Aqua-jogging or aqua-running is the term used for running in a pool. It can be performed in two ways: feet touching and feet not touching. With the feet touching you will propel yourself across a pool pushing yourself with each stride. The feet not touching approach is done in deep water with a waist float that keeps you bouyant. You run in place. In either approach you can add upper body resistance training too.
Aqua-running is advocated as part of rehabilitation for injured runners. It is also ideal for cross training. So it can be integrated into a full-scale training program. It is running-specific which actually makes it better than all other forms of cross-training. It is also a good exercise during recovery periods such as post-marathons or long racing seasons.
There are benefits and detractions to each approach.
- Both give you relief from running on the hard surfaces (It’s excellent for shin splints, tendonitis, knee, fasciitis and many other lower leg ailments).
- Both provide resistance workouts while doing running specific movements (you run against resistance of the water).
- Excellent workouts can be completed in well under an hour.
- If you use the feet-touching approach no additional equipment is needed (ok, other than the pool).
However they also may not be the greatest cross-training for the following reasons.
- You need a pool! (Ok, if you are creative you might be able to use your local pond.)
- Public pool hours may not be year round or on days that you can make it.
- Though it does strengthen your legs due to resistance it may also make your legs sluggish (it’s neuromuscular training)
- It’s not as satisfying to some runners because you can’t quantify your mileage. ;-)
- It’s boring, boring, boring. (Not scientific… it’s my opinion.. some people love it)
So, does aqua-jogging benefit “real” runners or is it just a marketing and flavor-of-the-month workout? Aqua-jogging has been around quite awhile which is good because it has been studied. Researchers in various studies have found that it can “maintain conditioning for up to 8 weeks”. Since studies themselves don’t go on forever researchers cannot advocate beyond what their studies revealed. It is reasonable to extrapolate for everyday purposes that it indeed could be far longer. Integrated with traditional running workouts there is no reason to believe that it wouldn’t work long term.
Olympic level athletes have incorporated aqua-running into recovery & rehabilitation training. I have used it with numerous athletes myself and definitely conclude it will help almost any runner – injured or not. I had one runner who aqua-ran 3 times a week and run on land only once per week over a 2-3 months. We gradually increased runs on land and despite months of away from regular training she was able to race a 5k as fast as she did previous to the layoff. I have another previously injury prone runner who incorporates it into his regular weekly workouts. He has remained injury free for almost two years now.
Here’s how you do a workout. First and foremost it is not a steady state running motion that delivers optimal benefits. You also have to pay attention to your running form. Remember you are training your muscles to move in a specific manner. Though this may be part of your warm-up and cool-down (yes, you need to do that just like you would – or are supposed to do – on dry land) it is not referenced in the research. Interval like sessions are what works best. Any interval session you do at the track you can do in the water. Instead of distance go by time. adn instead of pace go by effort. One minute hard, thirty seconds easy repeated 20 times for a total of 30 minutes is a simple one. With your warm-up and cool-down you have a nifty 40 minute workout. Don’t be limited on your workouts. To keep variety and interest (the one thing that just slays me in aqua running) make your interval training more complex: ladder workouts (2-3 sets of intervals of :30, 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 1:30, 1:00, :30); pyramid workouts (hard repeats starting at 15 seconds and increasing by 15 seconds on each rep with half as much recovery easy “jogging”; or reverse the sequence); very short very hard intervals (alternate every 10 or 15 seconds).
To fight boredom try to do workouts with a companion or even a group. It’ll be more fun and keep you occupied.
Your effort is your only true gauge since you cannot measure your distance covered. This is one case that your heart rate can be used to be sure you aren’t going too easy. Efforts on the hard intervals should reflect mile pace effort. Remember, since you are “running” against resistance your legs will not move as fast as on solid ground. Again, it is the effort you are gauging. If you were to do just a steady run effort all bets are off as far as benefits go. Aqua-running may help condition a completely non-conditioned person that way but not a reasonably trained athlete.
And if you are interested don’t miss updated information on aqua running here.