Pool Running

Pool Running

Pool Running

For me to make it through an entire season (almost full year) of Ultras I have to be in-tune with my body.  I have to recognize signs of fatigue and listen to what my body tells me.  If not I will get sick or end up with an injury that could affect me immediately or later in the season, preventing me to perform at my best or performing at all.  I also want to do the most training that I can to be prepared for race day.  To avoid injury and to take my performance to the next level, I do a lot of workouts in the water.  Have you ever thought about training in the water?  Not swimming!  I’m talking about the popular sport of Aqua Jogging.  It’s almost as boring as swimming, and you will get some weird looks.

Aqua Jogging aka Pool Running which is what I’ll refer it to, is basically running in the pool.  I first learned about it in college as our cross country coach had us in the pool twice a week during season for intense workouts.  It was usually one week day early in the morning before class, and then early Sunday morning which was miserable.  I think our coach’s tactic for early Sunday was to keep us from staying up all night on Saturday. Anyways it was something that helped keep a lot of us healthy and strong throughout the entire season without over-training and getting injured.  To this day I still incorporate pool workouts.

I choose to do pool workouts when I feel I’m on the verge of getting an injury.  As soon as I experience pain in my joints or maybe just deeper muscle soreness I change my workout from pavement to water.  It allows me to not miss a workout and save my body from the abuse.  Running on hard surfaces when something isn’t right or not normal will lead to other potential injuries causing the dreaded down time.  Since completing my hundred miler in January I haven’t been able to bounce back to my full potential.  It is stressful and discouraging at times but if I continue to ignore it I’m just setting up myself for failure later on.  I’ve known injured teammates that spent all cross country season doing pool workouts, and then have their best outdoor track season.

Pool running can be done at your own back yard assuming you have a pool (I’m jealous), fitness club, or now at some sports medicine facilities such as the one at Sterling Ridge Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.  SROSM has invested in an aquatic therapy pool for their patients so if you find yourself injured you may want to inquire about using their pool.  My pictures below are from the pool at the SROSM location in Spring.  They also have swim jets which can be used for turbulence, making it harder to run against, or swim against the current.

The most important question… How is it done and what does it look like?

First consider having some sort of flotation device during your initial attempt so you can focus on your form and how to properly perform the exercise.  Wearing a pool belt helps a lot as well as using a kick board, or anything else that will not interfere with your form. You can easily find a pool belt online for $20-$30.  I prefer to use a kick board because it’s available at my gym and allows me to concentrate on my body position and leg movement.  The kick board is held under water about stomach level.  You don’t want your feet touching the bottom of the pool so make sure you’re in deep enough water.  I usually don’t have a problem in 4- 4-1/2’ of water as my body is at a slight angle and head is above water.


Focus running in place, raising your thighs upwards and engaging your hips and glutes.  It’s actually quite simple once you get the hang of it and almost like running in slow motion.  You will gradually start moving forward in the water.  If you use a board or running belt you will notice you can get a faster turnover.  Try to keep the same running form as if running on land, and visualize striking the ground and kicking off.  Work the full range of motion focusing on body mechanics.  Lean slightly forward, working legs up and down in a running motion.



You control the cadence and the workout can be as easy or as intense as you want.  If you want a full body workout then don’t wear a belt and pump your arms in the water as if you are actually running.  You will notice the change in heart rate once you start working the arms as it will get a lot more complicated to keep your head above water.  Just don’t let the arms do more of the work and jeopardize your form.

Sometimes I will try to touch the board with each knee so I can work on flexibility and increasing my overall range of motion.  The board can be used as well to achieve other things.  You can hold the board directly in front of you (arms straight out) which you will feel your abs getting an additional workout.  The board can also be used for what it’s intended to be used for, kicking drills.  I will occasionally begin and end a workout with just kicking.  It helps to strengthen my ankles which is a benefit when running trails.  If you are dealing with a potential ankle or foot injury then listen to your body and only do as much as you feel is right.  If you feel something hurting or pulling then don’t do the kicking.  Just like any exercise it’s important to stretch before and after.  I usually experience tightness with my hip flexors and or abductors so I take care of this with a foam roller.

Warning:  This is going to be boring, but it builds mental toughness so that’s another benefit to the workout.  Spend 30 minutes in a pool and it will feel like an hour run.  It’s just as bad as the treadmill, without a TV.  I have a waterproof case for my iPod so I can listen to music and time goes by much faster.  To help keep the time from seeming like it’s never ending try mixing it up with some intervals.  The following is one of my favorite workouts and also helps the time go by.  Start out by going the length of the pool as fast as you can but maintaining good form.  Usually takes about 90 seconds.  Then go back the length of the pool at an easy effort.  This is the recovery set and usually 2.5 minutes.  Repeat for 10 sets and you have completed a 40 minute workout.  10 minute warm-up and 10 minute cool down and you have had a solid hour workout.  For me it’s equivalent to an 8 mile run.

We’ve all had something put us in the position of having to run with pain or not be able to because of an injury.  I am a firm believer that you need to listen to how your body feels because it’s telling you something.  Nobody wants to deal with an injury and some of us will ignore the signs that our body is telling us.  It’s important to recognize these signs and realize you can still maintain your fitness without crossing that line.  So what are you afraid of?  Are you too lazy or are you worried what others are going to the think about you.  I don’t care what I look like during training because I care what I look like on the podium.

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