How to Do Deep Water Running for Injury Recovery

Deep water running, also known as aqua jogging, is great cross-training for runners and an excellent way to deal with injuries and avoid excess stress on hips, knees, and back. If you're getting over an injury, water running is a great adjunct to use in rehab and can allow you to recover without losing fitness.


Research shows
deep water running is relatively close to real running in terms of cardiovascular demand at easy-to-moderate intensities. You can expect to maintain your fitness for four to six weeks by water running during injury recovery.

What Is Deep Water Running?

Deep water running involves slowly running in a pool. The goal is to run in water deep enough that you cannot touch the bottom of the pool. If you are recovering from an injury, this form of exercise allows you to utilize the same range of muscles and makes the same cardiovascular demands that regular running requires, without the risk of injury.

Because water creates more resistance than air, it is more difficult to move in water than it is when you are running on land. It also avoids placing additional stress on the joints, so it makes a great cross-training activity on recovery days and is perfect for runners rehabbing injuries.

For deep water running to be effective for fitness maintenance, it should be done at the same intensity, frequency, and duration as your normal runs.

Submerged in the water you will have resistance on all sides. This forces opposing muscles to work equally. As you move your arms and legs against the resistance of the water, you will get a great cardiovascular and strength training workout.

Deepwater running takes some practice, but if you keep at it and work on your form, it'll become easier and more enjoyable—especially on those hot days when you can do your run while staying cool.

Benefits

Water workouts are often used to maintain fitness and aid in recovery following an injury. The free range of motion, resistance on the body, and lack of stress on the joints and bones allow you to work out comfortably without risking further injury.

Some other reasons you might want to try deep water running:

  • Because there is no impact, an injured athlete can train in the water and remain fit while injuries heal.
  • An uninjured athlete can use water running as a cross-training method, exercising the muscles in a different way from running on land. This is a benefit if you don't like actual swimming, but you enjoy being in the pool and want to make use of your pool time.
  • If you're not injured, aqua jogging is a great way to work on improving your running form and fitness without increasing the pounding on your joints from running on hard surfaces.
  • It's also an effective and safe alternative to outside running on extremely hot and humid days. And for runners with kids, you can get some exercise while watching your kids splash around in the pool.
  • Underwater running is also a way to work on technique. With water running, you can increase resistance and effort without adding on a lot of high-stress miles.

It's also a way to ease exercise boredom. You can get a good workout at the pool instead of putting in miles on the road, especially in summer or winter when the weather isn't welcoming. If it's raining outside, you may enjoy getting wet in the pool instead.

Deep Water vs. Regular Running

Aside from the recovery benefits afforded by deep water running, there are some other reasons why you might want to try an underwater workout as an alternative to a regular land run.

For runners looking for a cross-training activity for recovery days, deep water running can provide a good cardio and resistance workout, which can be great for building strength, flexibility, and endurance.

Deep Water Running

  • Low impact

  • Less risk of injury

  • Increased resistance

  • Less accessible (you need access to a pool)

Regular Running

  • High impact

  • Increased risk of injury compared to deep water running

  • Lower resistance

  • Easier access (you can run almost anywhere)

Possible disadvantages of aqua jogging are that it requires access to a pool deep enough to run without touching the bottom. And while you can skip expensive running shoes for an underwater workout, deep water running does require you to purchase or have access to special equipment.

Equipment You’ll Need

To deep water run effectively, you'll need a floatation vest or belt. The most popular form of aqua training devices among runners is the AquaJogger. Made from EVA foam, it looks like a belt that you strap around your waist. Almost any flotation vest or belt will work nearly as well. The goal is to keep your body afloat while allowing you to perform a running motion without stress to the body.

Adding additional hydro devices, such as socks, dumbbells, paddles, and gloves allows you to vary your effort and intensity.

Wearing a flotation device or belt will help you continue practicing your normal running biomechanics. If you're not wearing one, you'll have to lift your knees very high and have a quick stride turnover in order to stay afloat.

How to Do Water Running

Some floatation devices, such as the AquaJogger, come with instructions for water running, but here are some tips to help get you started:

  • Start with a warm-up, just as you would any other run. Get in the water and swim (or tread water) for 2 to 3 minutes to get your body warmed up.
  • In deep water, where your feet can't touch the bottom, simulate running with your flotation device worn as instructed. Try to use the same good running form that you would when running on the ground or the treadmill. Don't lean forward much or hunch over. Try to keep your body straight up in the water. Keep your shoulders back and your head and eyes looking at the horizon.
  • To get the most out of your workout, try to simulate your normal running style as closely as possible. Don't paddle with your hands. You should keep your fist loosely closed and let your legs move you forward. You can swing your arms higher or shorter and faster to intensify your workout.
  • To cool down, take off your flotation device and do some easy swimming for 2 to 3 minutes.

Safety Tips

Deep water running does pose a potential drowning risk, so always take safety precautions. If you don’t feel comfortable in deep water or cannot swim, you should look for an alternative workout.

Other tips for staying safe:

  • Try to simulate your normal running style.
  • Don't paddle with an open hand or cupped hand. Keep a loosely closed fist and let your legs move you forward.
  • Try to let the bottoms of your feet kick the water behind you.
  • Take short, quick strides. A fast cadence intensifies the workout.
  • Expect a lower stride cadence for your usual amount of effort. Remember that water is more resistant than air and your pace will decrease accordingly.
  • Your heart rate may surprise you. Even though you can feel your rate of effort, your heart rate will be about 10% lower than at the same intensity on land.

Common Mistakes

Deep water running might seems as simple as striding through the water, but there are some common mistakes that might prevent you from getting the most out of your workout.

  • Not warming up. Just like a regular workout, you should begin an underwater workout with a warm-up that includes some lighter work and stretching before ramping up the intensity.
  • Not adapting your form. While you should simulate regular running, deep water running is slightly different and requires some adaptations. You may find you need to run with higher needs and tighter back kicks in order to keep your posture upright in the water.
  • Not cooling down. Just because you're working out in the water doesn't mean that you can skip the cool down after your workout. A few minutes of lighter effort will allow your body to return to a resting state.

Sample Deep Water Workout

In some cases, you might want to try just doing your normal running routine in a deep-water environment. Varying your routine can also help you maintain fitness and interest.

Basic Deep Water Running Circuit

  • Warm-Up: 5 to 10 minutes at a comfortable pace with stretching
  • Intervals: 20 to 40 minutes of varied intensity intervals
  • Cool-Down: 5 to 10 minutes at a light pace followed by stretching

In addition to jogging, you might want to add in some other movements to make your workout more fun and intense. During the interval portion of your workout, intersperse bursts of running movements with sets of sidekicks, knee lifts, heel kicks, and arm rotations.

A Word From Verywell

It may take some practice to get the hang of deep water running, but if you concentrate on your form, just as you would while running on land, you should pick it up quickly. Although water running is a great alternative for injured runners, you may not be able to do it comfortably with certain injuries, such as a strained hip flexor. If aqua jogging causes you pain, then you shouldn't be doing it. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist to determine another cross-training activity to do during your recovery.

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