Injury need not mean an end to your training. Why not try aqua-jogging? International steeplechaser Eilish McColgan gives us the low-down
Running in your local pool with the aid of a flotation belt is a brilliant form of cross-training when you are sidelined with an injury.
Evidence has shown that aqua-jogging in this way can preserve the level of fitness you have amassed through training for up to six weeks.
Granted, it’s nothing like the real thing. And it can sometimes prove a mental struggle to find the motivation to attach yourself to a floatation device and bob around for an hour when you dream of the fresh outdoors. But every minute you spend in the pool will make that transition back to running outdoors go a little more swimmingly.
I am certainly no stranger to the approach. In 2013 I was suffering from a stress response in my shin and, unable to run, I became well acquainted with chlorinated water. That year, I went on to place 10th in the World Championships, running personal best times over all distances – despite being unable to manage anything more than 5 miles per week.
I would not have achieved this without being extremely committed to my aqua-jogging program. So, I am a convert. Now it’s your turn. Below is my guide to taking your first aqua-jogging strides.
Some people go completely without the flotation belt and free-run in the pool. However, I find an aqua-jogging belt helps to maintain posture better in the pool and preserve normal running mechanics. Finding the right one can sometimes be a little tricky, so try a few on for size. For added resistance, you can try using aqua-jogging shoes. Paula Radcliffe sent me a pair to try. Be aware that they make things substantially more challenging, putting your hip-flexors into overdrive. I chose to wear them only on my recovery days.
Keep your form
Be careful not to fall into the trap of doggy paddling – aqua-jogging needs to replicate the same form as running outdoors. Try to maintain a good running stance and motion. I find that leaning forward ever so slightly allows me to move through the water more smoothly. Keep focused on pumping your arms and driving your knee through in a high motion.
Planning your programme
It might be a no-impact activity, but an aqua-jogging programme needs to be structured in the same way you would your running outdoors. I made the mistake of implementing sessions twice a day, which is a recipe for disaster as it lead to serious fatigue. It’s vital to include recovery sessions and rest days.
Check your local pool times
Although many local leisure centres allow you to aqua-jog during their public sessions, it’s best to make sure. Another option but a more expensive one would be to find an endless pool within your area. Endless pools are those in which you exercise against a current – almost like running on a treadmill.
Keep it short
Many people find it difficult to increase their heart rate to the same level they would achieve running as aqua-jogging doesn’t stress the body in the same way. It’s a good idea to keep pool-based repetitions short and fast with very brief intervals of recovery. Sessions such as repetitions of 45 seconds hard with 15 seconds recovery for a total of around 25 minutes and gradually building up to a total duration of 40 minutes worked well for me.
Don’t fret about heart rate zones
Although you cannot replicate the race-specific qualities of running in the pool, aqua-jogging allows you to maintain a good aerobic base. Studies have shown that, although running in the water produces a lower heart rate than running outdoors, deep-water running is actually more demanding on the cardiovascular system. This is most likely due to the increased demands on the upper body against the water resistance, which is typically poorly trained in endurance athletes. Be sure to note down your perceived rate of exertion to evaluate how hard the session was so that you can compare pool sessions.
» Eilish McColgan is an international athlete. You can read her blog at eilishmccolgan.blogspot.co.uk