Brad Walker explains the techniques of aquatic running.
Aqua running, running in deep water, is a way of continuing your training while injured or an alternative form of exercise that can be beneficial to your training program[1-5].
Aqua Running Technique
Aqua running can be divided into the basic technique and advanced techniques. The basic technique must be mastered before the advanced methods are attempted.
The basic technique is similar to jogging (recovery running). The idea is to reach out with the leading leg and pull it through the water firmly and evenly. The trailing leg needs to be actively pulled forward (because of the increased resistance of the water) at the same time. The front foot should land in front of the body's centre of gravity. Keep the knees low and actively dorsiflex the rear foot at push-off. Arm action should be as for land running.
1. Max Speed
The aim is to make the legs go as fast as possible. The strides are kept as short as the athlete can make them. The legs are moved up and down with the landing slightly behind the centre of gravity. Arm action should be as for land running.
2. Heel Lift
The idea of this is to keep the upper leg as still as possible while flexing the lower leg. This is just like a hamstring curl but upright. It is difficult for the athlete to achieve full flexion, and high concentration is required to perform this technique properly. If done correctly, there is a slight tendency for the athlete to move backwards in the water, but this is normal (for this stride only). The hands can be used to prevent this and to stabilize the body.
3. High Knees
In this technique, the athlete is required to drive the leading leg up as high as possible. A slight forward lean is recommended with the trailing leg landing significantly behind the centre of gravity, and the arms need to be very active.
4. Middle Stride
This is the most challenging pattern to learn and is used in the most demanding workouts. It should mimic the running style of a 400m/800m runner with the leading leg landing slightly in front of the centre of gravity. The trailing leg must be strongly curled up at the back of the stride to reduce the force needed to bring it forward. The arms must be vigorously used.
The great advantage of flotation devices is that they allow the athlete to learn the proper running technique without having to keep themselves afloat.
The Aqua-jogger is convenient and easy to wear but is less useful for larger, heavier athletes because of its constant buoyancy factor.
Also, flotation devices like the Aqua-jogger need to be worn tightly, and this may constrict breathing in some athletes.
The picture, to the right, shows one of the flotation vests that are very similar to a life jacket, except that it provides a more significant amount of freedom to move around.
The increased resistance of the water will highlight any mechanical and functional weaknesses the athlete may have in their running technique. This is especially true of imbalances in hip abduction/adduction, hip flexion/extension, and torso movement (abdominal/lower back), hamstring /quadriceps strength. For the most advanced deepwater running practitioner, even calf/ankle can be analysed and corrected.
The coach must monitor the following movement patterns and feedback corrective action to the athlete:
All of these should be checked to ensure that they follow as closely as possible the movement pattern used on land. Remember an athlete's stride length and stride rate in water are very different when compared to land-based running.
An aim of aqua running should be the smooth application of power over the entire range of motion in a horizontal direction. The improper use of force, even with the proper technique, can result in two effects:
Studies[1-5] have shown that aqua running sessions can be beneficial for all athletes. The difference we have is that aqua running is almost running on the spot so distance cannot be measured. A simple approach is to determine the number of strides the athlete would take to complete the distance on land and to use the stride count in an aqua running session.
Example: If the athlete takes 60 strides to run 100 metres then for a 100 metres interval session in water record the time to complete 60 strides.
The information presented on this page is adapted from articles written by Brad Walker on the topic of aerobic water exercise & aquatic therapy.
About the Author
Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.
Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming and triathlon coaching.
He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.
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