deep-water running

Do This Now: Deep Water Running

The fittest bodies don't resist this unsung hero of training.

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What do dancers, ball players, pregnant women and runners all have in common? They utilize the pool. Specifically, they take advantage of the cardio and cross-training benefits of deep water running. “Ballerinas, basketball players—I’ve had them all in my pool," says deep water running coach and founder of Blue Ocean Swimming, Robert Valentin. 

Unlike shallow water running, where athletes run across the bottom of the pool, deep water running offers no impact whatsoever. In fact, you don’t even want to move from your initial starting spot. “With deep water running, the goal is to stay stationary,” explains Valentin. "Instead of mimicking land running motions in the water, in deep water running you run with a straight leg. You want your body to be really tall; your core should be tight, shoulders in line with your hips, knees relaxed and toes pointed like a ballerina,” says Valentin. “People naturally close their fists, but you want to keep them open. This allows you to get the most resistance possible.” 

A typical deep water running session consists of four gaits: a four-foot stride “power walk,” three-foot stride “run” (which simulates running on flat ground), a two-foot wide “uphill” and a one-foot wide “downhill” (quick flutter kicks). Think of your hip as the centerline: You're trying to move your arms and feet past the centerline, forward and backward, depending on the stride length. Meaning, a two-foot stride would require moving your arms and legs two feet back and forth past your hip. 

Constantly fighting against the water’s resistance while trying to stay tall and increase your cadence during each gait is anything but easy. “Deep water running quickly reveals imbalances,” says Valentin. “Any weakness in your core, glutes, hamstrings or hips will translate to the pool. You’ll find yourself drifting forward, backward or from side to side.” To combat this, it’s essential to wear a flotation device, which helps keep you afloat, making it easier to maintain proper form. 

For runners in particular, "not only can you get your heart rate up just as much as on land, but the cooling effect of the water also helps you recover faster," says Valentin. Fighting to keep good posture in the pool will also carry over to the concrete. “You’re fighting the resistance of the water, just imagine how that would benefit you when you’re up against air.” 

Below, Valentin shares a sample workout:

Warm Up:

1 minute power walk (count and maintain the same cadence every 15 seconds)

45 seconds flat run (count and maintain the same cadence every 15 seconds)

30 seconds uphill (count and increase the same cadence every 15 seconds)

15 seconds downhill (count and maintain the same cadence every 15 seconds)

Set #1:

Uphill 45 seconds x 15 seconds rest, repeated four times (increase each set’s cadence number by 2)

Repeat above set going downhill (1-foot strides, hands sideways, slicing past the hips)

Set #2:

1 minute flat run x 30 seconds uphill x 30 seconds downhill, repeated twice (hold a steady cadence on the 1-minute runs and get faster every 10 seconds on the 30-second run)

1 minute power walk recovery

Set #3:

50 seconds uphill (getting faster every 10 seconds) x 10 seconds rest, repeated three times

Cool Down:

Easy power walk