Twenty-six days left until the start of Tor des Géants and this year’s first and only mountain race for me – wish time could pass more quickly now. I just returned from two weeks of vacation in Sicily with my family. It was difficult to train properly due to the immense heat, but good to experience this heat I think coming from Scandinavia as it always is something of a surprise every year going to southern Europe and it might be very hot in the valleys also in September even in Northern Italy and the Aosta Valley. I had to mainly resort to uphill treadmill running at the hotel and I also spent some time in the pool with deep water running (DWR). I think it was good as I now upon my return feel completely healed from my ankle and Achilles pain I had felt to and from during the past months when I was accumulating mileage in my legs. I also feel stronger now than before my vacation. I will now gradually switch my training more to focus on my aerobic capacity and add more technical hill intervals to my training.
Looking up the benefits of water running I found some interesting new studies showing the benefit for instance for rehabilitation. A very recent study from a group at Takagawa in Japan comparing muscle activity of DWR compared to normal running at a treadmill at the same heart rate shows that, with the exception of lower activity in the gastrocnemius muscles, there were no differences between the two training modes of exercise (Masumoto et al. Muscle Activity during Running in Water and on Dry Land: Matched Physiology. Int J Sports Med. 2013 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print]). However, the same group also has published another recent study showing that the muscle activity in DWR is influenced by the style of running. It appeared that a DWR cross-country (CC) style of running at a preferred stride frequency created greater activity in rectus femoris and biceps femoris muscle activity than DWR high knee style running and normal treadmill running at a matched stride frequency (Masumoto et al. Muscle activity during different styles of deep water running and comparison to treadmill running at matched stride frequency. Gait Posture. 2013; 37 (4): 558-63). The problem with DWR appears to be the technique to achieve a a sufficient heart rate during the exercise to produce this similar level of exercise (reviewed in for instance Killgore GL. Deep-water running: a practical review of the literature with an emphasis on biomechanics. Phys Sportsmed. 2012; 40: 116-26).
Obviously, DWR is mostly recommended during rehabilitation (see for instance Liem et al. Rehabilitation and return to running after lower limb stress fractures. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2013; 12:200-7), but my positive experience this vacation would make me tend to recommend it also as an adjunctive part of normal running training. It would be interesting to see how DWR translates into real running results and how it compares with real running with regards to core muscle activity etc. A quite old study of thirty-two trained subjects randomized to either water running, cycling or normal running indicates that either training modality can be used to maintain a similar level of aerobic capacity (VO2max) and 2-mile run performance over a 6-week long period (Eyestone et al. Effect of water running and cycling on maximum oxygen consumption and 2-mile run performance. Am J Sports Med. 1993; 21: 41-4.)