Pool Running

If we lived in a perfect world, there would be no such thing as running injuries… And ice cream would melt those rolls off your waist instead of just melting in your bowl. Who am I kidding? Ice cream gets devoured well before it has a chance to get melty.

But, alas, we don’t. That doesn’t mean we have to roll over and die when we’re unable to run. There are plenty of cross training options to keep you sane while you’re out of commission, but pool running is one of our favorites.

The Vacaville High School cross country team getting it done!

One of the most attractive benefits of pool running, as opposed to other forms of cross training, is that the movement closely resembles actual running, firing many of the same muscles, but without the stressful impact. And although I find it difficult to get my heart rate up during most cross training sessions like I can while running, pool running is fairly comparable.

Aren't they just the cutest?!

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah that’s great when you have access to the big high school pool and a whole team to work out with.” I realize that most of us don’t have that luxury. But before you give up and put your sore bum back down on that stationary bike seat to sweat out another boring hour, let me show you where I do most of my pool running.

This is the pool in the backyard of the home we grew up in. It's tiny and might be 6 ft deep in the rainy season.


The truth is that you really don’t go very far pool running, so you don’t need much of a pool to do it. Your backyard pool or your neighbor’s would work fine. Or you could use the gym or community pool during lap swim hours. Basically, the only requirement is that it has to be deep enough that you can’t touch the bottom with your head sticking out of the water.

Okay, now that you have a pool, let’s talk about how it’s done. First you have to properly suit up.

Bring on the water.

If you want to go hard core, put on a pair of your old running shoes and a t-shirt or sweatshirt for drag. If you’ve never tried this before just go in a bathing suit.  If you really feel uncomfortable, you can even wear a water belt… you won’t get as much of a workout, but you also won’t swallow as much water.

Then get into the deep end where you can’t touch and start running. You want the motions to feel as close to regular running as possible. So keep your head up and your body in a straight line, your arms pumping up and down (not side to side), and your legs peddling away. It looks like this from the top:

So it looks a little ridiculous. (But you’re used to people thinking you’re crazy by now, right?) Cec and I call it controlled drowning, and have had to assure more than a few worried lifeguards that we would not shortly need saving.

And here’s a good view of it from inside the water:

It’s important to remember that your object isn’t actually to go anywhere quickly. If you try to cover distance your body will want to go into more of a swimming form, you won’t stay as straight up and down, and you’ll lose that running motion. This doesn’t mean you can’t work hard or go fast, just keep yourself in an upright position and pump hard without making much forward progress.

Our beached little mermaid isn't making much progress here either, but she sure looks cute.

Now that you have the form down, turn up the radio and turn it into a workout. You can do it in segments: a few minutes on and a few off. Like 5 on 1 off, 10 on 3 off, for as long as you can handle it. Or you can go for 30 minutes or an hour straight, adding in pick-ups (a few intermittent minutes in the workout where you go a little harder).

You can judge how long you need to go by knowing that 1 hour of cross training is about equivalent (for the most part) to 5 miles of running. Be careful not to overdo it though. Just because you have been running 10 miles a day and now you’re injured, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pop into the pool and run for 2 hours straight. Ease into it, just like you would any new activity your body isn’t used to.

Need… to… lie… down…

Pool running is also good for preventing injury. Throw it in instead of a second run on some of your double days. Or if you’re a coach and you want to use this to supplement your team’s training like the Coach Kay Nekota does for her Vacaville High crew, then consider mixing things up between pool running in the deep end and a swim workout.

Amazing Coach Kay and Cecily at Tueday pool practice.

Coach Kay divides her team in half, sending one group to the deep end to pool run for minutes on and off and the other group to do a cross fit swim workout in the lanes. After about 30 minutes the two sides switch. She has her team do these workouts twice a week. Some kids use them as their second run and for some it is the only workout of the day.

Kay Nekota is an amazing coach and has incredible, very talented, athletes who probably also suffer from far fewer running injuries than most high school teams, because she throws in a few of these low impact workouts.

So, whether you’re skirting an injury, suffering from one, or just need a little something new, enjoy these beautiful summer days and try a little pool running. Be aware that pool vacuum attacks have been on the rise.

You won't get the best of me Ray Vac!

Okay, maybe you will...


Have you ever tried pool running before? Do you think you ever will? What are some pool workouts you enjoy? Have any other pool running questions? Comment below!!

4 thoughts on “Pool Running

  1. Pingback: Pool Running Video | reRun Running

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