Pool Running: Should You Try It?

aqua jogging

Can’t run on pavement because of an injury or the weather?

Try pool running.

This is something athletes use to keep themselves in shape. Runners and triathletes use this to stay fit when they aren’t able to train on land. For some it’s a cross-training technique that allows them to work their muscles with less stress and strain.

In this article, we take a deeper look at this form of water workout, and how you can use it to help get your self fit.


What is Pool Running?

Pool Running

Pool running is just what it sounds like, running in the pool.

It comes by many other names as some refer to is as aqua running, while others who prefer to go at lower intensities call it aqua jogging.

Whatever you decide to call this form of water based exercise, one thing is for sure. It is a way to keep yourself in shape when you aren’t able to run on land.

This can be either because:

  • Your body and joints have taken too much of a pounding from the high impact of running on pavement and you need to give them a break from it, but you don’t want to lose your conditioning.
  • Or, you’re coming back or rehabbing from injury and trying to strengthen your foot, ankle, knee and leg muscles.

Doing pool running means that you’re able to stay fit and keep your muscles in shape while doing workouts that are impact free. This makes it safer on the joints and doesn’t cause it to aggravate any wear and tear injuries or existing injuries you may have.

Instead of running or jogging on land, you do it in a swimming pool. This does mean you need a pool that’s long enough so you can cover distance on each lap. The pool also needs to be deep enough so you don’t end up with the water only reaching up to your waist.

The movement simulates the same motion you go through when you jog or run on land.

That way you can recruit the same muscles and practice the range of motion as well as get your heartrate to the right level to maintain your fitness level.


Pool Running Basics: How to Aqua Jog

aqua jogging 2

When it comes to pool running, there are 2 common ways it’s often done.

  1. With your feet touching the bottom of the pool.
  2. Without your feet touching the bottom of the pool.


Feet Touching the Bottom of the Pool

In the first method, you won’t need a pool that’s as deep, since you want your feet to be able to reach to bottom of the pool. A pool that’s deeper, say one that reaches your chest compared to one that only gets up to your waist, gives you more resistance due to the water volume.

In this method, with each stride your feet propel you through the water. This allows you to do various types of cross-training like going forward, backward or to the sides.

Feet Don’t Touch the Pool Floor

In the second method, where your feet don’t touch, you will need a deeper pool. Or, at least a pool with a deep section wherein even with feet extended, you can’t reach its bottom.

In this type of water workout, you will need a floating device (a waist float or aqua vest) to keep you steady on the water surface. This way you can focus on your leg movement instead of trying to keep yourself afloat.

Unlike the first method, this is more of a run in place kind of workout.

Why Not Swim Instead?

Swimming is a great way to maintain cardiovascular fitness. It improves stamina and ups your conditioning level. However, it does recruit a whole different set of muscles, majority of which is in the upper body. The entire motion involved in swimming is also different.

Aqua jogging or running was created as a way for runners and triathletes to keep themselves in shape when they aren’t able to run on pavement.

The running motion allows them to recruit the same muscles they’ll be using for their main sport. In doing so it not only lets you maintain fitness levels but also offers neuromuscular benefits in terms of muscle memory. This way when you get back on running on land, your technique is sound and not rusty.


Importance of Proper Form & Technique

As just mentioned, part of the purpose of running in the pool is to hone and maintain your form. This means that it’s not just about moving your legs whichever way you can to work the muscles and maintain conditioning.

To get the most of out of your aqua running workouts, you need to use good technique and keep proper form.

  1. Keeping the body straight through the exercise and avoiding leaning forward. Lifting your knees higher will help counter the natural effect of wanting lean forward in the water.
  2. Also remember to keep up the pace, while maintaining proper elbow position.
  3. Shorter strides allow you to keep a faster pace so you can maintain your heartrate.

Here’s a video demonstration of the techniques that will help you develop proper pool running form.

If you prefer not using any floating device and use the touch the floor method, this watch this video instead.


Benefits of Aqua Running or Jogging

Pool running offers a number of benefits for runners as well as anyone looking to stay or get fit.

  • It offers a very low to no impact way of running. This lets you train even if you have lower limb issues like fasciitis, shin splints or tendonitis.
  • They give you a good aerobic workout.
  • You work your muscles and also are able to practice and improve running form and technique.
    There’s no extra equipment necessary (aside from the pool), if you’re going to do aqua running or jogging with your feet touching the pool’s floor.

This does sound great as it offers a good way for athletes to get some type of workout when they otherwise may not have been able to.

However, does it really work, and does it stack up to running on land?

Here’s what scientific research says.

Researchers found that for trained distance runners, doing aqua running as just as effective as running on land to maintain aerobic performance.

Over a 6 week test period, there was no difference observed in VO2max, ventilatory threshold, and running economy for participants who were made to train (run) on a treadmill and those who performed deep water running.

The 2 groups also had no significant differences between them when it came to maximum blood glucose, blood lactate, plasma norepinephrine concentration and body composition.

But how about actual race performance?

Another study recruited 11 competitive runners and put them through a 4 week pool running program. To see the effects of deep water running on their performance, the runners competed in 5 km races on a treadmill linked to a computer tracking system.

The researchers found that there were no significant differences in 5-K times as well as submaximal or maximal oxygen consumption, running velocity and lactate threshold.

This led them to conclude that the deep water running program worked well as an alternative to training on land for runners.


Pool Running Workout for Beginners

This is a quick workout you can use to get started with aqua jogging. It is fairly easy and you’ll notice a few changes in pace along the way.

Pool Running Workout

Warm Up: 5 minutes of easy pool jogging

Main Workout:

  • 2 minutes of a fast pace
  • Then 2 minutes at an easy pace
  • 2 minutes at a fast pace
  • Then 2 minutes at the easy pace
  • 2 minutes of easy recovery