Athletic activities like running create a lot of stress on lower body joints. Many acute (ankle sprains) and overuse (tendinitis, stress fractures) injuries require complete rest in order for adequate recovery. Most athletes are faced with the problem of losing conditioning when recovering from an injury and often begin training too early which can aggravate the injury and extend the recovery.
Why do Deep Water Running?
De-training is a valid concern as loss of conditioning can begin as early as 2-4 weeks after cessation of training(1). Injuries such as tendinitis and stress fractures often require an athlete to rest the area up to 8 weeks. And to “add insult to injury” – OK that was a bad pun – injuries tend to crop up at the most inconvenient times – they don’t always conveniently occur during the recovery period or off-season. This is where deep water running can be very beneficial. It is a great rehabilitative tool as it allows an athlete to participate in an activity very similar to running, in an environment that will allow the injury to heal.
Water Running Equipment
A benefit of deep water running is that it requires very little equipment – a deep pool and a flotation belt. These belts are made from soft, flexible foam and have an adjustable buckle. The belt should be worn around the waist/torso to keep the person’s head above water, and their body in a vertical position(2). Many recreation centers with aqua aerobics programs have flotation belts called “Aquajoggers” available to members. They can also be purchased in swim shops and online.
Deep Water Running Technique
The density of water will initially make deep water running feel awkward, however, with practice there really isn’t much difference in land vs. deep water running technique. As long as the runner focuses on keeping a natural hip flexion (knee drive) the leg turnover will be similar. The biggest challenge is to prevent over-exaggeration of arm work by keeping the hands closed or palm-inwards (not cupping the water)(1).
Research using endurance athletes, reports that deep water running is very successful in maintaining aerobic fitness(1). Setting the appropriate intensity during this type of activity is important. Due to the properties of water, Heart Rate responses for the same level of land running intensity are approximately 10-12 bpm lower in the pool(1)(2). Therefore, an athlete can adjust their Heart Rate training zones by lowering the training ranges by 10-12bpm when deep water running. The repetitive and monotonous nature of pool running can be minimized by simulating intervals (greater than 3 minutes each for endurance sessions).
To increase intensity an elastic cord can be used to tether the athlete (attached to the back of flotation belt) to the edge of the pool(1). This method is also effective if pool space is minimal. Otherwise, the water runner may “run” the length of the pool (as long as their feet do not contact the bottom of the pool).
Other Important Considerations
· Deep water running is appropriate only when an injury is internal or closed (and physician approved). Do not participate in water sports with an open wound. Please consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment of injuries.
· Elastic cords can be purchased for $10-$15 at the same merchants that sell flotation belts(1).
Deep water running is a successful method for maintaining fitness when recovering from lower-extremity injury. When performed with the correct technique it can simulate land based running and allow time for an injury to recover.
- Jerry J Mayo, PhD, CSCS. 2000: Practical Guidelines for the Use of Deep-Water Running, NSCA Strength & Conditioning Journal: Vol 22, No 1, pp 26-29.
- Thomas J Michaud, Jorge Rodriguez-Zayas, Frederick F. Andres, Michael G. Flynn & Charles P. Lambert. 1995: Comparative Exercise Responses of Deep-Water and Treadmill Running, Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: Vol 9, No 2, pp 104-109.