swimming you want to incorporate into your busy schedule, but one way to approach your situation (to avoid further knee problems for now, at least) is to make swimming a bigger priority than the other two. This means swimming 3-4 times/week, starting each following day with a warm-up of 100 extra yards and working down a ladder at a slow to medium pace, before getting to the high intensity part of the workout.

For example... if you swim on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday... slow to medium pace warm-up would be like:

  • 1st Monday: 100 yds
  • 1st Tuesday: 200 yds then 100 yds
  • 1st Thursday: 300 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds
  • 1st Friday: 400 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds


  • 2nd Monday (cut back 100): 300 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds
  • 2nd Tuesday: 400 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds
  • 2nd Thursday: 500 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds
  • 2nd Friday: 600 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds


  • 3rd Monday (cut back 100): 500 yds then 200 yds then 100 yds
  • and so on...

Always use freestyle (the crawl) for the first rep in the warmup set, and after that you can mix strokes for the remaining reps of the warmup set if you want. I find this works extremely well for me. After the warm up set, on days when I'm up for it I will throw in plenty of short burst, short distance HIIT (high intensity interval training) reps using my favorite strokes. You can do the same. By doing this, it's possible to get cardio to a comfortable zone all around and eventually swim miles nonstop.

Just remember that muscle recovery and eating well is just as important, and you'll do great with cardio.

  • thanks for your answer ! I'm not sure I'll be able to go swimming that often though... 3 martial art + 1 gym is the optimistic and upper bound, 2 martial art is the lower bound. I don't think I'll have the time to swim more than twice a week
    – user10653
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 17:57

Speaking as both a long time (30 yr) martial artist and a former (17 yrs) competitive swimmer, there are a few considerations when using swimming as your sole cardio support.

Swimming: I would first progress until you have a solid endurance type base for swimming. Since you do martial arts 3x and gym 1x per week, you initially don't want to be adding in a lot of intensity on top of your other training. I would recommend a program such as Ruth Kazez's 0 to 1650 program (1 mile). While this is 3 more workouts per week, as a decent swimmer you should be able to complete the full distances each workout in 1/2 hour or less. It's also very minimal impact, so it shouldn't interfere with other training.

Once you get to that base level, you can start adding in short (50's to no more than 200's) fast intervals on short rests, such as 10x50, :15 rest hard effort. That is swimmer speak for do 10 intervals of 50 meters/yards at a high effort level, with 15 seconds rest in between each 50. Aim for around 1200-1800 meters per workout, with one high intensity day, one distance day (such as 2x600 or 3x400) and one mix day. This should support both the endurance and short burst cardio that you will need when doing sparring and long days at tournaments or testings.

The thing that you will need to consider and make sure that you get in your martial arts training is the agility/balance type work that you need to support sparring. Swimming will work the engine, but won't do much for footwork and short burst attack type activity, especially for the legs. I would get a book on agility drills or download some of the available PDF's and add a few of those each week. Those can be done in short 10 minute segments 2-3x per week. This is only if you need it as a supplement, if you are covering that in your classes, then no need to add the extra.

  • thanks for the answer ! actually my martial art training does involve a lot of footwork/agility/speed training. that's why I felt that swimming would be kind of complementary (without any other training, I've found I tend to have strong legs and abdominals but a comparatively underdevelopped upper body). regarding my current level in swimming, I can swim for 2 km straight in crawl (though not very fast), but apparently shorter distances are more relevant ?
    – user10653
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 17:54
  • @glougloubarbaki - Probably, yes. You are going to get more of your short burst, high intensity work which is more applicable to sparring and class work than slogging through 2km straight. Anything from 50-400m, the shorter you go, the faster it should be. Once a week throw in something like 4x500 or 2x1000 to work on steady state endurance as well.
    – JohnP
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 21:38
  • by the way, since I signed up after posting the question, it looks like I can't accept the answer now :(
    – user10653
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 23:30
  • No worries. If the answer is useful, it's all good.
    – JohnP
    Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 3:14
  • just to be clear, you suggest that each workout should be first Ruth Kazer's program (which at the end is 1500m straight) then short distances bursts around 1200-1800m ? or is it just the short distances once I am at the level of the end of Kazer's program ?
    – user10653
    Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 14:12

I'm guessing you're about 17? Think about what you really.. Truly are seeking out of this life of cardiovascular health and ninjitsu.

If you haven't already, pick up Tao of Jeet Kune Do by the none other than the formless form, Bruce Lee. Also, for perspective, getting pumped up for sparring or just totally living please watch Dragon:The Bruce Lee story

Walking vigorously out of the question for you ninja? If hiking up 45 degree grades isn't enough for you, try farmers walks. Just carry a bunch of water on both sides, more than you need. That's very low impact compared to all out running but if you're intent on swimming it's hard to fault you...

It's the only completely total body anaerobic and aerobic exercise I know of, and certainly the only one that is comparatively, zero impact.

I don't know the specifics of your knee or other malladies but I will give you the best investment of your life for free- high tech health far infra-red sauna. Look em up, buy a single person one and watch the magic happen.

  • well unfortunately I don't have ancient chinese mountains near where I live, sifu... also I practice karate, not ninjutsu
    – user10653
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 18:00

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