Deep water running for cross-training and injury prevention
Running in deep water challenges your fitness without overstressing your joints. Do your body a favour by swapping out the concrete and plunging into the pool for your next cardio workout.
Imagine this: it’s six weeks until your first half-marathon and you’ve just been handed the runner’s death sentence: your physiotherapist has advised you to stop running. Your goal of making it even to the start line becomes very fuzzy almost immediately. An alternate activity to maintain your fitness and morale while rehabilitating is key. The unique properties of water make deep water running an excellent alternative.
Deep water running (DWR) is running performed in water deep enough to cover the shoulders and keep the feet off the bottom of the pool. Some people prefer to run in place by tethering themselves to the side of the pool, while others choose to travel up and down a lane. To maintain proper form and to ease apprehension, a flotation device, such as a flotation belt, is highly recommended. It’s not uncommon to overuse the upper body when a flotation aide isn’t worn.
The presence of buoyancy and drag make running in water a challenging workout without the repetitive stress that running on land brings. This makes DWR an excellent form of cross-training, maintaining our fitness while giving our muscles and joints a break from the usual loads we place upon them. Taking time off our regular weight-bearing activities also goes a long way toward preventing injury.
Investigations of injured and non-injured runners have shown that DWR can maintain and, in some cases, even increase cardiovascular fitness and running performance on land. Researchers have also found the muscle activation patterns to be similar to land running. Overall, science supports DWR as a safe and effective alternative to running on land.
There are two popular techniques used when running in deep water. The high-knee style resembles stair climbing or marching in place, while the cross-country version is similar to a fast run on a treadmill or on land.
The latter technique is preferred for its similarity to land running, especially with regard to ankle motion, and therefore has better carry-over effect. However, for those who need to limit their hip range of motion due to injury, or need to strengthen their hip flexors, the high-knee technique is recommended. Overall, familiarity with technique, comfort in the water, and practice are keys to the success of DWR.
|Injury or condition||Explanation|
|fibromyalgia||DWR is thought to be safe and effective for reducing pain and improving general health and quality of life.|
|stress fractures of the lower leg||DWR allows rest from weight bearing while maintaining cardiovascular fitness.|
|non-specific low back pain||As a component of an individualized physiotherapy program, DWR is effective at decreasing pain and disability and improving range of motion, muscle strength, and endurance.|
Research supports the idea of wearing specialized aquatic training shoes in the pool, as they tend to increase the amount of energy expended during a pool run.
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