This is the first of several posts on information gathered at the USATF Podium Education Project in Las Vegas. Like last year, this was a conference with coaches and scientists/researchers of the best of the best – Olympic level athletes. My goal is to share some data and information as well as share some practical considerations for age group, youth and masters athletes.
Over the past recent years aqua-running has gained attention a lot of attention. The current terms used interchangeably are aquatic training or water training. Not all attention to this method of training has been positive. There have been a number of disparaging articles and blog comments to this training approach. It was even labeled as a “fad” by one post I read.
Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s no fad! This is becoming an integral part of elite training programs. It’s a who’s who on runners currently using water training as part of their overall development. One especially notable runner: Lornah Kiplagat has trained 3-5 times a week this way for the past 2 years in addition to her terra firma running (she set the 10 mile and 20K WRs during this time). The 2006 NCAA cross-country champion did water training. An NCAA champion sprinter set conference records while training 30-40% of time in water. In chatting with some of the college coaches attending, most use water training for distance runners as well as sprinters. One coach uses it extensively for sprinters (through 400 meters) during winter indoor season because the hard turns on indoor tracks beat runners up so much.
Here are some tidbits on water training the researchers (biomechanists and physiologists) are finding.
First, why use it in the first place? Water functions to assist, resist and support your body as you workout. Water being 800 times more dense than air provides great resistance training. Running on land is far more traumatic and due to gravity will expose weaknesses in technique, muscle group imbalances, etc. Therefore, too much – to soon land running gets runners injured faster.
You can do water training in any depth of water. Waist deep water yields approximately one half your body weight. Chest deep yields 70-80% of body weight; and deep water (up to chin with buoyant device) is 90% (not 100%) off your weight.
Just like with any training, you must allow your body to adjust and “learn” how to run in water correctly. It will use some lesser used muscles differently. So, build up slowly.
However, the critical focal point has to be on technique and range of motion (ROM) of your legs.
Hold head in neutral position.
Hold your body in a slight forward lean – just as in running.
Arms swing in natural way lightly hold hands in fist – don’t paddle in water.
Do not do short abbreviated strides. Do not use a choppy – “high knee running” (HKR) sewing machine like – up-down stride (like running in place stride).
You must focus on a complete cycle (ROM) of your legs that matches your running form. Focus on stretching out and do not fully extend your forward leg (just like in running – it never moves to full straight position). Bring your foot through and follow through backwards. This is especially hard in waist high water or less as we tend to shorten our strides. Therefore, they generally advocate deep water running (DWR) most of the time (feet do not touch bottom).
It is critical to maintain posture like running. Do not lean forward too much. This seems to be an issue with waist floats. AQx has designed both shoes and a body suit to ameliorate this problem.
Perceived effort for water workouts is HIGHER than land workouts. This is on the perceived exertion scales used. They are 1-3 points higher on the 20 point scale.
Heart rates are LOWER by 10-15 beats per minute at MAXIMAL exertions. Despite this the cardiac output is the same due to stroke volume increase. HR is the same at sub-maximal exertions – 60-65% of VO2max.
Stride rates are slower in water. To replicate the effort of a stride rate of 82 on land you would run with a stride rate of 49-53 in DWR. The “fastest” workouts would be done at 70-90% of land stride rates.
Water training includes plyometric workouts which include bounding, skipping, jump squats, speed drills in shallow water. Just try jumping straight up in waist deep water!
Though workouts can be conducted with and without shoes, wearing shoes provides additional resistance. This is especially important since the resistance is at the end of the lever (your leg… it’s a physics thing). There are aquatic shoes specifically designed for this. They provide 20-30% more resistance compared to barefoot running!
Some research conclusions:
“Recovery running in water is WAY underrated.”
It is evident that the addition of water running decreases incidents of injuries.
It is evident that it increases strength, power, dynamic flexibility, coordination and endurance.
[Note: This answers a question posed to me in the past – YES it can improve conditioning and it is not just for off-season or injury rehab any more!]
It is good to combine land-based workouts with water workouts (i.e. at the end of a run – hit the pool for hard water intervals).
Water training is not just for rehab any more… it is for PREhab too!
The bottom-line is that water training looks like it is not only here to stay but will become an increasingly larger part of training programs for elite runners as coaches try to find ways to increase workouts and intensity without getting them injured. My perspective is that if it is good enough for Olympic and world record setting athletes, it’s good enough for me… and YOU!