Frequently I’m contacted by runners in the middle of injury rehabilitation, understandably desperate to get back to full run training as soon as possible – mainly to minimise fitness loss, but also because endurance sports (or rather the hormones our training produces) are so very addictive.
Telling a runner (or triathlete etc…) to rest from running is like keeping a wild animal locked up! However, there are alternatives. Alternatives that will enable the athlete to maintain fitness, while also getting their hit of endorphins.
Often I recommend Aqua Jogging to maintain a level of fitness while the injured athlete is unable to load the problem area. By definition this doesn’t mimic the loading (and run specific strength benefits) of running on land, but it does enable runners to practice good technique, and achieve a good workout using running specific movements – in a zero impact environment, with their body weight supported by water.
How To Get Started
If you haven’t tried Aqua Jogging before, I’d suggest you start with the assistance of an Aqua Jogging belt, to provide increased buoyancy, so that you can concentrate on technique, rather than fighting to stay afloat! Once you master the required form, you can wein yourself off the assistance of the belt.
Find a depth in the swimming pool where you’re just out of your depth (assuming you can swim!), and begin treading water on the spot using good running form. Maintain a posture close to perpendicular to the surface of the water, and start driving your arms and legs in a running action.
Aqua Jogging Technique
Mimic good ‘dry land’ running form. Just as if you were running outside, run with your body straight, and be aware of upper body rotation. You should be driving your arms back and forth, rather than across your body.
Don’t just drive your knees up and down (you’ll know if you are, as your Quads and Hip Flexors will fatigue). Instead, practice using your Hamstrings to lift your heels straight up towards your bottom. The resistance of the water will provide a good workout for those with weak Hamstrings and Glutes!
Don’t use your hands as paddles – that’s cheating… Keep your hands closed use your arms, swinging from the shoulder, more than you would on dry land.
The downward phase is very important, focus on driving your foot down under your hips using your Quads, Hamstrings and Glutes.
Effective Aqua Jogging Workouts
Don’t judge your intensity by forward progression in the pool. This is determined by forward lean, rather than work rate. Instead, use a heart rate monitor.
You will find that although your heart rate zones will differ slightly, you can still perform interval sessions, tempo sessions and longer aerobic sessions, all based on intensity rather than running pace.
A 2009 study by Cuesta-Vargas et al. at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed heart rate to be 8-11 bpm lower for equivalent oxygen uptake, when Aqua Jogging, compared to normal running. The same study also found max HR is on average 16 bpm lower during maximal Aqua Jogging compared to maximal land running.
It’s suggested that the lower heart rates observed in the pool are due to the hydrostatic pressure of water on the human body, resulting in more efficient blood return to the heart, improving efficiency of the circulatory system.
As a good rule of thumb, assume that Aqua Jogging heart rates are about 10% lower than during running on dry land. For example, Aqua Jogging with a heart rate of 140 bpm, is roughly equivalent to 154 bpm running on dry land.
What Does The Research Say?
Aqua Jogging as a training method has been widely researched as a feasible alternative to other aerobic activities, like running.
N.B. All these studies are quite old now. If anybody knows of any more recent work… please share below!
Researchers from Florida State University put a group of 16 trained male runners on a 6 week Aqua Jogging training schedule, while another group continued their regular training. Both groups of runners were tested for VO2 max, lactate threshold, and running economy prior to, and after 6 weeks of Aqua Jogging. The group which completed the Aqua Jogging schedule fully maintained their aerobic fitness over the 6 week period.
Another study, performed by Ed Eyestone (former U.S. Olympian and Head Coach of the BYU Cross Country Team), studied the training effects of running, Aqua Jogging and cycling on VO2 max and running performance over a 2 mile time trial. The study separated a group of 32 trained, fit runners into three groups. One group for cycling, one for running and one for Aqua Jogging. Athletes who participated in the study exercised for the same frequency, duration and intensity (measured by heart rate) over a six week period. Results identified that all Aqua Jogging athletes either maintained or improved both their VO2 max and performance over the 2 mile time trial.
Additional support for the fitness benefits of Aqua Jogging is provided by a study from the exercise physiology lab at the University of Toledo, in which trained runners ran in the water 5 to 6 days per week for 4 weeks. These runners had no change in 5 km performance time, VO2 max, lactate threshold, or running economy after 4 weeks of water running.
Whether you are recovering from an injury, or even looking for a training method to benefit your running fitness while effectively managing the loading your body experiences in a training week, Aqua Jogging is a proven tool to help you achieve your goals.