Water Running Handbook – Part 4

Running Form

Whether you are a world class athlete or an individual just getting started on a health and fitness program, there are some basic techniques that need to be considered in order for you to maximize the benefits of your deep water running program. The desired running form in water is almost identical to running form on land.


Your center of gravity on land is at your hips. In water your center of buoyancy is at your lungs. To get used to this change. you need to retrain your body to use your abdominal muscles to maintain the correct vertical posture.

Body Angle:

Running with the upper body leaning too far forward is the most common error committed by beginners. This posture rolls you up into a little ball and restricts movement (figure 2). Straighten up your posture with the chest out and visualize a plum line that runs from above your head down through the trunk of your body in a perfect vertical line. It may help to imagine there is a helium balloon pulling your head out of the water until you are nice and vertical. Adjust your body angle so it is about 3 degrees forward of vertical (figure 1).


Arm Action:

Swing the arm from the shoulder in a relaxed, pendulum-like action with the elbow about three inches out from your side. Start with the forearm at a right angle to the upper arm and the thumb about 2 inches below the water line. With the elbow close to your side, move the thumb down as you swing the elbow back until the thumb reaches the hip. Return to the starting position with the thumb 2 inches below the water line to complete the cycle. Arm action moves back and forth between these two thumb points with the efficiency of the pendulum on a grandfather clock. It’s very important that the arms aren’t crossed in front of the body. This is wasted motion.

Leg Action:

The stride begins by bringing the upper leg up to 70-80 degrees hip flexion with the knee at a right angle – about 90 degrees. The foot is directly below the knee with the foot flat so it can push the water down. Brennan likens this motion to stomping on grapes that are directly underneath you. When your leg has reached full extension, let it swing back a little behind your body. Then lift your heel quickly toward your buttocks as you bend your knee and rotate your knee forward and up in position to push straight down in the next cycle. Make sure that your lower leg does not extend in front of the body and reach forward, an action which is similar to over-striding on land.

Focus on the up and down cycling of your legs and keep an erect posture. This allows a quick and efficient cycling action that can be varied to meet pacing needs. Adjust your cycling time to the level of exertion that your training requires. Remember! Don’t try to move quickly through the water by leaning your body forward and reaching out in front with your lower leg. This will restrict cycling tempo, diminish running efficiency, and reduce the training effect from your efforts.

As you practice your running form in the pool, start very slowly. Use full ranges of motion and avoid crossing over in front of your body with your arms and legs. Once you have mastered the running form, you can increase speed. With a little practice, running in the water will help your running form on land.