The Life-Changing Magic of Water Running

Sophie O'Kelly
The Life-Changing Magic of Water Running

While it's incredibly effective for cardio and weight maintenance, running can be hard on your body as you age. Pounding the pavement gives your heart a good workout, for sure. Along with your runner's high, however, comes the increased risk of knee injuries, shin splints, and even hip displacement. 

If you’re feeling these adverse effects of running, or are nursing an injury that’s preventing you from moving energetically, it could be time to start water running. Also called aqua jogging, this excellent cross-training method lets the muscles move without the harsh impact of gravity. It also helps you tone your muscles without undue stress to the knees, joints, hips, and back.

What exactly is water running and why should I try it?

Pool running is the athlete's best-kept secret to rehabilitate from the wear and tear of high-impact training. It's perfect for the elderly, those with arthritis, and those who want a comfortably-paced low to medium impact workout.

Water running requires that you run slowly but steadily through the water. You begin gently with the goal of running through the water, without touching the bottom of the pool. You’ll use the same muscles for running around the block, but the buoyancy keeps the joints and muscles safe.

Using a flotation belt around your waist, you lower yourself into the deep end of the pool and mimic a natural running motion. Once you’re submerged in water, surrounded by resistance, you move the arms and legs to build strength and get a cardiovascular workout.

If you’re a runner looking to incorporate aqua jogging into your regular training circuit, you’ll need to pool run at a similar pace and frequency—as you would on the pavement—to achieve the same results. Though it’s not as accessible as regular running, you’ll eventually master your technique and pool running will become easier and more enjoyable.

What are the best aqua jogging techniques?

If you’re running in deep water, you’ll want your body to stay upright rather than slumped over. Let your arms relax down from your shoulders to rest at your side and allow them to float a few inches from the body. Once you begin pool running, use your arms the same way you would if you were running on a treadmill.

Stay upright as you raise each leg high and work against the pressure of the water on the down thrust. Once you build up your stamina, you’ll be racing through the waves in no time! You’ll want your water running workout to leave your heart rate elevated—as if you’ve just enjoyed a steady, dry-land jog. 

Alternate five minutes of high-intensity aqua jogging with one minute of recovery time. Do this for 20 minutes and gradually increase to 45 minutes to really start seeing results. Once you’ve completed your workout, enjoy a nice, gentle swim to stretch out your muscles and bring your heart rate down. 

Please note that if you’re aqua jogging for rehabilitation, physical therapy, or injury recovery, always consult a health professional before you begin.

What equipment do you need for pool running?

An aqua belt helps if you’re new to pool running and intend to do it consistently. However, all you really need is a swimsuit and a local pool to get started. Once you build up your speed and stamina, and want to intensify your workout, you can start to incorporate waterproof weights, paddles, and dumbells.

Top Tips for Water Running 

  • Always make sure you warm up. Enjoy some light stretching and gentle movements before you go in and pick up speed in the water.
  • Adapt your regular running form for the water. You might need to lift your legs higher and keep your back more upright when you’re in the water to really maximise the benefits.
  • Always make time for a cool-down. Stretch it out, and slow your heart rate to let your body rest and absorb the effects of your workout.

What are the benefits of water running?

Pool running is ideal if you’re in recovery or looking to switch from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one. It allows free range of motion, letting you work up a sweat without hurting your joints or aggravating injuries. Although it’s a low-impact exercise compared to traditional workouts, a 2003 study on deep-water running shows it can also provide adequate cardiovascular activity.

Athletes, runners, and physically fit people will also benefit from aqua jogging. It can help ease muscle soreness, improve your running form, and up your stamina without wearing your joints out. And if you live in a hot climate, it’s a great way to stay cool while you exercise.

Sophie O'Kelly
Writer, yoga teacher (and student) and trainee psychotherapist.