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What is pool running and how can it help runners?

What is pool running and how can it help runners?

Run coach, personal trainer and author of The Lazy Runner and Tricurious, Laura Fountain, finds out why runners should be heading for the pool

When you think of running, you probably imagine the breeze in your hair and road beneath your feet. However, a growing number of runners are ditching the pavement and hitting the water to try out the latest in cross-training exercises – pool running.

The exercise involves running in waist-deep water with your feet touching the bottom of the pool or running in deep water with a vest or belt keeping you afloat. Although it is possible to try pool running on your own, it is advisory to learn the correct technique in a class environment. More advanced classes also include the use of flotation dumb-bells, further engaging the core muscles.

While it’s more established in Australia and the USA – recommended as a great exercise to offset the summer heat – it’s growing in popularity in the UK too and with good reason. The greater resistance of the water and the increased exertion of the upper body means that pool running can be more demanding on the cardiovascular system than your average run, with the result that it is a great way to get a high-intensity cardio workout and can burn up to 75% more calories.


Ex-Liverpool FC footballer, Terry Nelson, is now head trainer at Aqua Running and runs a Swimming Teachers Association-accredited training course for coaches looking to teach pool running. Terry has been using pool running in his own training for decades and has coached athletes of all levels in the pool.

‘When you talk about training in the pool, people tend to think about aqua aerobics, which has a bit of a reputation for being a gentle activity for older ladies and that’s a mistake. People are often surprised by how intensively you can train in the pool. You can run very hard and it doesn’t hurt you.’

"People are often surprised by how intensively you can train in the pool"

Terry’s company has developed a full-body flotation suit for use in pool running that has been endorsed by high-profile football clubs. High-performance sportsmen and women are increasingly realising the potential of this form of training and, thanks to a rise in accessibility, runners and gymgoers are coming around to the benefits of the exercise too.

Personal trainer and GB triathlete Anita Smith had been more used to swimming at her local pool than running in it when she was encouraged to try pool running by her coach. ‘I was surprised by just how hard I could work doing pool running. You can work harder than you would outside knowing that you aren’t putting your body under the same stress but most definitely feeling like you are getting a very tough workout.

‘I found it tricky to get my technique right so that I was replicating how I would run outside. By the second session, I felt like I was doing it correctly and could work more efficiently. It took a couple of sessions to get into the groove but then I really loved it.’


With well-known triathletes and runners reportedly using pool running in their training, Aqua Physio manager John Skinner says it is obviously key for elite athletes, yet is also an inclusive and versatile activity used by a variety of people in their training at his Surrey-based aquatic pool. ‘We have athletes who use it to maintain fitness, then we also have people who use it for fitness as an alternative to the gym as a low-impact activity.

Ultrarunner and multiple world record holder in endurance events, Mimi Anderson, loves running and you are just as likely to find her doing it in the pool as on land.

‘I picked up an injury which meant I couldn’t run, so I had to find an alternative way to keep fit. I found it much harder running in the pool than I thought I would. To my surprise, I enjoyed the session as it was enabling me to continue with my training.’

"If you’re looking to increase your cardiovascular fitness [...] pool running is perfect"

Mimi first started pool running in 2009 while training for a Double Comrades event, a 56-mile double up of the Comrades Marathon. Like many, she first came to pool running through injury but since those first tentative sessions, Mimi has continued to use pool running in her training.

‘Not only is it a fantastic way to maintain your running fitness, it’s also a good way to cross-train, and for runners it can be used as a recovery tool after a hard workout.

‘If you’re looking to increase your cardiovascular fitness without impact on your joints or muscles, pool running is perfect. There really is no downside to this type of training session; it’s something everyone can have a go at and you don’t necessarily have to be a good swimmer as you have the flotation belt around your waist.’

So if you want to find out if you can keep up with a world-class football club, grab a pair of aqua dumb-bells and a hydro belt and get running. You can also find out more information from Aqua Physio ( and Aqua Running (


Before you start, check with the pool and lifeguards that it’s OK for you to pool run. Use a pool running vest to help keep you afloat and stick to the deep water.

  • 10 minutes of steady running to warm up

  • Intervals of 1/2/3/4 minutes hard, with 1 minute recovery in-between

  • 2 minute rest

  • Intervals of 4/3/2/1 minutes hard, with 1 minute recovery in-between

  • 10 minutes steady running to cool down


Discover how to pool run using a flotation belt with the Speedo expert.