Using the Pool for Cross Training and Rehab
Spring and summer are my favourite times for outdoor running. I love the heat. I look so forwards to wearing sunglasses at 6 a.m, putting on a tank (Mizuno of course!) or if hot enough just a sports bra and short shorts and heading out for a good sweat. Unfortunately, this summer will not running until at least the middle of August as I am recovering from a stress fracture. So, if you too are sidelined from running or want to expand on your cross training regimen read on for some fantastic ways to keep fit in the water!
Water…..it often gets a bad rap from runners. Unlike running, it’s inconvenient, requires a lot more coordination and often requires a membership or a time limited schedule at a community pool. As a triathlete it is a normal part of my training. Many runners I know avoid the pool like the plague. Unless……they get injured!! I will admit I would much rather be out on my bike or hitting the roads running but the post swim euphoria I get is almost like no other (well other than runningJ). It makes me feel ‘whole body’ tired. It improves your upper body strength, which we need for running and gives nice arm definition as an added bonus. Once I get in the pool and get warmed up (which as I am getting on in years takes close to 20-25 mins!) I feel great. Swimming is not my strongest of the three sports so I get a real feeling of accomplishment when I have completed a workout I have set out for myself.
The benefits of exercise in water are many. Here are a few:
-Non impact even exercising in shallow water the impact load on the body is 90% less than on land. That’s pretty much space like J.
-Resistance level is high. Resistance in water is between 4 and 42 times that of air. Move harder and the resistance is greater. Resistance to water also works the body in all planes of movement at the same time. This is not the same as land based movement.
-Lower heart rate levels due to the buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure of water. This allows for good cardiovascular recovery on those easy training days. Our hearts are muscles. They also need recovery time. Your heart rate will be 10-15 beats lower for the same effort as on land.
-Injury rehab is ideal in the water. You only need to support 10% of your body weight. For injuries needing unloading such as stress fractures and post-surgical recovery, water exercise is a great way to build and maintain your fitness without stress to your injury.
Here are a few ways to use the pool (or lake if you are lucky enough to have access) over this summer. One thing I will recommend is to use the water now for cross training. Even if you are not injured it will seem less like a second fiddle and more like something that is keeping you fit.
- Swimming- well this one is most obvious! However if you are not a ‘swimmer’ it can be intimidating. Start small. The worst thing you could do is swim across the lake or too much in the pool and you then have to rehab a shoulder injury! (Authors note: been there done that!!) Depending on your injury, kicking may not be an option. In this case use a pull buoy between your legs. These can be purchased at many sports retailers and swim specific stores or online. If you are limited to arms only start even more gradually. Pulling alone is harder on the upper body than full body swimming. Swimming is 90% technique based so don’t get frustrated if you are not moving through the water like Michael Phelps. Enjoy the different muscle use and cardio benefits. It will become easier in time.
- Pool running / Aqua jogging – these terms are interchangeable. It is a fantastic way to stay in running shape. It is done in deep water using a belt. I recall an article I read way back about Joan Benoit Samuelson (first female winner of Olympic marathon). She had knee surgery a few months before the Olympics in LA. She had trained almost exclusively in the pool running and won! That’s enough to make me do it. Water running technique is very specific in order to achieve the most benefit from both aerobic and neuromuscular systems. The neuromuscular training is what translates water run fitness to land fitness and muscle memory. See this great video for form tips and sample workouts.
It’s really key to invest in a water run belt. It requires a lot more effort to try to keep you buoyant without one. Your form will be much better with a belt. Aqua jogger makes a belt for running but you can also use a narrower waist belt like those used for water aerobics. Many community and gym pools have these narrower belts for you to use.
The other benefit of water running is that you can train for speed work and tempo as you would on land. Tempo efforts and track intervals can be done for time vs distance. The added resistance of water also means your run time can be less than what you would do on land. There are various ways to incorporate it into your training schedule. Use water running for additional run workouts without impact, injury recovery, or easy days. Music, using an IPOD docking station (if you are in a home pool) or waterproof mp3 makes it go faster (I use the FINIS Neptune). Pool run with a friend, and do your best to find someone with an outdoor pool! Time flies outside and with company. My neighbour is also rehabbing a fracture so we have been spending time running in her pool. I have suggested we try to lap each other. Once competitive, always competitive, even in rehab! You will definitely feel the work on the legs, core, and upper body and improve your run fitness at the same time.
- Running Drills- also known as A’s B’s and C’s. These drills are another way to incorporate non- impact neuromuscular firing into your cross training and injury recovery routine. See this link for proper drill form. Do these in shallow water. If you are not able to jump due to rehab restrictions do them without jumping. You will still get the benefit. This will also keep you feeling like you are moving forwards with your training, rehab and gives that feeling of “being a runner”.
Here is a little link to run form drills.
There you have a few ways to stay fit this summer or explore alternate cross training methods to running. Think of it as a way to work on your weaknesses, improve your running form, and/or rehab your injury safely. I will be doing it along with you and plan to be back stronger. Oh and I really hope it is still tank top weather when I am back on the roads!!
Elise is a long time competitive amateur triathlete and Physiotherapist with 20+ years experience treating runners and athletes of all kinds. She also has an online coaching business for runners and triathletes looking to reach that next distance goal or PB. She is very passionate about biomechanics in running and does gait analysis and shoe recommendations as part of her practice. Elise also has a self admitted running shoe and apparel fetish. She is mom to an active 10 year old girl and is married to a man who also runs and races.
Follow me on twitter (@eliseyanover) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions!