Recently, I’ve been plagued with an injury while preparing to race the Ironman World Championship of triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. The injury is called “IT Band Friction Syndrome” and requires low-impact or non-weight bearing exercise to maintain fitness until the knee is pain-free (alternative, highly non-attractive option is to run through the pain and destroy your knee forever).
This type of low-impact requirement involves creating, non-traditional methods to maintain peak aerobic fitness without causing damage to an inflamed tendon. Research has shown that non-impact water exercise offers this benefit, and this activity is utilized by quite a few pro triathletes and marathoners. Consequently, at my triathlon training and racing blog (http://bengreenfieldtri.blogspot.com), I have several workout entries that include the term “Aqua Jogging”. So what exactly is aqua jogging (AKA water running) and how do you do it?
There are two different types of aqua jogging: 1) running in a deep water where you cannot touch bottom of pool; 2) running in shallow water with feet touching bottom of pool.
The first method of aqua jogging is the “non-impact” version that I highly recommend and that I will introduce in this post. The second version is relatively low-impact when compared to running, but can still cause pain in the knees during the initial stages of something like an IT band injury.
Non-impact aqua jogging requires a few different pieces of equipment:
1) Aquatic Shoes. I wear the AQX Aquatic Training shoe. With strategically placed vents and fins,these shoes allow you to achieve 2-3x the cardiovascular intensity when compared to simply running in your bare feet. Trust me, I also tried wearing an old pair of running shoes and they were soggy, heavy, and very non-fluid. They actually hurt the knee. These shoes make it so easy to actually get your heart rate up and keep it there, which for me was one of the more frustrating aspects of water jogging before I started wearing them. In bare feet, you have to pump…and pump…and pump the legs at a very high turnover to achieve any type of training effect heart rate. The shoes fix this, and providing resistance, flow impedance, and increased muscular recruitment.
2) Flotation Belt. Some pools actually have these available, typically somewhere near to the pull buoys and kickboards. I personally use the Speedo swim belt, which is comfortable and doesn’t leave the little rubbing marks and blisters on my stomach like some of the belts at the pool. A belt is a must, since you must ensure that a part of your torso is above the water or you will spend too much energy attempting to stay afloat.
3. Tunes. In my opinion, audio is a must, since there’s not much to look at while aqua jogging (although I have been tempted to bring all my aqua jogging gear to a local lake on a sunny day). Here is how I recommend that you secure your tunes:
-take a small sandwich ziplock bag
-drop an mp3 player inside the bag
-thread the headphones out the top of the bag
-seal the bag
-then affix the bag to the side of your head with your goggles strap
This homemade solution works pretty well. Another option is to place your mp3 player under a baseball cap, thus making you the most fashionable person in the pool with the hat swimsuit combo. Finally, you can go for an actual underwater mp3 player, but you may want to try some wax earplugs to make the earpieces fit properly without leaking water.
OK, now you’ve got all your gear and you’re ready to aqua jog! Let’s make sure your form is sound - the last thing you want to do is explain to your friends that you pulled a muscle running in the water! There are differences between the proper form for regular deep water running, deep water cross-country skiing, and shallow water plyometrics/running drills, but here’s the basics of proper deep-water running form:
-Bring the knees up towards the chest and kick back through full range of motion, exactly as you would when running, but slightly more exaggerated. Imagine you’re running up a steep hill.
-Pump the arms vigorously, but leave the fists closed.
-Avoid a straight up-and-down posture with a piston like up-and-down movement of the legs. This is more like bicycling, and won’t stimulate the running muscles as much as leaning forward and kicking through the range of motion.
-And yes, for those of you wondering, you can jog in a stationary space, but it is more interesting and beneficial to actually move forward, such as down and back in a lap lane.
Finally, let’s look at a sample workout for aqua jogging. This workout offers multiple benefits - it works on running form, intensity, and muscular strength:
5 minute warm-up (i.e. 3 laps running)
1 HARD exaggerated running effort at max capacity for 1 length of the pool, then easy jog back
1 HARD “heel-to-butt” kick effort for 1 length of the pool, then easy jog back
1 HARD “high-knees-running” effort (knees come all the way up to chest), then jog back
1 HARD “cross-country ski” effort (straight legs, straight arms), then jog back
Repeat these HARD efforts as a circuit, going 2, 3, or 4 times through. Workout time will range from 15-30 minutes, depending on how many circuits you perform. Cool-down jog for 5 minutes.
And that’s it. The beauty of aqua jogging is that it can be intense, but very forgiving on the body because of it’s non-impact nature. If your form is good, you can perform hard aqua jogging workouts on consecutive days and maintain fitness, VO2 max, and lactate threshold without risk of overtraining or injury.
So get out there and hit the pool for a great winter cross-training workout! Just don't blame me when the lifeguards giggle at your finned-shoe, foam belt, baseball hat wearing, headphone equipped body strutting out of the locker room.