Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Best Pool Running/Aqua-Jogging Workouts

When done right, pooling/pool running/aqua-jogging is an extremely effective cross-training option. The following workouts are designed to build and maintain fitness (and sanity) while in the water.

My days in the pool are numbered, and I’m sure you’re as sick of hearing about it as I am of doing it...but in case you’re looking for some swim-spiration (see what I did there? I’m sorry.), these workouts will keep you in shape and ensure that your transition out of the pool and back to running goes as smoothly as possible. 

And if you regularly pool run as a part of your training program, these workouts are guaranteed to work you out - anyone who thinks the pool is for sissies should spend a week with this list and then reconsider.

Go here for more info on the benefits of aqua-jogging. And here for a list of DC's public pools

I like to use a flotation device (aka “floaty belt”) because it allows me to focus on my form. If you don’t have a floaty belt, your pool time will be more of an upper body workout, so try to be conscious of maintaining a good upright running  posture.

These workouts range from 60 minutes to 2 hours. You can easily adjust them if you’re looking for shorter (or longer? yikes!) workouts. You only really need 5 minutes warm up/cool down in the pool. Or you could do fewer reps of each interval.

(Occasionally I do a simple steady pool-running for recovery, but even on easier days I tend to do some sort of workout for my sanity's sake. It can be booooring to stead-run in the pool!)

Long Run Pool Workout – 120 minutes total, 36 minutes hard running
(Tired-face. Much like a long run, you may need to lounge on your couch and have people bring you food after this workout.)
  • Warm up 30 minutes.
  • 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes recovery. Repeat this 5-minute interval 6 times.
  • 5 minutes recovery “jog.”
  • 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes recovery. Repeat this 5-minute interval 6 times.
  • Cool down 25 minutes.

Speed Work Pool Workout – 75 minutes total, 30 minutes hard running.
(This is the hardest pool workout I’ve done – like difficult-to-walk-up-stairs kind of hard.)
  • Warm up 20 minutes.
  • 2:30 hard, :30 recovery. Repeat this 3-minute interval 6 times.
  • 5 minutes recovery “jog.”
  • 2:30 hard, :30 recovery. Repeat this 3-minute interval 6 times.
  • Cool down 15 minutes.

Steady Interval Workout  - 64 minutes total, 18 minutes hard running
(This workout is inspired by my favorite track workout: 6x800m.)
  • Warm up 20 minutes.
  • 3 minutes hard, 1 minute recovery. Repeat this 4-minute interval 6 times.
  • Cool down 20 minutes.

Ladder Pool Workout – 65 minutes total, 25 minutes hard running
(This workout is deceptively difficult. At the beginning it feels like no-problemo, but by the time you get up to the 4’s and 5’s and have only 1 minute to recover…oof it will work you!)
  • Warm up 20 minutes.
  • Ladder up and back down from 1 minute to 5 minutes, with 1 minute recovery between each. (So that’s 1hard, 1 easy, 2h/1e, 3h/1e, 4h/1e, 5h/1e, 4h/1e, 3h/1e, 2h/1e, 1h/1e)
  • Cool down 10 minutes.

1’s and 2’s Interval Workout  - 76 minutes total, 18 minutes hard running
(This is a pretty moderate workout, for those days when you want to do something, but maybe aren’t quite up to the ladder or speed options.)
  • Warm up 20 minutes.
  • 2 minutes hard, 2 minute recovery. Repeat this 3-minute interval 6 times.
  • 1 minute hard, 1 minute recovery. Repeat this 2-minute interval 6 times.
  • 20 minutes cool-down.
Extended Recovery Tempo Run – 80 minutes, 20 minutes hard running.
(This is a moderate workout, a good one to do the day after speed work.)
  • Warm up 20 minutes.
  • 5 minutes hard, 5 minutes recovery. Repeat this 10-minute interval 4 times.
  • Cool Down 20 minutes.

Downhill Ladder - 60 minutes total, 28 minutes hard
  • Warm up 10 minutes.
  • Ladder down from 7 minutes with half-time recovery (i.e. run hard for 7 minutes, then easy for 3:30, then hard for 6, then easy for 3, etc.).
  • Cool down 10 minutes

1’s and 3’s Speed Workout – 65 minutes total, 16 minutes hard
(This is similar to the 1’s and 2’s workout, but it’s harder because the intervals are longer and the recovery is shorter. Make sure you run hard to make this worth it.)
  • Warm up 20 minutes.
  • 3 minutes hard, 1 minute easy, 1 minute sprint, 1 minute easy. Do this 6-minute interval 4 times (or more if you’re looking for a longer workout).
  • Cool down 20 minutes

What are your favorite pool workouts? Share in the comments!


  1. I can aquajog and keep my sanity if I have someone else with me, but I have a tough time doing intervals longer than 4:00. I think my effort level starts to decrease and I end up not getting in the intended workout. I really like the shorter (3 min or less) interval workouts you planned out here.

  2. This is a super great post! I hope you don't mind, I linked it in my main pool running post!

    I try to mimic 400's, I go up and down the deep section hard and then just back one way as a recovery and try to do 16 sets. Definitely gets the HR up!

  3. I love this post! I am with Beth. . . I can't do pool intervals longer than 3:00 or I start to slack off. But doing 3 minutes all-out is even more intense than an 800M on a track. I still incorporate pool running regularly, so thanks for this post.

  4. I can vouch for the difficulty/effectiveness of the 2:30/:30 workout. It feels very much like a tempo run, since it really is impossible to maintain hard-focus for very long in the pool.

  5. AHH! This post is a God-send!! I am trying to get myself back to running after a tibial stress fracture. I went back at it too soon and too hard, so now I must actually do it right. Boo. I think aqua-jogging is going to be where it's at for me. But, I'm the kind of person who needs some sort of framework. So, THANK YOU for posting this!!

  6. I just got ordered by my doc to not run for 4 weeks ! This post is exa fly what I needed to find to help me over the next month. I'm so frustrated I can't run but these workouts may help keep me in shape so when I return to running I'm not backtracking!

  7. Thanks these workouts seem great! I'm excited to try them out!!

  8. awesome. Like others here I have a stress fracture. Aqua jogging sounded like a terribly boring option to me, but these structured workouts look like they'll fly by. Nothing like hard intervals to speed up the clock! Thanks for this.

  9. I love this! I have used variations of these workouts over the last 6 months as part of my regular training. One thing that keeps me sane is my waterproof ipod. My legs are like jelly and arms are like rocks at the end of these workouts.

    Thanks so much for posting this!