How To Use Deep-Water Workouts To Boost Summer Running

July 15, 2016 Posted By: Mizuno USA

By: The Mizuno Shoe Guy


You don’t need me to tell you that we’re already knee-deep into summer. You also don’t need me to tell you that running through the summer heat and humidity that so many of us face, makes running pretty darn tough. That is, running on dry land.


But, there is another, cooler way to run at least some of the time during your brutal blow torch of a summer: Deep-water running. It’s still running, but your feet never touch the ground. Or, in this case, the bottom of a pool.


Deep-water running is nothing new, but most runners hold their noses in contempt and only even contemplate doing it when forced to because of an injury. Make no mistake about it, deep-water running is an excellent aerobic workout when you’re injured because there’s no impact whatsoever–the chief culprit of most running injuries. You can “run” safely through most common running injuries in the pool.


But even if you aren’t injured, deep-water running is a great hot-weather alternative to dry land running. Not only do you not lose any conditioning, pool running gives you a break from the pounding and complete relief from the blazing temperatures and oppressive humidity so many of us enjoy during summer. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.)


One of the beauties of deep-water running is how easy it is. All you need is a pool to get in a terrific workout which is roughly equal to your dry land training but without the heat and impact.


First things first. You’ll need to find a pool with a deep end. It doesn’t have to be extremely deep, just deep enough so that your feet won’t touch bottom. Finding a pool with a deep end isn’t as easy it sounds. Many pools today aren’t any deeper than 5 ½ feet. If that’s all which is available, you can still run in the water but your feet will obviously touch the bottom.


Regardless of the depth of the pool,  you will also need some room (preferably, your own lane) to run so as not to get in the way of the lap swimmers or kids playing Marco Polo. Try to stay out of their way and hopefully, they’ll stay out of your way.


Best bet is to go early before the crowds get there. Lunchtime or early evening is usually when the lanes are the most crowded. I’ve also “run” in several lakes and the ocean, but find doing so in a pool is a bit better because the water isn’t as choppy.


Your next step is to find a partner to “run” with in the water because the No. 1 complaint runners have is that pool running is incredibly boring. And, it certainly can be. So get a training partner who you can “run” with. Being able to chat and gossip the time away will make it pass that much quicker.


The other obstacle to overcome is looking like an oddball running in the water. But bite on this: Doing a pool run of 45 minutes is not any different—aerobically speaking–than a dry land run of the same length. Plus, you’ll burn approximately 350 calories every 30 minutes in the pool. So if you’re injured and want to stay in shape until healthy again, hop in. If you’re not hurt and want to supplement your running, the pool is a perfect way to get a second workout in. Or, just substitute a pool running day every few days instead of dry land running.


Pool running is a much better alternative–in terms of giving you an aerobic boost for your actual running—than actually swimming. Most of us aren’t  skilled swimmers to do an extensive workout. But even if you are one, swimming is great for the upper body but does almost nothing for the legs. Even if you are a skilled swimmer and able to do a huge amount of intervals with short recovery, it still won’t do as much for a fit runner as running in the water will.


The first question potential pool runners generally have is whether they’ll need a foam floatation belt. You don’t. I know this goes against the grain, but most runners, who are comfortable in the water, won’t need one.  Trust me, you won’t sink if you don’t wear a floatation belt. Even skinny marathoners like me do just fine without any floatation aids. But if you’re uncomfortable in the water, go ahead and wear a belt such as the Aqua Jogger. A water-skiing belt works just fine too.


Truth is, I’m a firm believer in going without a floatation belt. The advantage of not wearing a belt, means you’ll be working a little harder to maintain a comfortable running position in the water which will tax your aerobic system a bit more and give you a better, all-around workout. Many fit runners who want to try pool running, start out with a floatation belt or vest, but find they don’t get a good enough workout. So, once you’re comfortable in the water, ditch the floatation device and you’ll be able to get your heart rate up higher while running.


