Running Underwater: Add Strength Training to Cardio Routine

For Christmas I got a treadmill and I have been running on it all winter and really enjoying working out in the privacy of my home. This weekend my family is going to open our backyard pool and I’d like to move my workout to the water, any ideas?

An Answer From Dr. Sarah

Take your running stride underwater! Running underwater is a great way to transfer your treadmill skills into a new dimension.

Working out in water incorporates strength training into your normal cardio routine. Water provides a three-dimensional resistance against all the muscles you normally work, while its buoyancy eases the stresses on joints and muscles commonly associated with running and jogging. Your core stabilizing muscles also benefit from sub-aquatic exercises as your body utilizes them to keep upright.

How to run under water:

  • Legs: Mimic a land run, extend your legs forward (not up) with your quadriceps at approximately 45 degrees, using your hamstrings to pull the water back behind you. Flex your ankle, simulating pushing off the ground.
  • Arms : Pump your arms as though you were running on dry land, hold your wrists straight and your fingers relaxed (don’t cup your hands and doggy paddle).
  • Torso: Keep your body upright, you should be able to see your knees if you look down. Try wearing a floatation device around your waist for the first few sessions, allowing you to keep your head above water.
  • Movement: your movements should be smooth and even, exactly as if you were running on land.

Water depth:
Hip-deep water is great for a lower body workout, for a total body workout go shoulder-deep. If you’re looking for a challenge, use the deep end of the pool so your feet cannot touch the ground. This forces all of your muscle fibers to work to keep you upright and above water, while you run. I highly recommend using a flotation device for your first few tries at this level.

Running underwater workout:
The warm up:

  • In hip-deep water, start by lifting one foot then the other to help get a sense of balance.
  • Take two steps forward, then two steps backwards approximately 20 times.
  • Move into shoulder deep water and march with your arms pumping for two minutes.

The workout out:

  • Choose the depth of water you want to start in and jog for five minutes.
  • Pick up the pace and run for two minutes. Tread water or swim to the side of the pool and kick your legs gently for one -two minutes. Repeat.
  • Run for five minutes – tread or kick for one – two.
  • Run for seven minutes – tread or kick for one – two.
  • Run for 10 minutes.
  • Slow down your pace and jog for five minutes.

Cool down:

  • Swim to hip-deep water and march on the spot for two minutes, arms still in motion.
  • Hold on to the edge of the pool and stretch each muscle group for 30 seconds to one minute.

Cool down stretches:

Quadriceps: catch your foot in your hand behind you.

Hamstrings: place one leg out in front of you, with your heel to the ground. Bend your supporting leg until you feel a stretch.

Calves: start with your feet under your hips. Step one foot back and lower your heel until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 30 seconds then slowly bend your knees, keeping your heels on the ground, until your feel a stretch in the lower calf.

Upper back and shoulders:stretch your arms out in front of you as though you were wrapping your arms around a big tree.

Chest:clasp your arms behind your back and lift your arms away from your body.


  • In the absence of a water-proof watch, get a large-numbered clock from the dollar store to help time your workout.
  • Set up a stereo and change the music to fit your different intervals.
  • Wear a hat to keep the sun off of your face.

Sarah Brown is a very healthy woman. She is not only a fitness instructor at Goodlife where she teaches Body Pump, Body Flow and yoga but she is also a registered holistic nutritionist.