Water running is the best way to maintain running fitness and form when an athlete needs to limit or abstain from land running. It can be a fantastic cross training exercise for a pure runner to add some running volume without the pounding and great for a multi-sport athlete who might need to supplement their run program.
We filmed this water running video so that you would have a visual of how to do it. Water running is literally running in the water. Grab a floatation belt (or a Croc sandal in your swim suit can suffice!) and jump in the deep end of the pool where you can move without touching the bottom of the pool. You want to simulate your running stride the best you can. A common error is to “cycle” in the water but running is not an up and down circle with the knees. When you run, your knee comes toward your chest and then your foot lands in front of your body and you run over your feet. Your foot hits the ground and your body moves in front and then you kick up your heels toward your back. So now, in the water, you want to bring your knee toward your chest and then kick out so that you simulate the running over your feet. Then bring the leg back behind your body using your butt. You really have to over emphasize this. In the video, I am really driving my knees up and yet it doesn’t look that high. And I am really kicking out and yet it doesn’t look like I am. So really exaggerate each motion. Keep your shoulders back – you want a slight lean forward as in running but the tendency is to lean too far forward, so keep your abdominals tight and your shoulders back. You should feel your hip flexors working hard against the resistance of the water and you should feel your butt working on the pull back of your landing leg through the water. For your arms, they should be just like you are running on land. Again, the tendency is to hold them at 90 degrees but to open up your underarms to use your arms for floating. This is not correct. Keep your underarms as closed as possible and pump your arms back and forth and keep them tight to the body. Again, in the video I am doing this and yet it appears that my arms are a bit wide. So exaggerate all motions.
I have read that you don’t have to water run as long in order to simulate a land run. I disagree with that. While it might be hard to convince yourself to stay in the water for the duration of your run, I have always simulated my land runs minute by minute with my water runs. The only difference is that I don’t need as much recovery in between “water run” intervals.
I have substituted thousands of land miles with water miles. In 2007, when my chronic Achilles issues finally demanded a 2 to 3 month break from running, I water ran and swam every single day for 2 weeks (no biking or running) and then I gradually re-introduced biking. That was mid April, May and June. In mid-June, I re-introduced running 3 days per week starting with a walk/run program and I kept up my water running 3 days each week to simulate my typical 6 runs per week. In August, I raced Subaru IRONMAN Canada on minimum land mileage and a long run of 90 minutes only. The resistance training of the water made me stronger, reinforced my aerobic engine, simulated running and kept me healthy enough to race!
When you feel pain, it is ok to skip a run and substitute a water run. Skipping that run might turn a 2-month injury into a 2-day injury instead. I cringe when I hear people running on aches and pains – “it is just tight” or “it only hurts when …”. If something hurts – rest – substitute a non-painful workout such as water running.