Deep water running can be used as a great training tool for both runners and triathletes. Running in the water is a total body exercise that works your legs, trunk, and arms, and positively stresses your cardiovascular system.
Because deep water running is a non-impact and non-weight bearing exercise, it gives your body a break from the impact forces and stresses of running on land—and when done correctly, running in deep water mimics the moments of running.
Studies have shown that deep water running training can transfer to improvements in land-based performances.
Deep water running is frequently used in periods of injury rehabilitation with great effects.
Studies have shown fitness and performance in land based running can be maintained during periods of six weeks of deep water running only. Meaning, having the misfortune of being sidelined with an injury does not have to mean losing hard-earned fitness when it comes to your run training.
Even beyond a rehabilitation tool, I am a firm believer in deep water running as a great training tool in itself that can result in gains in cardio fitness and muscle recruitment patterns that mimic running on land.
Inserting a deep water running workout into your training on occasion can aid in recovery and injury prevention as well, especially for those of you who are pure runners and don’t get the variety of swimming and cycling your program. Because of the fluid resistance against all parts of the running stride, your stride rate will generally be slower during water running due to the increased resistance of moving your legs through water.
A faster cadence increases the difficulty of the workout. Recovery time between deep water running session can be shorter to decreased impact stresses and decreased eccentric contractions (when the muscle is contracting, yet still lengthening to control the descent of bodyweight) that land based running requires.
Deep water running should be done in a pool deep enough so where you can’t touch the bottom. Either a flotation belt or ankle cuffs can be used for buoyancy. I would recommend ankle cuffs if you are a runner or triathlete as having the buoyancy and resistance from the ankles is more functional to running on land.
Just as in land based training, for runners to maintain fitness during water running it is necessary to include intervals, tempo, and/or fartlek training to get the desired performance results.
Unless you are simply doing an active recovery workout, it’s best to go into any given workout with an objective.
For example, a workout might consist of a warm-up followed by blocks of several minutes of 30 seconds hard effort with 30 seconds recovery, with a few minute of moderate effort. You will generally find that heart rate will be able 10 beats per minute lower then land based running.
The goal is to replicate your land-based running style as much as possible. You want to be vertical with a slight forward lean in the water. Keep your shoulders back and chest out, stabilizing your center of mass through the core.
Remember that you are running, not swimming. Arm movement should mimic land based running.
Elbows bent to 90 degrees or more, keeping them high above the waist and hands facing inward. Don’t worry about how fast you’re actually traveling in the water, that doesn’t matter.
We have all the resources you need to do this workout at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center. Our lanes on the deep end of the pool are generally available outside of organized swim practices and we have both buoyancy belts and ankle cuff in the bins on far side of the pool, opposite end from the starting blocks.