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Deep water running.

Hurt? Don't let a metatarsal fracture, iliotibial band syndrome, patellar tendinitis, Achilles tendinitis or just about any other lower body injury keep you from your regular run. A non-weight bearing prescription doesn't have to stop you. All you need is chest high or deeper water and a buoyancy device to simulate road running and you can preserve virtually all your training gains made before you were injured.

Study after study has confirmed that deep water running provides comparable cardiovascular benefits to road running and treadmill running without the impact that must be avoided when you're injured. "Stop running while your injury heals" doesn't have to mean "stop running." Just take your workout to the pool.

In one study, four weeks of deep water training was substituted for the usual running workouts of well trained, competitive male runners. All before and after tests of fitness and performance confirmed that training gains were maintained. In a published case study of an elite male runner with a metatarsal fracture of the right foot, deep water running was used for training during rehabilitation. At the end of 24 weeks, all pre-injury fitness and performance measures were maintained. Six months of injury rehabilitation resulted in no deconditioning whatsoever. These and dozens of other published reports confirm that deep water running can keep you running strong, even during injury rehab.

How is a Water-Run Different?

Your cardiovascular system doesn't really care how you make it work. It performs on demand to the extent that you exert yourself to the heart it is of no consequence whether you are kickboxing, bicycling, or running. But in chest deep water, the heart's work is made a bit easier by the pressure of the water and its cooling effects. The same effort is not likely to produce as high a heart rate in the water, usually about ten beats per minute slower. The pressure of the water on your body makes the blood return to the heart more easily, and your body weighs only 10% of its land weight in deep water, which also eases the load on the heart. Finally, the water is cooling your body as you work, again easing the demands on the heart. The result is that you will feel as though you are working harder than your heart rate indicates.

As for your body, the effort is real work, closely mimicking the muscular demands of land running effectively. At the same time, water pressure is massaging your muscles, cushioning your joints, and increasing the circulation around injured tissues. Not only are you getting the muscular and cardiovascular benefits of your regular workout, the water is also enhancing the healing process for your injury.

Beyond Recovery

Although there are disputes among the experts, deep water running may not only allow you to maintain fitness while injured, it might help improve your running performance when healthy. The benefits of water training may allow you to train harder without the limitations of injury risk. This may be especially true for older runners whose training hours and intensity may be limited by a less durable skeletal system. At least some quality training can be done in the pool, allowing training benefits to accrue without the impact of land running. Deep water running doesn't just have to be slogging it out at a steady, tedious pace. All types of quality training can be employed in the water--intervals, fartlek, sprints, long runs, threshold runs and whatever else you might do on the trails or track.

Women runners in the later stages of pregnancy can reap the benefits of strenuous training without worry of the extra mechanical burden of third trimester weight. In addition to the training benefits, the hydrostatic pressure of the water reduces lower extremity swelling.

As a cross training method deep water running has a great advantage--it is directly transferable to ground running. For a runner, that is an important consideration. You can reduce the wear and tear of running extra miles while still gleaning all the training specificity of running. A day off from running can be substituted for a day in the pool without anything lost in the translation. Deep water running shouldn't give you an excuse to overtrain or skip rest and recovery but it can certainly reduce the burdens of hard training on your musculoskeletal system.

The Downside

Deep water running seems to have a slim number of critics. Many injured runners have recovered from injury and then kept right on training in deep water due to its advantages. But unless you are injured, you certainly shouldn't do all your training in the pool since your body will need to be conditioned to the effects of land running if you plan to continue to run on land. If you have used deep water running for rehabilitation of an injury, you will need gradually to reintroduce gravity and ground impact forces in order to avoid reinjury.

The biggest problem with deep water running is likely to be the tedium. Almost like a sensory deprivation tank, there is no scenery, no sound, just an unvarying swish. And everything happens in slow motion unlike road running. You will need a well-disciplined mind to endure hours and hours of pool training. Of course, this is what all competitive swimmers have long accomplished. For runners, it is a big concession.

(Journal of Strength and conditioning Research, 2000, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 191-195; Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 1997, Vol. 1, pp. 54-58; Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1997, Vol. 29, No. 5, pp. 694-699; and many more too numerous to list)


Deep water running is made possible by a water walker-basically a styrofoam belt that keeps your bottom half and top half in an upright position in the water. The buoyancy of the belt keeps your feet off the bottom surface and allows you to move your arms and legs in a close simulation of land running movements. You can run essentially free of the effects of gravity. In addition, the water provides 12 times the resistance of air so that although your movement speed is slower, the exertion needed for the movement is increased.

Your objective in the water is to closely mimic the movements you make on land. Arms, body position, and leg motion should appear to be slow motion running. Your head should be positioned upright without any awkward forward tilt. This sounds easier on paper than it is likely to feel--you'll need to experiment and practice, maybe even get the help of an instructor to get it right. But once you get the position, the motion, and a comfort level in the water, your training can proceed with your normal running routine.
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Title Annotation:for those recovering from injuries and older runners
Author:Newman, Carol
Publication:Running & FitNews
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Previous Article:Some like it hot.
Next Article:These old bones--can run like the wind.

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