A blog by runners. For runners.

The basics of pool running or aqua-jogging

pool-running-aqua-jogging-basicsA few years ago I experienced my first long-term running injury and had to take off more than 10 weeks from the sport. As you can imagine, I basically freaked out. I had just come off running my first marathon ever. Running and more running was all I had thought about for at least half a year prior. Without running, I worried my muscles would immediately atrophy, my waistline would get wider, and my endurance level I worked so hard to achieve would go back to the beginning.

I started out cycling indoors (it was a brutally cold winter), but grew tired of it quickly. In the process of looking up other cross-training activities, I came across this oxymoronic thing called aqua jogging. At first, the whole concept seemed ridiculous to me. I’d have to wear a silly floating belt and most of the people I saw doing it seemed to be octogenarians. As I delved deeper into my investigation, I discovered that many athletes swear by aqua jogging in the off season and during injury.

The basics:

  • Pool running is performed in the deep end, despite what might seem logical. You stay suspended in the water with use of a belt so feet don’t touch the bottom.
  • Your stride (here’s a great example/tutorial made by Olympian Cara Heads) need not be exaggerated. In fact, you might not even move forward while doing it. You also move your arms as if you are running, not swimming.
  • Workouts — instead of counted by distance — are mostly run by perceived exertion and overall time.
  • Many forget the importance of hydration because the workout is performed in the pool. Make no mistake, aqua jogging is hard work and you’ll need water to drink as if you were on land.
  • Just as with any workout, it’s best to ease into aqua jogging. It works similar, yet different muscles, etc.

Straight away, I found a great training plan online designed by Pete Pfitzinger, a well-known American distance runner and author. It’s 9 weeks long in all, with 5 in-pool workouts per week. The workouts emphasize intervals and one longer steady-state workout.

For example, my first “run” entailed

  • 5 minute warm-up
  • Followed by 2 sets of 7 x 1:30 “sprints” with
  • 30 seconds of recovery jogging in between
  • 2 minutes recovery between sets,
  • 5 minute cool-down

Something I learned quickly about aqua jogging? It seems like it’d be easy — but it’s definitely challenging. I thought I’d get right in the water and just naturally know how to do it. That my form would fall into place without feeling awkward. It took me until later in the first workout to feel at all natural.Perhaps an even bigger surprise was how winded I felt. I was in excellent shape, but aqua jogging was definitely pushing my limits.

At this point, you might be interested, right?

But I’m also sure you’re wondering about how effective this workout can be over a period of time, especially if you want to stay in running shape. Among other reports and studies cited, “at the University of Toledo, in which trained runners ran in the water 5 to 6 days per week for 4 weeks . . . runners had no change in 5K performance time, VO2 max, lactate threshold, or running economy after 4 weeks of water running. So, there is little question that water running is an effective method for runners to stay fit.” (Source and more information.)

My personal anecdotal evidence is in favor. After completing the plan and (slowly) getting back onto my feet for a couple weeks, I PRed at a local 4-miler by a full 30 seconds. This was after 10 weeks off from running on land. I think it was all the intervals, honestly. As with any sport, you get what you put in. I treated my pool time as seriously as I treated running, and I reaped the rewards.

Article by  Ashley Marcin. / Photo by Daniel Lobo, Creative Commons