All About Pool Running

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Pool running is a great option for runners for cross-training. Most runners assume that it’s a form of rehabilitation training, but the truth is, it can be an excellent workout if you do it right.

It might look weird. It might feel uncomfortable at first. And you might think that it can’t possibly burn calories, build muscle, or improve your fitness… But you’d be surprised!

Read on to learn all about pool running and how to do it properly for max benefits.

What Is Pool Running?

Pool running, also called aqua jogging, is just like it sounds—running in a pool (or a lake or pond).

It’s a great form of cross-training for runners because it mimics the same movements as running without the impact. It will naturally feel slightly different because the water adds resistance and keeps you weightless. But it can give you a nice full-body workout.

Types of Pool Running

You can get a different workout depending on the type of pool running you do.

There are two methods: deep-water running and shallow-water running. We highly recommend adding both to your training if you’re seriously doing pool running as your cross-training.

Deep-Water Running

Deep-water running is done in any body of water where you can float without your feet touching the bottom. You’ll need a flotation device. It can be done in the deep end of a pool or a body of water outdoors.

Shallow-Water Running

Shallow-water running is done in waist- to chest-deep water. In this case, your feet will be touching the bottom, which means it has a slight bit more impact than deep-water running, but still much less than regular running.

You can do this in any pool you can stand in—we don’t often recommend lakes or ponds for shallow-water running since you risk hurting your feet if you can’t see the bottom.

Why Is Pool Running a Good Training Option for Runners?

Pool running is pretty similar to running… Just minus the impact.

It’s fantastic for the joints. You can get a full cardio and muscular workout without the impact, and you’ll still work the same muscles as running.

There’s no need to worry about injuring yourself doing cross-training or not getting “running” benefits out of things like elliptical, rowing, cycling, etc. Pool running gives you the best running and cross-training in a low-impact package.

Benefits of Pool Running

Not convinced of the greatness of pool running? Here are a few of the benefits you can expect:

  • Increased cardiovascular strength
  • Increased muscle strength
  • More upper-body engagement
  • Low- to no-impact on joints
  • Increased range of motion
  • Alleviation of stiffness
  • Reduced chances of injury

Keep reading to understand how pool running offers these benefits!

Pool Running vs. Traditional Running: Key Differences

We’re all runners here, so we understand that it can be difficult not to run on a rest or cross-training day when you’re passionate about the sport.

Which makes pool running a really good choice of cross-training. It’s similar enough to the real thing to feel like you’re going for a run.

But there are some key differences between the two that you should understand so you know why it’s such a great complement to your weekly running schedule.

Impact

When you run on the road, the trail, the track, or even the treadmill, the impact on your joints is high.

The legs and feet entirely support your body’s weight, and when you add gravity to the mix, your feet can take on up to 4 times your body weight on every step!

With pool running, even if you’re doing shallow-water running with your feet on the bottom, the impact is lessened significantly as water decreases the pull of gravity.

Muscle Engagement

Regular running engages much more of the lower body than the upper body. You’ll get plenty of activation in the quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and core. There’s not much upper-body engagement at all.

However, pool running—provided you’re doing it with your upper body under the water—engages the upper body muscles to help you maintain proper form.

When your upper body is under the water, it’s also affected by the resistance of the water, so those muscles need to work as well as your lower body.

Resistance

As mentioned, running in water adds resistance. When you run out of water, the only resistance you fight against is the air.

Have you ever run in a strong wind and noticed how you get a harder workout? That’s the principle behind pool running. With something to push against, your muscles must work harder, which helps you build muscle much more than regular running.

Heat Regulation

Running can easily lead to heat-related problems, like dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Pool running, on the other hand, is an amazing way of cooling down while still getting an excellent workout.

Don’t forget, though—you still need to drink enough to stay hydrated! But you’re much less likely to overheat when you’re in the water since the water regulates your body temperature.

Intensity

Traditional running has a wide array of intensity options. You can take an easy run, do a high-intensity interval session, and a range in between. Pool running also includes multiple intensity options, but you’re a little more limited in the water than on land.

Equipment Required

We all know what equipment we need (and want) to run! Pool running doesn’t require the same gear as regular running, but depending on what type you’d like to do and how much you get into it, you may want to invest in a flotation device and a tether.

Comparison Overview: Running vs Pool Running

Who Should Do Pool Running?

Everybody! Whether you’re a new runner, an experienced runner, an injured runner, or a fit and healthy runner, pool running is a superb choice.

It’s particularly great for runners with tight hip flexors, those who spend many hours a day behind a desk, and runners living in very hot areas.

Overweight runners will also benefit from switching out a few traditional runs with pool runs, as it’ll give the joints a break and help to promote increased fitness.

Recovering From Injury

There’s a misconception that pool running is ONLY for runners recovering from injury. While anybody can do it whether you’re injured or not, it is an excellent form of cross-training to keep you active and maintain your fitness while you’re injured.

Your muscles work the same way while running, but you don’t have to contend with the impact on your joints. This is an excellent alternative to running when you have a foot or ankle injury, and you want to stay active.

