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Aquatic Exercise Program as an Effective Alternative Method of Cross Training for Cross Country and Track Athlete


By Michael Mandas, P.T.; Andrew R. Einhorn, P.T. C.S.M.T.; Jon Ellertson, B.S., P.T.A.; Shawn Hickling, B.S. Exercise Physiology; Kirsten Pieters, B.S., Athletic Training; Michael Quinn; Gilbert Orbeso

of Los Alamitos Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy



Below is a list of some typical track-related exercises that can be used for both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (power) training.


Deep Water Exercises

The following exercises are to be performed in a vertical position with the abdominal musculature contracted to help stabilize the spine. Maintaining the three natural curves of the spine begins at the head. Alternating concave-convex curvatures begins at cervical spine and progresses to the lumbar spine. Maintaining proper head position with the chin tucked shoulders retracted and the abdominal muscles taught to help avoid lumbar hyperextension.


High Knees

Alternate hip and knee flexion on one side and hip and knee extension on the other. In each deep water exercise the athlete is shown using hydro-fit dumbells (buoyancy assistive devices) in each hand and hydro-fit cutoffs (buoyancy assistive and resistive devices around ankles). These devices are optional. Exercise can also be conducted in a corner section of the pool as the athlete holds the top pool copping section for support. Pool side bars can also be used for upper body support during lower extremity exercise.


Cross Country Ski (CC Ski)

Alternate hip flexion and extension while keeping the arms and legs straight.


Half Jack

Simultaneous hip flexion with knee extension and hip extension with knee extension.



Simulation of jogging on land performed in the water. See description of running.



Running in deep water is performed with the in a 5 degree forward tilt. This bend should occur at the hips, nor from the spine. The biomechanical movement patter of water running resembles that used on land. (3) Running in water requires the following techiques:

A) The head is held comfortably out of the water, facing forward; avoid the forward head ad shoulder posturing.
B) Maintain a neutral spine as previously described.
C) The arm action is the same as for land running, with the primary movement occurring at the shoulder and with the hands relaxed but lightly closed. (3)
D) Hip flexion should reach approximately 60-80 degrees at the same time the knees flex or extend. (3)
E) Ankle movements should include both dori and plantar flexion.



Start with hip and knee extension bilaterally. Adduct both legs, one in front the other behind, followed by, adbuction and adduction but the rear leg is now in front and the front is now behind.


Knee Extension

Place thigh buoy between inner thighs just above the knee joint. Keep thighs together while simultaneously alternating knee flexion on one leg and knee extension on contralateral knee.

Shallow Water Exercises


Double Leg Hopping/Single Leg Hopping

(Forwards-Backwards-Side to Side with feet together). Shown below is side to side hopping. Hydro-fit cuffs (buoyancy assistive and resistive devices around ankles). These devices are optional.

Shallow hops, directly upward, with only slight knee bend upon impact. Emphasize a proper lower extremity alignment. Keep the patella over the big toe during all movements. The quadriceps femoris muscles will control patellofemoral alignment if excessive valgus-varus posturing is avoided.


High Knees

Exaggerated walking, performed by full flexion of hip and knee while other leg remains fixed on pool bottom.


Skateboarding (6)

Performed with one leg fixed on the edge of a step while the other leg simulates the propulsion phase of skateboarding. The leg on the step slightly bends with the "toe touch" part of this exercise.


Split Jumps

Alternating lunges performed at a high intensity by jumping out of the lunge and alternating the lead leg.


Step Jumps-Double Leg

Double Leg jump upwards, onto a step, followed by a backwards "hop" off the step.


Jump Squats

Legs shoulder width apart. Start in a semi-squat position, followed by a forceful jump upwards and only a slight knee bend upon impact.


Speed Skaters

Alternating sideways hopping on one leg. Similar to the motion performed by an ice skater.


Split Jumps on Step

Similar to split jump only the lunge is performed on a step.


Skier Side Jumps

Double leg side hopping performed in a side-to-side or diagonal motion.



Sideways walking or jogging only lead leg alternates between each step.


Hopping Single Leg

Same as hopping described previously, only performed on one leg.



Instructor cues athlete on spontaneous change of direction on any given exercise, mostly running.


Deceleration Jump Squats

Begin with the legs shoulder-width apart and slightly bent. Jump upwards and absorb the impact of the landing by performing a moderate bend at knees.




Arms remain fixed at poolside while athlete performs full body extension away from poolside, followed by full body flexion toward poolside. Same as traditional physical education exercise only performed in deep water.



The athlete starts in a vertical position and then proceeds to "curl" lower body up toward the water surface and returns to the vertical position. Emphasize a neutral spine position.



Deep H20 Wonderboard Squatting

Athlete attempts standing on wonderboard while simultaneously performing deep leg squats.


SLIPS (7) = Single Leg Integrated Proprioception Skills

A) Single Leg Balance -- Balance on one leg with minimal body movement.
B) SLIPS with Leg Swing--While standing on involved leg, combine contralateral hip flexion and extension.
C) SLIPS with KNEE LIFT--While standing on involved leg, combine contralateral hip and knee flexion as in marching. Alternate shoulder flexion-extension while maintaining elbow flexion of 90 degrees. This arm motion simulates running.

Part III will address such topics as "Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Exercises for Knee Problems, Shin Splints and Stress Fractures.


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