You may not be able to walk on water, but you can run in the pool. Aqua jogging has long been recognized as a rehabilitation exercise for injured athletes, but it's also a wonderful workout in its own right. Any runner looking to increase her cardiovascular capacity minus wear and tear on muscles should jump on in. The water's fine—and the benefits of aqua jogging are incredible.
Maribel Souther, head coach of Dartmouth College's women's cross-country team, says that she requires all of her athletes (injured or not) to implement aqua jogging as part of their training. "It allows you to get a great cardio workout without the impact, giving your body and joints a nice break from the pavement," she says.
This isn't your grandmother's aqua aerobics class; jogging in the water shoots your heart rate sky high and makes your muscles work hard. Souther explains, "Water is thicker than air, so you can encounter tremendous resistance." Pushing limbs through the pool helps strengthen muscles and joints, while the buoyancy water provides will allow you to complete a tough "run" with little recovery time.
Jump InAll you really need to aqua jog is a pool deep enough so your feet don't touch the bottom. (Shallow depths will cause impact on joints and lower the resistance placed on muscles). If you're trying water running for the first time, it's best to invest in a belt. A flotation device that wraps around your middle will keep your head above water while helping to ensure proper form. If your pool has a clock, you may use that to measure time, or you can bring along a waterproof watch to keep your workout on track.
Stride RightOnce you find a pool and a belt, the rest is cake. Simply use the same running form as you would on land to propel yourself forward through the water. You'll move much slower than on land, so measure your workout by time, not distance. The difficulty of the workout will depend on leg turnover rather than speed. "To raise your heart rate, increase your cadence," explains Souther. The faster you move your arms and legs in the water, the harder the workout and the greater your strength gain will be. Stay conscious of your form and be careful to mimic your on-land stride, not the doggy paddle.
Just Add WaterIncorporate aqua jogging into your training by completing one or two of your weekly runs in the pool instead of on the roads. If you have a three-mile run planned, estimate how long it would take you to finish this workout and jog in water for the prescribed time. If you're not ready to give up your land-loving runs, start by using aqua jogging as a supplemental workout on a cross-training day.
The pool is also a great place for speed work. Bring along a waterproof watch to complete a tough interval workout in the water.
If you need an extended break from the roads due to a recent race or injury, you can substitute your entire training plan with pool running without the risk of losing fitness. When Ella Johnson of Jacksonville, Florida was sidelined with plantar fasciitis three years ago, she ran in the pool six days per week for eight months. "It was a way for me to still enjoy my favorite sport, even though I was injured," Johnson says. "When I was ready to hit the roads again, my 5K times were comparable to what they had been before... even though I hadn't actually 'run' in months!"
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Avid runner and swimmer Elizabeth Kelsey is a New Hampshire-based writer who covers food and fitness.