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How to Underwater Rock run – As seen by Bondi Rescue Lifeguards

For Big Wave surfers; Elite watermen and woman Underwater rock running is a must! Not only a lot of fun; but a great low impact form of endurance training; that works wonders on your lung capacity and ability to cope with stressful situations like big wave wipe outs.

I started doing it in my early twenties. The surf had been crazy for weeks – un-surfable and to keep myself sane I thought I’d try do something that got me in the water and challenged me, so that when I was able to surf I’d come back fitter and more prepared then ever.

I fell in love with Underwater rock running. Still love it! When doing it regularly. Not only do I lose weight; tone the body; but I find I have massive improvements in my breath holds.

Pre-Covid got my friends Bondi Rescue Lifeguards Harrison Reid, Hof breath work specialist Deano Gladstone. And two of my favourite Bondi ambassadors of good health and Running (at 440am in the morning) the 440’s Trent Knox (Knoxy) and Todd Liubinskas (Toddy) – down under to join me for some underwater training. These guys were absolute weapons. Pictures below.

I’ve also included images more recently from the Nike Swim SU20 campaign. Hopefully inspire you to join me for an underwater rock running photo session.

Want to give it a go?

TIPS for Underwater Rock Running Solo:

  • Disclaimer – By Solo I mean holding the rock on your own. But never do any form of Breath hold training; hypoxic training; Freediving without a buddy watching you. Shallow water blackouts are no joke – safety first.
  • Use a rock that you can only just lift out of the water. Approximately 3/4 your body weight. Needs to be heavy enough to hold you down the bottom of the water but light enough to lift. Once in the water the rock will become lighter due to the relative density of the water. So if you could easily hold it on land it will be hard to run with it. You will most likely just float up. General rule use a rock that you struggle to carry on land but can still just walk with it.
  •  Place the rock in water 10 – 15 feet deep (3 – 4 meters). For people not confident in swimming you can modify it by starting with the rock in shallow water and having them pick it up from there and walk it until they are fully submerged. This gives them the ability to only go to a depth they are confident with. Alternatively you can have a buddy give it to you on the surface or swim down and pick it up for you and place it in your hands. When doing it with the Bondi Rescue Lifeguards. The boys really challenged themselves running with two massive rocks. This required teamwork. Deano Gladstone swam down and helped load the second rock onto Harrison Reid’s first rock. See image of this below.
  • Run on a white sandy surface. You don’t want to cut your feet on rocks or coral. If the surface has little rocks – I’d suggest wearing booties.
  • Do it in a calm water location, without current. If there is a current run with it not against it. And make sure in this case that you tie your hair back if you have long hair. As your hair is likely to blow over your face. If you want to make it harder and have your hair out blowing behind you with the current. Run towards the current.
  • Have rock you will run with underneath you. Dive down. Place feet firmly on the ground and then like you are deadlifting pick-up rock securely with two hands.
  • Hold the rock tight against your chest or above your head. Run as you would normally on soft sand. Back straight. Shoulders back. Chest out. I see people slouching all the time. Trying to run the longest distance possible. This makes for really bad looking photos and is bad posture. Rock running underwater is no different to running on soft sand. Stand tall – chest up. Run with the current don’t get blown over with it.
  • Close your mouth. Don’t blow bubbles. Bubbles will make you float. If your like me and like to smile when doing it. Don’t breathe out through your mouth.
  • Use a rock that doesn’t have any coral or sharp edges as to potentially cut you when holding it. I’ve also had cases when I’ve got a rash from algae on the rock. If theres any chance of this happening I suggest wearing gloves and a rash top or putting the rock in a recyclable/eco friendly supermarket bag; so it doesn’t rub on your skin. Not the plastic ones the light cotton ones. This will allow you to pick it up without hurting you.
  • See how far you can run before you have to come up for air. I often get people I’m photographing to do a circuit. So they run a certain distance then turn and run back. This is a safe way to monitor the person running. A person in good shape should be able to stay submerged from anywhere between 40seconds to 1minute. It is essential that the runner leaves enough oxygen in the lungs to drop the rock and swim comfortably back up to the surface.

TIPS for Underwater Rock Running Human Trains (As seen in the movie Bluecrush ) :

You can make the exercise harder by pulling people behind you. In my own personal experience my biggest challenge is often not to open my mouth from giggling wondering what is happening above me as I wait for someone to hold my shoulders. Other than being a great workout this is an awesome team bonding exercise, where everyone really has to work together and do their part of the chain to make it work. I’ve found it to be a great way to include those not confident enough to dive down deep and pick up a rock, with those less confident being at the end of the chain.

  • Rock Runner dives down and grabs rock. Stay stationary holding the rock until you feel hands securely on your shoulders.
  • The Deeper you do this the easier it is, especially if you have more then one person in the chain. I’d recommend minimum 4-5metres.
  • First person in chain should dive down as soon as they see the rock runner standing upright with the rock. Don’t dive down to soon. The rock runner needs time to pick up the rock. Dive and hold securely onto the rock runners shoulders. Get a firm grip, if you have slippery hands from applying sunscreen (it’s happened several times when I have had people try and do this). Put surf wax on your hands or rub them in sand then wash them before diving down.
  • Rock runner starts running forward once hands are securely on their shoulders .Don’t stay stationary this is Rock RUNNING. If you don’t run the last person in chain will float up and the chain will break.
  • If you want to do this with more than one person in the chain. The second person in the chain needs to dive down 1second after the first person in the chain dives down and hold onto their ankles. You want to follow the person in front of you down but give them time to hold onto the rock runners shoulders. Once you hold onto their ankles blow out forming bubbles and kick. If you have more people in the chain do not kick. The last person in the chain should kick and will definitely need to blow bubbles to stop themselves from floating up to the top.

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