Injury is bound to happen to every runner out there at some point. It’s up there with profuse sweating, painful chafing and toilet emergencies – no one is exempt! The good news is that getting injured doesn’t have to mean the loss of everything you’ve worked towards; there is a way to return with your fitness fully intact, and that way is through aqua jogging.
WHAT IS IT?
Aqua jogging is pool running, which involves doing just that: running in the pool. You simply get into the deep end of a pool (any body of water will do) and mimic the same motions that you use to run on land. The result is a completely impact-free way to use your running muscles, raise your heartrate and maintain your fitness level.
WHY DO IT?
Aqua jogging is ideal for injured athletes, but also serves as a great cross training tool for running, giving your legs a break from all that pounding while still remaining running-specific. For the injured, there’s no better option. Whereas cycling and elliptical machines are not 100% impact-free and often aggravate common injury sites, aqua jogging cuts out any possibility of impact and allows you to continue exercising without the risk of reinjury.
WHY NOT JUST SWIM?
Swimming is an excellent way to develop and maintain cardiovascular fitness, but you will not receive the same neuromuscular conditioning that aqua jogging provides. Stated simply, aqua jogging allows you to use the same motions that you use to run on land, and your muscles remember this. Swimming, though a great workout, uses completely different muscles and will not translate when you return to running on land.
HOW DO I DO IT?
Although the premise of aqua jogging is pretty basic, there is some science behind making your time in the pool as beneficial as possible. Cardiovascular fitness begins deteriorating significantly after 2-3 weeks of inactivity. It’s proven, however, that fitness can be maintained with a reduced training load as long as the heart rate is still being raised to an appropriate level. When it comes to pool running, this means that you need intervals.
Perceived effort is significantly higher when running in water as opposed to running on land, meaning that you feel as though you’re doing more work than you actually are. This makes steady state running an unreliable workout, because chances are that a ‘steady’ run in the pool is only having the effect of a super easy warm up on land. Over a long period of time, this simply won’t be sufficient for maintaining your fitness. Intervals allow you to work at a much higher intensity for short segments of time, keeping your heart rate high and boredom in check!
Any interval workout that can be done on a track can be done in the pool, but in water you have to think of time instead of distance, effort instead of pace. For example, instead of running 6x800m, in the pool you will run at the highest intensity you can muster for 3 minutes, then slow to a ‘jog’ for 30 seconds, then repeat five more times. Naturally, water resistance means that your legs will never move as fast as they do on the ground, but this is all about effort. You want to put the same energy into it as you would on the track. Make sure that you do a warm up and cool down, just as you would on land.
Form is extra important when aqua jogging, as you will be much less balanced in the water. You must focus on keeping the back straight, working the arms in proper running form and bringing the knees up in order to stay controlled. It’s easy to revert to doggy-paddling if you don’t pay attention – have your legs do the bulk of the work, as on land, and stay in place for the most part. “Running” forward increases the tendency to lean forward and swim.
Many people find flotation belts useful for this very reason: you can focus on form without worrying about that extra effort that goes into keeping your head above water. However, many argue that you get a much better workout without the belt and that the extra effort is key to effective pool running. When it comes down to it, it all depends on how comfortable you are in the water and what your personal skills allow you to do.
ISN'T IT TOO BORING TO BEAR?
It’s true that aqua jogging is not known for its high level of excitement, but it doesn’t have to be miserable! Sticking to interval workouts will help immensely in breaking up the time, as will having a focused schedule, just as you would with your normal running. Have a goal and purpose each time that you get into the pool.
Ask around for company – there’s sure to be another injured runner out there, eager for company. Pool running is perfect with a partner because your paces don’t have to match – no one can leave the other behind when you’re staying in one place! If you simply can’t find a companion, it may help to look into a waterproof case for your Ipod – even the most zealous opponents of running with music can’t argue with the need for a distraction in the pool!
Aqua jogging is absolutely the most proactive way to approach both injury and cross training. When done consistently, and with a focus on high intensity intervals, you are sure to come back to real running with your cardiovascular fitness intact. Don’t view it as punishment – see it as a means to get back to what you love, and to pick up exactly where you left off.