Deep Water Running

Wondering how hitting the pool differs from dry land?

Any runner who’s either been temporarily sidelined due to injury or has worked with a coach who sees the value of utilizing different running surfaces has likely at least heard about water running.

As someone who absolutely loves running more than any other sport, I will state up front that to me, it’s not as fun as lacing up a pair of trail shoes and going out for a long aerobic adventure; however, that doesn’t make it any less valuable as a key part of a comprehensive run training program, regardless of whether or not you’re dealing with injury.

In fact, it can actually help to prevent you from getting injured in the first place.

Running in water, specifically deep-water running (DWR), is a great tool for preventing overuse injuries associated with a heavy volume of aerobic running training. Also, because of the drag associated with running in water, an element of resistance training is associated with water running that does not exist in traditional running-based training[1].

Because the muscles fire in the same way in deep water running that they do on dry land, practicing your technique in the pool is arguably a better means to keep run fit if you are rehabbing an injury as well as to incorporate one or two of your key run sessions per week if you’re not.

Form is key, however.  

While one option is to wear a foam running belt, developing a strong core, which allows you to remain upright during your workout is preferable.

If you’re new to this type of training session, refer to the list below on how to perfect your run form in the water, courtesy of Triathlete Magazine[2].

  • Legs: Start with straight legs. Point your toes like a ballet dancer and sweep legs back and forth, using your upper thigh to create the movement. Keep hips under your shoulders.
Arms: Put your arms gently by your sides, palms facing backward, elbows slightly bent. Let your thumb graze your thigh as it swings. Don’t cross the mid-line.
Head and eyes: Look straight ahead with your jaw relaxed. Feel as if a string is supporting your head above your shoulders.
  • Shoulders and chest: Press your shoulders back and slightly down. They should be loose and relaxed. Press your chest forward and up for easier breathing

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because you’re in the water, it’s automatically going to be a chill-out recovery session.

While you certainly can approach it that way, you can also focus on speed in the fluid medium.

Leg action in deep water pool running is more akin to faster-paced running than general aerobic running because of the propulsive force needed for overcoming the resistance caused by the density of the water.

DWR is effective because it elevates the heart rate, similar to dry land running. And because of the physics of drag, it requires more muscular involvement, thus strengthening more muscles than dry land running does without the corresponding overuse injuries associated with such training. Specifically, it eliminates the thousands of impact-producing foot strikes incurred during non-DWR running[3].

Sounds like a no-brainer to me!

Runners- get thee in the water!
            And fellow triathletes, why not experiment in your off season with incorporating even a short session before that master’s workout to save your body a little bit of all that pounding we subject ourselves to?


[1] “Excerpts Human Kinetics / News and Excerpts / Excerpts Proper Technique to Water Running.” HUMAN KINETICS. N.p., n.d. Web

[2] “Injured? Give Deep Water Running A Try.” Triathletecom. Triathlete Magazine, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015

[3] Puleo, Joe, Patrick Milroy, and Jennifer Gibas. Running Anatomy. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010. Print