Water running technique is an area of some debate. Some coaches insist that you try to simulate land running form as closely as possible. While that is a nice ideal, I believe that the most important consideration is to maintain your training intensity to the degree possible, and if your form needs improvement, so be it. Regardless of your running form, your stride rate will be slower during water running due to the increased resistance of moving your legs through water. If you try to simulate land running too closely, your stride rate will be even slower. For that reason, don’t worry if your leg isn’t brought behind the body to the same degree as in land running-find a happy compromise with decent form and a reasonable rate of leg turnover.
Some athletes move forward while running in the water, and actually do laps during their workouts. Whether you move forward or remain relatively still depends on subtle changes in body position. I recommend a relatively upright posture during water running which will work your trunk muscles and result in only a slight tendency to move forward through the water.
Deep-Water Running (Cross Country Style): The cross-country style of DWR looks qualitatively more like land-based running due primarily to the increased horizontal displacement (position) of the ankle. This increased movement of the ankle allows for a greater range of motion to be achieved and thus maintains the normally elliptical appearing gait pattern found in land-based running and increase the muscular benefit. The AQx was specifically designed to be used with this style of DWR.
1. The water should be at shoulder level below the chin with the head held in a neutral position facing forward.
2. The body leans slightly forward of a vertical position. This is important because if you lean too far backwards your knees will come up too high in the front and you will be practicing the high-knee version of DWR (which looks more like stair-stepping).
3. The arm carriage should be relaxed and identical to land-based running. Your arms will primarily move from the shoulder joint (relatively stable) with elbows flexed at approximately 90º.
4. The hands are held in a slightly clenched-fist position with your thumb resting lightly on your forefinger to decrease the likelihood of using a dog-paddling- type motion.
5. The legs will actually follow a pattern that is VERY similar to a faster type running motion like interval training where:
a) The knee comes up toward the surface of the water until the hip reaches a position of approximately 60-80º (hip flexion), followed by full extension (not hyperextension) of the leg toward the bottom of the pool.
b) The foot moves from approximately 0º dorsiflexion at full hip flexion (imagine your foot in the same position as if you were standing on the ground in a normal position) to approximately 50-70º of plantarflexion (toes pointed slightly at the bottom of the pool) when the leg is fully extended. A good thing to imagine is to think of your foot touching the bottom of the pool when your leg is fully extended, then moving your foot back toward the edge of the pool as far as possible without rotating your hips, then the foot moves under your butt, and finally lifting the knee up to allow the foot to continuously move through the gait pattern.
c) The major differences between the high-knee and cross-country styles of DWR are that the high-knee style leg action is primarily in a vertical plane with the legs moving straight up and down in a piston-like movement pattern with very little horizontal displacement present (imagine marching or stair-stepping) while the cross country style has a much greater range of motion which elicits more muscular involvement.
Deep-Water Cross (X) Country Ski-like motion: The X country style of skiing in deep-water looks qualitatively very similar to its’ land (snow)-based counterpart. This is an excellent complimentary activity for runners, but also works very well for anyone interested in an alternative exercise that will benefit the whole body.Key points:
1. The water should be at shoulder level below the chin with the head held in a neutral position facing forward (just like in DWR).
2. The body leans slightly forward of a vertical position, but you might notice that you don’t have to lean forward as much as in DWR.
3. The arm carriage should be relaxed and relatively straight swinging from the shoulders with your hands extended to increase drag (resistance).
4. The legs will stay relatively straight with knees slightly bent. Focus on moving the leg backwards until you feel the gluteals (butt) contract and then simply swing the leg forward until your foot starts to lift toward the surface.
5. The feet will stay in somewhat of a neutral position (imagine your self standing on the ground again). You will not need to point your toes toward the bottom of the pool like in DWR (Cross Country skiers don’t point their toes either). This is the best position to take advantage of the AQx’s increase in resistance, particularly while moving the foot backwards (pay attention to the gluteals and hamstrings during this part of the motion).
Gauging your effort
You will not be able to achieve as high a heart rate running in the water as running on land. A study from the famed Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that heart rate is 8-11 beats per minute lower for the same oxygen uptake when running in the water compared to normal running. This study also found maximal heart rate on average to be 16 beats per minute lower during all-out water running compared to land running. Lower heart rates during water running are primarily due to the pressure of water on the body which makes more blood return to the heart so more blood is pumped with each heart beat.
A useful rule of thumb is that heart rates during water running are about 10% lower than during land running. If you get your heart rate up to 140 beats per minute in the water, that is roughly equal to 154 beats per minute during normal running. The temperature of the water affects your heart rate during deep water running. Your heart rate will be lower in cool water and higher in warm water. In addition, two studies have found that women have slightly lower heart rates and oxygen consumption than men during deep water running. This is thought to be due to women’s generally higher bodyfat content and resultant greater buoyancy than men.
The Karolinska study found that perceived exertion is higher during water running for a given heart rate or level of oxygen consumption. So, in order to get a beneficial workout in the water, you will feel that you are working harder than during land running. For this reason, the 9-week schedule emphasizes interval workouts in the water. If you just do steady water running sessions your effort won’t be high enough to maintain your fitness. A study on water running by former 800 meter runner Tim Quinn, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of New Hampshire concluded that for runners to maintain fitness during water running it is necessary to include intervals, tempo, and/or fartlek training.