To begin a pool workout, all you need to do is start your runners’ watch, hop into the deep end and begin to run. Move your arms and legs as if you’re running on land. Try not to bounce up and down in the water. Instead, maintain a steady cadence with short, quick strides. The quicker the strides, the better the workout. Breathe normally.


If you can’t find deep water and can only run in water with your feet touching the pool bottom, that’s OK too. The running motion is the same as you go back and forth. My pool doesn’t have a deep end so what I do (after my regular swim workout) is “run” one lap forward and the next lap backward. It isn’t as good an aerobic workout as deep-water running, but it does help to develop power in my legs (mainly the quads, hip flexors and hamstrings).


Regardless of the depth you’re running in, the first thing you’ll notice is you’re going very slowly. That’s because water is so much denser than air that it provides much more resistance which is the basic concept behind doing this. As you will quickly find out, running in the water works your quads, calf muscles, hip flexors and hamstrings—all the primary running muscles– without placing any impact stress on your lower legs. If your feet do touch the bottom, there is some impact but not much because you’re going so slowly.


If you have access to deep water, you will move forward in the water, but you’ll be going so slowly it’s almost imperceptible how little you move. For ambitious, goal-oriented runners, this is kind of a downer at first because we want to go as fast as we can. But in the pool, your speed doesn’t really matter. The training effort (time spent pool running and the intensity you do it) is what counts; the laps and speed don’t. (I don’t even count laps. Instead, I just measure my pool running by the clock.)


If the pool is crowded, you may have to just go back and forth in a lane. Or in a tight circle. So being slow actually helps in reducing the water you cover.


As you continue running in the deep water, try not to pull the water with your hands or kick your feet back more than normal. Don’t cup your hands to provide added propulsion. Simply, use your hands in the same up-and-down motion and rhythm as running and allow the legs to move you forward. It will be much harder to pull your legs through than on land—much harder–but that’s what will provide you with such a terrific workout.


There’s a tendency to lengthen your stride underwater. That’s OK as it can improve your range of motion. But don’t exaggerate it.


One major difference between running on land and in the pool is your heart rate is about 10-15 percent lower in the water because the water makes you so buoyant. Plus, since you’re constantly being cooled by the water, you aren’t heating up like on dry land which also lowers your heart rate.


Still, it’s important to get your heart rate up. To do so, simulate a speed session. Try running hard for one minute, recover for a minute and then follow with another minute of hard running. Do 10 of those.  Or sprint hard for 30 seconds every minute. That will get your heart rate up.


Or, do a fartlek workout. Run hard for five minutes, recover for two, run hard for 10 minutes, jog recover for three. Or run hard to one pool ladder and recover as you run to the next ladder. Mix it up and add variety by simulating your dry land workouts.  Do whatever it takes to make it interesting and elevate your heart rate.


A long run in the water? It’s certainly possible and I know runners—injured runners—who will go for two hours running in the water. But it’s very difficult to do, plus you monopolize limited pool space for a long time. Best to keep your pool workouts to 45 minutes or less.


You don’t need to wear goggles because your face should be above water most of the time, but sometimes the chemicals in the pool (especially early) can irritate your eyes. Generally, I wear goggles when I run in the pool just to give my eyes some protection from the sun. I’ve seen people wear sunglasses when they run in the water, but they tend to get foggy and wet  from the splashing.


Like most runners, I only began running in the pool as a last resort when I was injured and when I returned to dry land running, I hadn’t lost anything. When I started up again, I continued pool running two or three days a week and discovered much to my amazement, that I semi-enjoyed it. Even better, the pool running paid dividends in terms of strength and overall body fitness.


Assuming you aren’t injured, try to use deep-water running as a summer supplement to your regular training. Instead of running on dry land, substitute one or two pool runs per week during the heat of summer. Again, running in the water is just like running on the land—except without the pounding and heat.


Is pool running boring? Well yeah it can be. But if you can get over it, pool running is an ideal way to boost your summer running and/or keep running while injured.


Hop in.


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