Try a Running Workout That Makes a Splash

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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Try a Running Workout That Makes a Splash

If you’re hoping to hit a PR in your next race, try hopping into the pool instead of pounding the pavement. Deep-water running can maintain or increase cardiovascular fitness and running performance on land.

Deep-water running, also called aqua jogging, involves running while suspended in water that is at least chest deep. The muscle activation patterns are similar to conventional running and one study showed deep-water running is as effective for maintaining running performance as land-based training, even among elite athletes.

“It gives your joints, tendons and muscles a break but still gives you a great cardio-respiratory workout.”

Lori Thein Brody, PhD, a physical therapist and athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin Health believes deep-water running is the ideal cross-training workout for runners, noting, “It gives your joints, tendons and muscles a break but still gives you a great cardio-respiratory workout.”

In addition to alleviating pressure on the joints, one small study found women who wore at least a C-cup bra experienced less exercise-induced breast discomfort during deep-water running than treadmill running.

Deep-water running also provides an excellent core workout, according to Jennifer Conroyd, deep-water running coach and founder of Fluid Running. “You use a lot of core strength to maintain an upright position in the water,” she says.


Switching from the pavement to the pool is an adjustment: In shallow water, runners tend to run on the balls of their feet, which can cause Achilles problems; the biomechanics of deep-water running are similar to running on pavement — though the underwater view looks more like bicycling than running, according to Brody.

While runners often wear flotation belts to keep them from sinking, Brody believes it’s better to do a deep-water workout without one (as long as runners can swim). “The belt makes the exercise super easy,” Brody says. “Without it, you have a lot of incentive to keep moving at a very brisk pace because if you stop, you’ll sink.” Some runners may want to start with a belt to get comfortable with the mechanics and then get into the pool without a flotation belt.

A flotation belt also changes your biomechanics, pitching you slightly forward. If you need support in the water, Brody prefers flotation dumbbells. When submerged underwater (arms extended at your sides) they provide buoyancy while engaging your core.

Progress is harder to measure. Runners can time their pace from point A to point B on land; in the water, speed and distance are impossible to calculate. Conroyd encourages runners to track their heart rate and perceived exertion during deep-water training.

Your heart rate and cardiac output decrease during deep-water running, but that doesn’t mean it’s a less effective workout. During one six-week study, runners who trained in the pool five times per week had no decrease in aerobic performance compared to runners who trained on a treadmill, leading researchers to conclude that deep-water running was effective for maintaining aerobic performance.


The benefits of deep-water running have Conroyd, an experienced triathlete, baffled that it isn’t more popular as a cross-training workout. Often, runners come to the practice after injuries. The zero-impact workout can help athletes maintain their cardio training during recoveries.

“You have to work hard to get the cardio benefits of running on land but once runners get the hang of maintaining their form and focusing on their intensity and speed, they’re hooked,” Conroyd says. “We see so many people who started deep-water running because of injuries and never leave because they realize it’s such a great workout.”

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


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