Pool Running: The Low-Impact Cross-Training Alternative for Injured Distance Runners

Whether you are injured, need a break from running, or just simply like to add non-running activities to your weekly training, cross-training is a chance for you to get some quality cardio work done without the pounding of running.  When runners need a break from running, turn to cross training, whether it is biking, swimming, elliptical, pool running, or rowing, cross training provides the necessary aerobic work that will help all runners get in shape, maintain their current fitness, or improve their current aerobic situation.

One such form of cross-training that runners can benefit from is pool running. Pool running looks exactly as it sounds: running in a pool.  If this sounds like something you might be interested in, here are a few things you need to know about pool running.

  • You should be in the deep end of the pool and not actually running on the bottom of the pool.
  • Pool running is as much marching as it is running. The idea is that you keep your head above water while running/marching in place.
  • An aqua jogging belt makes the workout “tolerable” as the belt acts as the buoy that keeps you afloat. If you choose to pool run without a belt, you are in for a very hard workout.
  • The recoveries from the actual work should be much shorter than on land.  I typically rest for ⅓ of the time spent working hard.  For example, a 1-minute hard repetition would yield 20 seconds of rest.

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Benefits of Pool Running

Being in a pool is a very effective workout for those who are looking for a non-impact alternative to distance running.


Aqua jogging, also known as pool running, is a low-impact exercise that offers many benefits. The buoyancy of water reduces the impact on joints, making it an ideal exercise for those with injuries related to running. Aqua jogging is a great cardiovascular workout because it strengthens and tones the lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

Additionally, aqua jogging can help improve balance and coordination, as well as increase flexibility. It is a great cross-training option for runners, as it provides a similar workout with less impact on the body. Overall, aqua jogging is a fantastic exercise for anyone looking to improve their fitness level while minimizing the risk of injury.

Tips to help you master pool running - a safe alternate
Everything you need to have a successful pool run

How to Pool Run

There are only two components to pool running: be in the deep end and as I mentioned earlier, an aqua jogging belt, is optional.  That it.

Most runners I know use aqua jogging or pool running as a replacement for their running.  In order to get the most bang for your buck, most runners opt for a pool workout (where you’d simulate a fartlek run, a tempo run, or some kind of interval workout).

An example would be a 15 minute warmup, where you mix aqua jogging and lap swimming.  From there, you would move to the “workout” and finish with a cool down of aqua jogging and lap swimming.  

In terms of how you should look when you are pool running, you want to simulate what it would look like if you were actually running as much as possible. 

  • Pumping your arms with your elbows close to your side
  • 90 degree angles (arms and legs)
  • Keeping your head still (and relaxed)
  • Knees driving up

Sample Pool Running Workouts

  • 10-15 x 1 minute HARD with :20 seconds float
  • 5 x 4 minutes (think tempo effort) w/ 1:15 float
  • 6 x 2 minutes hard efforts with :40 rest in between each
  • 3 x 3 minutes hard efforts with 90 seconds rest in between each

Pool Running vs. Running on Land

Pool running is obviously not the same as running on land.  If you are injured and need to do something other than running, pool running is a very good alternative.  Once you are back to being healthy, you’ll want to slowly add running on land back into your routine.  You probably do not want to switch back to 100% running right away as your tendons and muscles will not have adapted the same way your heart and lungs have.

You can absolutely maintain fitness if you spend enough time working in the pool.  Since you are not pounding the pavement, you are actually able to work out for longer and more frequently and that will help improve your fitness.

How to have a successful & productive pool run session

Success Stories

After a freak foot injury as a senior in college, I had to spend months rehabbing and staying in shape.  I spent all my mornings swimming and pool running to maintain my fitness while my teammates training for cross country.  

Upon healing, I transitioned back to running where I quickly found my “land legs” and ended up running my fastest 1500 and 5k of my life by the end of May.

It is absolutely possible to spend time cross training and come back stronger.



Pool running is a low-impact exercise that can help runners maintain or improve their fitness while reducing the risk of injury. 

If you’ve never pool run before, this article has sample workouts for runners to try. 

Keep in mind that pool running is not the same as running on land, but can be a good alternative for injured runners to maintain fitness, and that spending time cross-training can help runners come back stronger.

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