On Sept. 17, 2006, in the Netherlands, Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya set a world record in the 10-mile run after some unconventional training.
For the two weeks before the event, while trying to rehab an injury, she ran almost entirely in a swimming pool. Easy on the joints, water running and water aerobics offer muscular and cardio benefits similar to their land-based counterparts — but without the impact. As aqua exercise grows among pro athletes and the general public alike, a wave of water-specific shoes has arisen to meet the need. They protect the feet from abrasive pool floors, dry quickly and in some cases add resistance that pushes the workout to a new level.
With a little resistance
AQx Aquatic Training Shoe: Innovative water shoe with a breakthrough technology: built-in resistance scoops.
Likes: Provides a significantly tougher workout and greater calorie burn than the other tested shoes; particularly works the hamstrings and glutes. The "gills" — six 1- to 1½-inch plastic scoops (three on each side of the shoe) — catch water and provide noticeable resistance (20% to 30% more than regular shoes, according to AQx) as your foot lifts toward your butt after push-off. Effective way to strengthen the leg-lift portion of your stride; works when running in place, so OK for small pools or deep hot tubs. There is no resistance when the foot moves forward, which AQx says helps protect the knee. A thin, highly flexible sole gives the shoe a tactile, sock-like feel that works the entire foot, much like barefoot running. The all-neoprene lining makes it the most comfortable of all the shoes tested. The quick-cinch lacing system works fast and won't come undone. Includes mesh bag and DVD.
Dislikes: Doesn't dry quickly, because of all-neoprene lining.
Price: $79.95. (800) 203-1276; http://www.aqxsports.com .
SPEEDO Hydro XP: All-around water aerobics and running shoe.
Likes: Has a more flexible, comfortable, sock-like feel than every shoe here except the AQx. Quick-cinch lacing system. Partial-mesh upper allows the shoe to drain and dry quickly.
Dislikes: No resistance mechanism.
Price: $49.99. (888) 4-SPEEDO; http://www.speedousa.com .
Versatile and tough
MERRELL WaterPro Current: All-around water shoe with all-mesh upper.
Likes: Good for water running. Has a flexible ground feel; mesh dries very fast. Tough and multifaceted; actually designed for non-chlorinated water sports such as rafting, kayaking and sailing.
Dislikes: Comfy, but not sock-like, as are AQx and Speedo. No resistance technology.
Price: $75. (800) 789-8586; http://www.merrell.com .
Light in weight and price
Sprint Aquatics Aqua Shoes: Water aerobics shoes.
Likes: Ultra-lightweight. Fine for all water activities. The price.
Dislikes: Regular laces can come undone in the water (a new model with a Velcro closure is coming in September). The thick, stiffer white-foam sole is less tactile than the others.
Price: $40.45. (800) 235-2156; http://www.sprintaquatics.com .
Shoes to run around in in the water