Also, the pressure of the water against your skin can stimulate circulation and accelerate healing. It also relieves pain, so this is a great choice for injured runners to do while they can’t run.

Avoiding Injury

If you aren’t injured, you can still opt for pool running as a form of cross-training. Its low-impact nature means you’ll be less at risk of developing an injury, especially if you’re running and cross-training intensely.

It’s a superb cross-training choice for heavier runners, giving you a workout that takes most of the pressure off your joints. It’s also a great option for runners with arthritis—you can exercise without the risk of aggravating your pain points.

How to Pool Run

Wondering how to get started with pool running? Here’s what you need to know to start.

Find a Suitable Pool

If you’ve got a pool in your backyard, you can use it. Many gyms and fitness centers also have pools. Ideally, you want a pool with a shallow end where you can stand and a deep end where your feet don’t touch the bottom.

That way, you can alternate between deep-water running and shallow-water running. Also, consider finding a pool with somewhere to attach a tether if you want to add more resistance.

Get a Flotation Belt

You don’t need a flotation belt, but it can help keep proper form. Some gyms have aqua jogging floaters that you can use. Thankfully, flotation devices are relatively affordable and easy to find, so it’s worth investing in.

You wear it just below your rib cage—not around your hips—and it helps to keep you floating just enough that you won’t have to sacrifice form when you start to fatigue.

Attach a Tether to Your Running Belt

A tether is a rope that you attach to something on the side of the pool or outside of the pool to keep you in one place. This will help you to get a great workout without needing to constantly turn around when you reach the side of the pool!

It also adds more resistance to your pool running, so you can expect to get more of a muscular workout when using one. It’s not necessary, but it can be convenient and add a bit more challenge.

Use Proper Pool Running Form

Proper water running form should be very close to your natural running form, with just a few slight changes. The biggest key to maintaining good form in the pool is to stay upright—try not to lean forward with your upper body.

You’ll need to lift your knees a little higher and kick back less than on land. Also, you should pump your arms a little more through the water than you do on land. Here are a few key things to pay attention to when pool running.

  • Keep an upright posture.
  • Pump your arms hard.
  • Clench your fists while running.
  • Drive your knee upwards.
  • Drive your foot downwards.
  • Use a full range of motion.
  • Aim for your usual cadence.
  • Focus on something just above the edge of the pool.
  • Keep your feet quite relaxed.

Here’s a quick tutorial on pool running by the great Jeff Galloway:

Pool Running Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these common mistakes if you want to get the most benefit out of pool running.

  • Not Warming Up: Every workout needs a warm-up. Do some dynamic stretching and a few easy laps of the pool before getting into it.
  • Using the Wrong Form: There are slight differences between regular running form and pool running form. Work on getting it right in the pool.
  • Swing the Arms Side-to-Side: Your arms shouldn’t move across your body. They should move up/down or forward/backward while staying at your sides.
  • Rocking the Shoulders: Your shoulders should remain still. If you struggle with this, tighten your core and work on keeping your whole torso stable.
  • “Scooping” Water: If you pool run with an open hand, it can be easy to “scoop” water behind you like regular swimming. However, this should be avoided when pool running as it lessens the effectiveness of your movement.
  • Rocking Your Head: Your head should remain still, like your shoulders. Relax your neck and shoulder muscles and remember to keep your core tight.
  • Hunching Over: The biggest key to proper pool running form is to keep your back straight and your posture upright. Focus on this until it becomes a habit.
  • Not Cooling Down: Spend a few minutes cooling down after your session. You can do a few more easy laps to finish off.

Pool Running Workouts You Can Try

Ready to try pool running as cross-training? Here are some great aqua jogging workouts that translate really well to runners.

Fartlek

  • Warm Up: 10 minutes, easy
  • Intervals: 3 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, x 4
  • Intervals: 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, x 4
  • Cool Down: 10 minutes, easy

The Pyramid

  • Warm Up: 5 minutes, easy
  • 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy
  • 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 3 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 4 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 5 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 4 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 3 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
  • 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy
  • Cool Down: 10 minutes, easy

Pool Sprints

  • Choose your own sprint intervals based on your ability.
  • Example: 10 x 30 seconds hard, 5 minutes easy, repeat.
  • Example: 20 x 20 seconds hard, 2 minutes easy, 10 x 30 seconds moderate, 2 minutes easy, 5 x 20 seconds hard.
  • 20 x 1 minute all-out, recover fully in between.

The Child

  • Warm Up: 10 minutes, easy.
  • 10 seconds moderate, 10 seconds sprint, 10 seconds recovery.
  • 20 seconds moderate, 20 seconds sprint, 20 seconds recovery.
  • 30 seconds moderate, 30 seconds sprint, 30 seconds recovery.
  • Repeat up to 1 minute and work your way back down.
  • Cool Down: 10 minutes, easy.

Intervals

  • Warm Up: 10 minutes, easy.
  • 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy.
  • 1 minute hard, 30 seconds easy.
  • Repeat the 2 above 8 to 10 times.
  • Cool Down: 10 minutes, easy.
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.