How to Train When You’re Injured: Pool Running

Hi friends!

As you may know, I entered marathon training in January this year with a painful knee/ IT band injury (I think I might have had both) and did a lot of my running workouts in the pool.  I ended up really enjoying pool running and preferred it to the alternatives like cycling or elliptical, which I enjoy in general but hated doing every day.  While my knee is nearly healed and I’m back to running on land again, I wanted to share some tips and tricks about pool running for those of you interested in trying it out!

Ways to Add Water/Pool Running to Your Routine

In addition to helping injured runners maintain running fitness, water running is great for lots of situations:

– to ramp up or add to your weekly mileage safely (without injury)

– for cross-training or as an active recovery day

– for anyone who has difficulty running due to weight or poor form

Types of Pool/ Water Running

First off, a quick note on the two types of water running – deep water (feet don’t touch ground) and shallow water (feet do touch ground).  Both are great substitutes for running for injured runners because they reduce the impact and stress of running on the body and joints while preserving the motions of running!

Deep water running is ideal if you need an impact-free workout; it will put NO stress on the body.  Beginners may want to invest in some sort of flotation device like an Aquajogger belt to help keep you upright at first so you can focus on your form, but once you get the hang of it, the belt will no longer be necessary (your running motion keeps you afloat).  The belt looks like this:007 001

Shallow water running is done in a pool where your feet do touch the ground (4-5 feet deep), and does result in some impact on the body since your feet are pushing off the ground, so it isn’t appropriate for injured runners that can’t put any weight on the feet. Shallow water running though has the added benefit of helping you maintain natural running form and motion more easily because the feet make contact with the ground.  In my opinion, it’s similar to barefoot running in that it encourages good mid/forefoot striking – it’s hard to heel strike in the pool!

I ended up shallow water running simply because the pool at our gym is a lap pool and is only 4 feet deep – a fact I found out when I jumped in wearing my newly purchased Aquajogger and realized my feet touched the ground! Luckily, it worked out fine because my knee didn’t hurt in the pool at all.  I think many of my tips below apply to both types of water running.

Dawn’s Tips for Pool Running

– When you first get in the pool, focus on your form to make it as natural as possible.  I had to work on swinging my arms at the same time as my legs, something that came so naturally to me on land! I also made sure that I was standing upright (I ran in place) and not hunched over or leaning backwards.

– Once you’re warmed up, take a minute to count your cadence (how many times one foot hits the ground).  There’s more resistance in the water than on land, so your pace will automatically slow but you don’t want it to be too slow or you’ll be pool walking instead of running.  I aimed for a cadence of 120 for slower workouts and 140+ for speed workouts.  To calculate this, I used my Garmin 210 to time myself for a minute and counted how many times my right foot hit the ground and multiplied by 2.

– If you’re replacing land running with pool running, you can replicate the type of workout you were going to do on land in the pool.  For example, if you were planning on doing an interval run, bring a timer or watch and increase your cadence for the fast intervals and slow your cadence for the recovery ones.  I did a lot of intervals in the pool using the Interval (by time) feature on my Garmin because they made the time go by a lot faster!

You can replicate any workout you did on land by varying your cadence and therefore your effort/ speed (i.e. pace/ tempo/ interval runs should be a higher cadence, recovery at a lower cadence).  To simulate hill running, I saw suggestions for looping a resistance band around a stationary point (like a ladder) and around your waist to increase the resistance as you ran.  I just skipped my hill workouts for a few weeks because I didn’t have a resistance band to try this with.

– And lastly, bring something to entertain yourself – pool running is pretty boring! I bought a cheap waterproof pouch for my mp3 player and am SO glad I did – music made even hour long runs bearable.


I ended up really loving pool running – it felt so reinvigorating to my legs and body! When I got out of the pool after a long workout, my legs felt tired but not sore.  As I increased my mileage on land, I found myself looking forward to the days I had an easy pool run planned.  I’m looking to build up my land mileage now, but I’m still planning on jumping in the pool on the days after my long runs for some active recovery :)

Additional Resources

Proper Technique to Water Running (Human Kinetics)

Swim Workouts for Runners (HowStuffWorks)

Make a Splash With Water Running (Competitor)


One thought on “How to Train When You’re Injured: Pool Running

  1. Pingback: {Run Tip} Base Building | sneaker∙therapy

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