Unlike most forms of cardio, swimming makes it possible to work your body without the harsh impact to the joints. And, just like land-based exercise, swimming offers a long list of benefits, including increased muscle tone and strength, improved flexibility, and reduced resting and exercise heart rates.
The good news is you do not have to be a swimmer to experience the benefits of the aquatic environment. Deep-water running is a vertical form of exercise that does not require you to be proficient in swimming skills. Traditionally, deep-water exercise is defined as exercise performed suspended in water at a depth that allows you to remain vertical and yet not touch the bottom of the pool.
Any form of deep-water training should be performed with an attached flotation device such as an aqua belt or aqua vest. Even if you can swim or feel confident in the deep-water environment, the belt is used for more than just safety. A flotation device is worn to assist in keeping neutral buoyancy, which allows you to concentrate on working against drag properties of the water as opposed to trying to stay afloat.
If you have been strictly a land-based exerciser, deep-water running will not be easy as you will most likely be challenged in keeping your body in an upright, neutral position. Keep in mind these tips on technique to help make the most of your cardio workout:
Arms: Pump the arms and keep a loosely closed fist. You will be tempted to paddle the arms in the attempt to move quickly through the water.
Feet: While stationary, emphasize a flat foot pressing down to the bottom of the pool. While traveling, feet will point slightly downward to assist in the traveling motion.
Traveling: Perform short, quick strides with gradual travel vs. long slow strides with forced travel.
Body position: The center of gravity (hips) and the center of buoyancy (chest) align with each other to create a vertical upright position with neutral alignment. The challenge will be to not allow any flexion in the hips, which will shift the upper body forward, while keeping the legs vertical.
Stationary Knee-high Jog
With the lifting leg, the hip is flexed, the knee is flexed with the foot slightly behind the knee. Emphasize a flat foot pressing down, creating a long extended line with the trail leg
Traveling Deep-water Running
Lean the body forward 5 to 10 degrees from vertical. The leg action drives down and slightly diagonally backward to achieve the forward run.
The leg movement is similar to riding a bicycle backwards. The body remains vertical with the feet pedaling down and back, scooping the water forward with the front of the leg and foot. Use assisting arm patterns, such as alternating arm pushes forward or reverse breaststroke, to assist in the backward movement.
Alternate these three exercises for 15 to 30 minutes. If you are new to deep-water running, try each exercise for one to two minutes. If you are ready to increase the intensity and challenge your endurance, perform each exercise for one to four minutes.
Knee-high jog: 1 minute
Knee-high jog: 1 minute
Photos (proper alignment and backwards jog) are reprinted with permission from the Aquatic Exercise Association www.aeawave.com.