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Amateur Age Group Triathlete
Amateur Age Group Triathlete

Aqua Jogging: not just for rehab...

roborobby roborobAug 20th 2012
I discovered aqua jogging earlier this year after a series of lower leg injuries had prevented any running on land (with all problems stemming from an accident where a car rammed into the side of me whilst on my motorbike back in September 2008, which left my right foot crushed and broken in 8 places). It's surprising how little information and advice there is on this method of training. My Doctor, who was a bone specialist and purported himself to be a sports injury specialist, could not give any better advice for a fibular stress fracture other than to 'rest it and see how it goes'. Do the likes of Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah get the same treatment? Or would you suppose that all of the stops are pulled out for top athletes to ensure that they are rehabilitated from injury as quickly as possible with as little detriment to their fitness as possible? Cue much research on the net. Once you know what you're looking for, there is enough literature on the subject, which gave me the incentive to buy a jogging floatation belt, and brave it to the pool.

Equipment

A proper flotation belt is the bare minimum equipment that you'll need. You can buy aqua jogging dumbbells and shoes, but so far i've done without these. The belt allows you to 'run' in the deep end and concentrate on simulating your usual running form. Some forums suggest that you can aqua jog in the shallow end without a belt, but you end up executing a very slow version of land running on the spot, which does not properly activate the running muscles.

How to do it

The ideal form you need to adopt while aqua jogging is essentially an over-exaggerated land running technique. Whilst keeping the back straight, core engaged, head neutral, shoulders dropped and body tilted slightly forward, you work on driving the legs from the hips whilst tracing big circles with your ankles, first pushing the knees high with the ankles pulling towards the glutes to reach the top of the circle, with the ankle then reaching for the bottom of the pool before quickly flicking to the back of the pool through the rapid contraction of the hamstring, and finally driving back up to the glute as the hip flexor contracts. In the meantime, the shoulders and core need to work to drive the elbows back in time with the legs, with the hands loosely cupped.

The movements need to be bigger and more forceful than you might use on land, as the resistance of the water means you lose most of the momentum that the air would usually carry you through. In addition, your cadence is going to be much lower, and there is no way that you're going to reach anything near 180 spm., especially if you focus on making the movements as big as possible. I haven't been able to find out what the correlation would be, although think the focus should be more on effort and technique, and less about leg speed. Talking about speed - you won't move very fast in the water at all. At full-pelt it takes me over a minute to cover 25m.

As you need to use so much more effort in order to get the legs turning over at a decent pace, you need to adapt the duration of your session in order get a training effect similar to a land run. Plodding away for 30mins straight is a nice form of recovery, but won't simulate a 30min tempo run. The better way to train is to attack every aqua jog as you would an intervals sessions, and break the 30mins into high-effort sets of, say, 1m30s, with 30s rest in between. You could even create a swim/run brick session, which would logistically be much more difficult usually.

Verdict

I haven't got a scientific evidence to back my views, but my own anecdotal view based on my 30 or so aqua jog sessions from this year, concludes in my mind that aqua jogging is the closest thing you'll find to land running in terms of parts of the body trained, without any skeletal impact. The biggest disadvantage is that you cannot help but leave your feet dangling wherever the undercurrent takes them, which means you are not working the Archilles tendon and calves in their correct position, but i have found that complementing aqua jogging with strength work on the calves in a separate gym session helps to maintain them through periods of injury (as long as that does not aggravate the injury - for stress fractures is doesn't seem to). As the sensation post-workout is so good (think: feeling alive after a great without any soreness or stiffness), i intend on incorporating at least one session a week into my training plan once i am fully recovered, in place of one of my running sessions. I'll also be doing this for the simple reason that i actually find the sessions really enjoyable; which brings me on to some of the misconceptions about aqua jogging:

Aqua jogging is b-o-r-r-r-r-i-n-g: I believe this is only the case if you find running boring. If you can zone out on a treadmill, then aqua-jogging is way more enjoyable. You'll be busy watching the pace clock to time your intervals, plus you're head-up in the pool for a change and have the rare chance to look around you as you work out, rather than the usual head-down with the occasional glance to your side through steamy goggles as you gasp for breath.

You'll look like an idiot. Okay, lowering yourself into the pool with a huge flotation belt around your waist is not the coolest of things, and you will get a mixture of inquisitive looks from the uninitiated swimmers, and glares from those who know you are about to disrupt their lane. I even bumped into a work associate who clearly didn't know about my life outside of work, as he asked me if i was learning to swim! As a triathlete, what do you think Joe Public makes of your spindly bike, your lycra, shaved legs, sun visors, short-shorts, compression-everything and all the rest anyway? I just assume that everything thinks i'm some hot-shot hardcore athlete smashing it hard in their slow lane, and ignore the glares and tuts.

Aqua Jogging is just for rehabilitation. The key to improving your running is a constant increase in load through duration and/or intensity, whilst allow for adaptation through rest and recovery. Maintaining technique is also key. The fact that aqua jogging works the right muscle groups whilst requiring a focus on form, all the while eliminating stress on the bones, should make it a great complement alongside my running sessions. I'm going to try this when my leg is healed fully, and see how it goes.

Aqua jogging is for grannies. No, that's aqua aerobics (and i'm not even ruling that out if someone can provide any evidence that it can make me a better triathlete)
So far i haven't been able to convince any of the tri-buddies on the virtues of aqua jogging. Let me know if this helps convince you to give it try - whether or not you are injured. Would be great to hear from anyone who has experience of this niche activity.

In the meantime, 67 days to go until Auckland - oush oush!
 
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