How Deep Water Running Works

By: Jill Becker
The AquaJogger® buoyancy belt comfortably suspends you at shoulder level in deep water allowing you to move freely during deep water therapy or training.

If you're an athlete, your training routine most likely involves running. If you run, you've probably complained about the strain placed on your body by your feet hitting the pavement. But what can you do about it? This joint, bone and muscle strain is common, and when you're injured, the thought of abandoning your rigorous training schedule is daunting. It could mean losing muscle, speed and possibly even your competitive edge. Injured non-athletes also find recovery challenging, especially when normal movement like walking becomes difficult. If you need movement to heal, but movement causes undue stress on your body, what do you do? When you have a sports injury and need rehabilitation, or when you just want impact-free training, deep water running may be the answer.

Deep water running is just jogging in water deep enough that your feet don't touch the bottom. As simple as it sounds, though, it offers many benefits. Deep water running is not only a commonly recommended rehabilitation tool for sports injuries, but it's also a fitness and accelerated training method used by athletes and exercise fanatics everywhere.


The allure of deep water running is that as you train, the natural buoyancy of the water reduces the strain on your joints, bones and muscles by as much as 90 percent. As your body presses down in the water, the water presses up on your body, creating the illusion that you weigh less and reducing strain. Deep water running takes advantage of buoyancy while providing the same cardiovascular workout as if you were running on solid ground. In fact, deep water running made Runner's World magazine's list of the top 25 best training tips of all time. Another appealing factor is that you don't need any special training or equipment other than a swimming pool. (Note: Lap pools are generally too shallow for deep water running.) Some deep water running practitioners do use a buoyancy belt, but just as many don't.

Read on to learn about some techniques used in deep water running and how another underwater tool provides an even greater workout when incorporated into your routine.


Deep Water Run Training

The AquaJogger® buoyancy belt gives you core strengthening and vertical lift while evenly distrubiting buoyancy.

Deep water running is easy -- you just get in the pool and start moving, mimicking the same basic motions you would if you were jogging along your neighborhood trail. You must remember a few specific techniques, though, because it's natural to forget at first that you're supposed to be running, not swimming:

  • Stay tall in the water, keeping your body straight up and down.
  • Pull your knees up higher than you would when jogging -- to about hip height -- and slightly point your toes.
  • Swing your arms from the shoulder, keeping them bent at about 90 degrees.
  • Keep the palms of your hands closed or turned inward; you want them to slice through the water, not cup it.

Jogging with the added resistance of water can take some getting used to, but with practice, it will begin to feel as natural as running on dry land. Water provides this extra resistance because of its viscosity. Water is vastly more viscous than air, meaning it's much harder to move out of the way. This viscosity allows you to boost the intensity of your workout. If you're anxious about starting a new exercise program without the proper expertise, numerous books, videos and websites can help. You may even find an organized deep water running class at your local gym or rec center.


Many deep water runners, especially those just starting out, use a buoyancy or flotation device of some kind. Devotees claim they help keep you from leaning in the water, so you can focus on getting your heart rate up rather than staying upright. Without a buoyancy belt, you might also have a tendency to tilt your head back, which can cause a stiff neck. You can wear a life vest when deep water running, but it tends to limit your workout by restricting upper body movement.

Another tool sometimes used in deep water running, particularly among more advanced participants, is a tether connecting your flotation device to the side of the pool. Anchoring yourself to a fixed position provides even greater resistance, because you're essentially running away from the edge of the pool.

Continue reading to learn how deep water running can help you recover from injury.


The Benefits of Deep Water Running

Much like during space travel, your body in water weighs only a fraction of what it does on land, which is one of the reasons aquatic activities like water aerobics and deep water running are so popular. The buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on your body by as much as 90 percent. This means you can stretch, tone and get a vigorous, heart-healthy workout without the added stress on your joints, bones and tissues. The decreased force not only results in fewer injuries like ankle sprains and muscle tears, but it also eases the load on your heart, particularly when the water is cooler than the outside temperature in which you'd normally run. In addition, the reduced effects of exercising in water allow you to train for longer periods with more difficult intervals while shortening recovery time between sessions. The benefits of deep water running are especially favorable for older people, pregnant women and cardiac patients.

One of the biggest groups of deep water runners, however, is people recovering from injuries. As a non-weight-bearing exercise, deep water running is an oft-prescribed rehabilitation method for common injuries like stress fractures and torn ligaments. This therapy is great for people with lower back pain and other symptoms that exclude traditional exercises like walking or jogging. John Moe, a masters runner from Canada, was a prime candidate for deep water running after his plantar fasciitis kept him from his normal road workouts. After deep water running therapy, he placed second in his age group at the Boston Marathon that year [source: Water Works Performance: Success]. Being injured doesn't mean your fitness routine has to stop; simply take your workout to the pool instead.


Deep water running isn't for everyone, though. Some people find the lack of scenery -- compared to that of running outdoors -- too boring. Others don't like how jogging in water feels like moving in slow motion compared to the speed of jogging down the street. But for most, the pros outweigh the cons.

Check out the next page for lots more information about deep water running.


Lots More Information

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  • Fitsugar. "What's the Deal With: Deep Water Running." Oct. 8, 2007. (July 26, 2010)
  • Laitner, Bill. "Water Running Keeps you Moving in Winter." Detroit Free Press. Jan. 10, 2006. (July 26, 2010)
  • Mercer, John A. "Biomechanical Comparison of Deep Water and Treadmill Running." (July 26, 2010)
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