Monday Runday: How to Run in the Pool

I've been doing a lot of pool running during my injury rehab. Pool running is a non-weight bearing exercise that's safe for almost any kind of injury. It's also an incredible cardio workout if you do it right. It looks ridiculous, though. You can be pumping your legs quite quickly under the surface, but you move forward really slowly:

I have griped and complained plenty these last couple months about having to cross train instead of run. But the truth is, I'm a pool running convert. Whenever I get back in the saddle, I still plan to spend 1-2 days a week in the pool.

All you need is a floatation belt and a deep enough pool that your feet don't touch the bottom when you're floating at chest level. Here's what the belt looks like:


Local folks: the Fairfax County RECenter pools are deep enough for pool running, and they have a supply of floatation belts available on-site. Look on the website of each individual center for their lane schedule. It's best to schedule your workout around the other FCPA classes, because you can't use the shallow lanes. There are a variety of admission options, but the one I use is a 25-visit pass. You can use them anytime over the next 2 years.


I'm not a trainer, just someone who's been doing pool running a couple times a week for the last nine weeks. But here are a few tips:

  • Lean slightly forward, but not too far. You want to run, not doggie paddle. Keep your body straight.
  • The motion is a cross between a bicycling motion and a high-knees motion.
  • Move your arms back and forth just like you're running. Because you are.

Here's a post from Runners Connect that describes the proper form. And a video that shows what to do:



The easiest thing is to get in and start running. But that's kinda boring, and it's easy to slack off in the pool and convince yourself you're getting a good workout without necessarily doing so. I see a lot of people moving their legs languidly in the water, which may be what they want to do, but if you're wanting something higher impact, you need to be intentional about it.

This article has a few workout options--the group I run with has done them all. The goal is to hit ~180 strides per minute during the hard effort, which is not as easy as it sounds!

Here are a few other workouts I haven't tried yet, but they look good. From Runners Connect:

  1. 10 min easy w/u, 1:00 hard, 30 sec easy, 1:30 hard, 30 sec easy, 2:00 hard, 30 sec easy (continue building up until 5:00, and then come back down by 30 second intervals) 10 min easy c/d
  2. 10 min easy w/u, 1min medium, 1 min sprint, 30 sec hands in air (keep moving your legs in the running motion, but put your hand above your head), 1 min rest – repeat 10-15 times. 10 min easy c/d
  3. 10 min easy w/u, 30sec sprint, 30sec medium, 30sec sprint, 30sec medium – 30 rest, Repeat 12-15 times, 10 min easy c/d
  4. 10 min easy w/u, 10 sec medium, 10 second sprint, 10 second easy, 20 sec medium, 20 sec sprint, 20 sec easy, 30 sec medium, 30 sec sprint, 30 sec easy, repeat up to 70 seconds and the back down, 10 min easy c/d

Good luck!