What's the Deal With...?

What’s the Deal With Pool Running?

Madeleine Cummings

pool running, sports recoveryYou’re walking through your gym one day when you see her: a woman running, her fists balled loosely as her arms pump from her shoulders, her stride light and graceful, a look of determination on her face. But instead of the treadmill, she’s running in the pool!

Repetitive exercise routines that involve running or spinning for hours on end can break down even the strongest body. Injuries like Runner’s Knee, Plantar Fasciitis, and Achilles Tendonitis often begin as slight pains in the knees or feet but with time can increase to the painful point of no return.

As a lifelong runner, I’ve dealt with stubborn injuries over the years, and I’ve often taken to the pool to maintain fitness. Any active woman, no matter her speed or level of activity, may at some point find herself nursing a sports injury. While rest will almost certainly help to alleviate the pain, sometimes all the injured athlete wants to do is return to her activity (without compromising her healing process, of course). In other words, what can be done for the injured active woman who just wants to return to running?

Enter pool running, the go-to workout for the woman who wants low-impact and low-intensity exercise. A “life preserver” for the injured runner, it’s a form of cross training performed in the deep end of a pool, with or without a flotation belt. Pool runners “run” laps of their lanes by performing the running motion with their arms and legs in the deep end, keeping the head and shoulders above water, and slowly propelling themselves forward.

On hot days, rainy days, or long-awaited summer pool days, pool running can be a refreshing form of exercise for people of all ages and abilities. You can even rock a two-piece bathing suit while doing it; just make sure those straps are tied tightly to avoid any accidental flashing. (Flashing on purpose is a different story…)

water runningAlmost any public pool will have a stash of foam belts, used in most aqua fitness classes, or AquaJoggers, which provide the pool running user with bit more back support. Pool running without a belt requires more abdominal strength, but if done correctly, can mimic the intensity of running. Both methods work different muscles, when done properly with a straight back. Belt users can run faster because they don’t have to use as much of their energy working to keep themselves afloat but the beltless sacrifice speed for more of a core strength workout. If you want to wear a foam belt, secure it around your hips and pull the strap tight to ensure the belt won’t float its way up your body as you run.

While I was in college, I discovered pool running is best performed in pairs or small groups, as swimmers will be more likely to give you some space if you have power in numbers. Many runners or elliptical users find it difficult to maintain a conversation on land, but because pool running is less aerobically demanding, and done at a much slower pace, it’s much better suited for chatting through training. Talking while you run will also help the time fly by.

I often chatted with an older triathlete who did 15 minutes of pool running as a warm-up before his lap swimming sessions. He proudly told me he hadn’t been injured in years! Pool running can also be a great way to add variety to swim workouts or some much needed “breathe time” between sets.

If you grow tired of pool running laps at a steady pace, you can incorporate intervals of higher effort by taking off the belt for a minute or by pumping your arms and legs at a faster pace. You can also spice it up by asking your lifeguard to crank up the radio or by tucking a waterproofed iPod into a swim cap, as this blogger advocates.

When done alone, however, pool running can be purgatory, especially among crowds of splashy swimmers who aren’t used to sharing the slow lane. In order have the best pool running experience possible, keep the Three P’s in mind at all times:

Pain-level The activity should not aggravate your injury. If it does, stop immediately.

Posture Keep a straight back and try to keep your arms driving back and forward instead of flailing about by your sides.

Pool Etiquette Always pool run in the direction the lane suggests, and wait patiently for swimmers to pass before making turns. Swimmers will take some time to adjust to your presence but shouldn’t give you any trouble about moving extra slowly. If they do, calmly explain how pool running works and ask if they would prefer you to stick to one side of the lane.

About the author

Madeleine Cummings

Madeleine Cummings

Madeleine Cummings is a Canadian writer and distance runner from Toronto. She is currently a Master of Science candidate at Columbia Journalism School and holds a BA from McGill University in Montreal. She’s written for The McGill Daily, TrackFocus, Catster, and Indigo.ca. A lifelong runner, she’s competed for the University of Toronto Track Club, McGill University, and Toronto Olympic Club. Her last cross-country season, which she blogged about for MontrealEndurance.com, culminated in disaster when she fractured her foot at the finish line of the 2012 Canadian Cross Country Championships in Vancouver.

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