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Aqua Running

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 benifet your training program[1-5].

Aqua Running Technique

Aqua running can be divided into basic techniques and advanced techniques. The basic technique must be mastered before the advanced methods are attempted.

Basic Technique

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.

Advanced Technique

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 aim is to keep the upper leg as still as possible while flexing the lower leg. This is 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 must 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.

Aqua Jogger flotation beltFlotation devices

The great advantage of flotation devices is that they allow the athlete to learn the proper running technique without keeping themselves afloat.

Aqua floatation vestThe 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, which may constrict breathing in some athletes.

The picture to the right shows one of the flotation vests very similar to a life jacket, except that it provides a more significant amount of freedom to move around.

Technique monitoring

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), and hamstring /quadriceps strength. Even calf/ankle can be analysed and corrected for the most advanced deepwater running practitioner.

The coach must monitor the following movement patterns and feed back corrective action to the athlete:

  1. Foot placement
  2. Hip position (in all three planes)
  3. Hip/upper leg angle (at both ends of the range of motion)
  4. Ankle angle (at both ends of the range of motion)
  5. Knee angle (at both ends of the range of motion)
  6. Mid-line displacement
  7. Arm position

All of these should be checked to ensure that they follow the movement pattern used on land as closely as possible. Remember, an athlete's stride length and stride rate in water are very different from 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:

  • bobbing - which occurs if the application of force is primarily vertical or only with the driving leg
  • moving backwards - which occurs when the direction of thrust is horizontal, but power is applied only during the recovery phase

Training Sessions

Studies[1-5] have shown that aqua running sessions can benefit 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 the water, record the time to complete 60 strides.


  1. GEHRING, M. and KELLER, B.A. and BRENHAM, B.A. (1997) Water running with and without a flotation vest in competitive and recreational runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 29 (10), p. 1374-1378
  2. CASSADEY, S. L. and NIELSEN, D.H. (1992) Britain respiratory responses of healthy subjects to callisthenics performed on land versus water. Physical Therapy, 72, p. 532-538.
  3. GLASS, B. and WILSON, D. and BLESING, D. and & MIILER, E. (1995) A physiological comparison of suspended deep water running to hard surface running. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 9, p. 17-21.
  4. GASPARD, G. et al. (1995) Effects of a seven-week aqua step training program on aerobic capacity and body composition of college-aged women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 27.
  5. HAMER, T. and MORTON, A. (1990) Water running: Training effects and specificity of aerobic, anaerobic and muscular parameters following an eight-week interval training program. Australian Journal of Scientific Medicine in Sport, 22, p. 13-22.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKER, B. (2005) Aqua Running [WWW] Available from: [Accessed