There is nothing more frustrating as a runner than waiting for your body to heal from an injury. Your doctor has told you to keep weight off your leg/foot/knee. As you sit there imagining your fitness slipping away as you wait for the thumbs-up to return to training, you start to wonder why there isn’t some form of running you could safely do. Enter pool running. If you find yourself trying to come back from an injury, or even if you just want to add something new into your fitness routine, pool running is a great choice. It has zero impact and a very low risk for injury, so it’s safe for both healthy and injured runners.
In this article, we’ll discuss pool running, why it’s important, why it’s helpful for injury recovery, proper pool running form, some tips, and pool workouts. This article will be everything you need to start pool running.
What is Pool Running?
No matter what name you use—aqua jogging, pool running, or deep water running—it’s all the same. In short, pool running is running in the deep end of the pool.
Swimming is a great cross-training option for running, but pool running is even better because it is very similar to the actual running movement.
But in some respects, it’s way better than running because it’s zero impact. Because you’re not actually touching the bottom of the pool, there’s no pounding on your feet. This is especially helpful if you have a high-risk stress fracture and are not going to be able to run for a while.
You’ll need access to a pool with a deep end deep enough that you won’t touch the bottom, but there’s a good chance that you can find that at your local YMCA, depending on how tall you are.
Pool Running vs Regular Running
In terms of form, pool running and regular running are almost completely identical. You’ll lean slightly less forward in pool running versus regular running. This means that you’ll get all the benefits of regular running in the pool.
At the same time, you can benefit your joints and strengthen your ligaments with regular running in ways that pool running can’t match, although it’s very low impact.
But you will be exerting the same amount of fitness, even if pool running requires a little bit more preparation. You’ll probably want a flotation device, you’ll have to go when the pool is open, and it may cost you some money.
On the upside, though, pool running is probably the best alternative to running outside in summer heat!
Pool Running and Injuries
While both non-injured and injured runners can incorporate pool running into their routines, pool running is particular the choice of injured runners because it’s a way to keep up training even with an injury.
Why is pool running good for injured runners?
Pool running is great because you can instantly transition your running plan into the pool. You’ll even be able to spend more time running because you really can’t hurt yourself. Your form in the pool will be very similar to your traditional running form.
There are a variety of studies out there confirming that pool running is very similar to running on the pavement, and you’ll be able to maintain your running fitness for up to 4-6 weeks, which is great news if you have to recover from an injury.
The only injury you might want to avoid taking to the pool is a hip flexor injury, as the added resistance of the water can aggravate the injury when you bring your leg up.
Finally, as a side benefit, pool running is great when you’re recovering from an injury because it gives you something to do instead of watching Netflix and bemoaning the fact that you can’t go outside.
Should non-injured runners incorporate pool running?
The answer is unequivocally yes. Pool running is a great, low-impact way to cross-train with minimal downsides. And pool running is a great recovery tool to repair weakened muscles post-workout.
Plus, pool running will help you burn more calories than running on the road. If you’re looking to lose a couple pounds, you might be more successful heading to the pool than heading to the road.
As coach Doug Stern observes, “Without exaggeration, every single one of the runners who takes my pool-running classes gets faster on the roads.”
Gear Needed to Pool Running
The reality is that once you’ve started pool running, and if you can swim decently well, you might not need any gear at all. But until you get to that point, a water belt or Aquajogger will keep you afloat. This might seem odd in conjunction with a flotation device, but a tether to anchor you down also helps.
Lynda Huey, an elite runner coach who incorporates pool running workouts into her athletes’ plans, observes that it’s okay to move around the pool some if it’s a casual workout or a recovery workout. But if you’re focused on high-intensity training, you probably want a tether.
Additionally, you may even want to keep using the water belt/Aquajogger because it’s going to improve your form. You’ll certainly have to work harder without one, but you’ll be doing it the right way with a water belt.
Pool Running Form
If you’re doing it right, your running in the pool should look pretty similar to your running on pavement. If you’re not a good swimmer or are just getting into pool running, you might want to purchase an aqua jogging belt.
Keep the upper half of your body upright. Try not to lean forward too much. This is slightly different from good running form on the road. You’ll also want a higher knee lift and tighter back kick in the pool as compared to running on the road.
Huey notes that pool running is really only the back half of the running motion. One tip she gives: if you can see your feet when in the deep end, it’s not proper form for pool running.
Something that can be very helpful to do is finding a point where your eyes can stare straight ahead. This keeps the head level. You want to be as smooth as possible without any excess movement.
Remember, you’re not trying to get anywhere. You should stay roughly in the same location and focus on good form and turnover rate. If you find yourself inching forward on a regular basis, use a tether, attaching it to a ladder, starting block, or a tree if you’re outside.
Safety Tips When Pool Running
If you’re new to pool running, you might want to consider seeing if there is a class or a coach at your local pool facility to get you started on the right foot. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re able to swim or get a flotation device so that something bad doesn’t happen.
You may even be able to continue running in the pool if you’re older and if you’re pregnant, but be sure to check with your doctor first and discuss any safety concerns you might want to keep in mind.
Like anything, there is a right way to pool run and a wrong way. And there are typical mistakes that newbies make. We’ll cover just some of them below, as well as ways to correct them.
Swinging Your Arms Across Your Chest
This is unnecessary, jerky movement. Instead, you should have your arms pulled straight forward and back. This of course is exactly what you should do when you’re running on the road, too.
Rocking Your Shoulders Back and Forth
Again, this is like running on the road. Your torso shouldn’t be the thing moving—only your arms and legs should. While the arms do move at the shoulder, your shoulders should not move.
Bending and Straightening Your Elbow
Keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle. There should not be movement at the elbow, just movement of your arms. This is also true when running normally.
Extending Your Elbow Too Much
You should pull your elbow back so that your hand comes all the way to your hip. If you’re extending your elbow too much, you’re not pulling it back far enough.
Rocking Your Head From Side to Side
As mentioned earlier, you should find a focal point for your eyes to stare at straight ahead to encourage your head not to wobble. Your head should be as level as possible with no movement.
There are so many options for pool workouts on the internet. Here are three that you might want to try, but know that there are so many others out there.
Start by 15 minutes of easy pool running for a warm up. Then work your way up and down the pyramid (1 min, 2 min, 3 min, 4 min, 5 min, and down) at hard effort, except the 5 minute interval at tempo effort. Each interval has one minute of active recovery. Cool down with 12 minutes of easy pool running.
Warm up with 10 minutes of easy running, do 30 seconds of sprinting, 30 seconds of medium tempo effort, 30 seconds of sprint, 30 seconds of medium, and 30 seconds of rest. Then repeat 12-15 times and end with a 10-minute cool down.
Start with a 10 minute warm up. Then do 10 seconds of sprint, easy, and medium, followed in 10 second increments all the way up to 70 seconds and then back down. End with a 10-minute cool down of easy running.
Pool running is a great alternative if you’re looking for some new cross-training options or if you want to keep running while injured. Now it’s up to you to find a deep enough pool in your area to do it!