For runners, aqua jogging is often associated with injury. You are injured and unable to run, so you become confined to the pool, joining the elderly women wearing the blue buoyancy belts having a yarn with their friend. However, aqua jogging can be, and is, hard work. In 2014, when I was training for Sydney, I was required to do all my ‘running’ in the pool for about a month. I initially despised it and eventually I only relented because I had no other choice. I could not run more than 500 meters without pain. So I had to swim. And after a while, I took to it. I had a friend who joined me on several occasions, and despite being in the water, not going very far, I found that I got my heart rate up and I worked up quite a sweat. Dare I say it, I even enjoyed it. But after my marathon and after three months of rest to recover, I was able to run again. As a result, I didn’t set foot inside a swimming pool for some time.
However this past Saturday, I once again ventured into the pool to jog. Not because I am injured. But because I wanted to. And gosh I forgot how hard work it was!
When I was instructed to aqua jog in 2014, I was very skeptical. I was also nervous – what do I do!? My coach told me to treat it as the equivalent of a run – 60 minutes aqua jogging = 60 minutes running. Just over a much shorter distance and with much less impact on the body. Most pools have the flotation belts – and while you can use those, I never did. If you don’t use the belt, you have to work so much harder to stay afloat and to push yourself forward. You also are more likely to jog in a more natural manner, which is important if you are injured or have tight or tired muslces (such as a tight IT band). It also forces you to drive your knees upwards, stay upright and use your arms to help propel yourself. It is also much more tiring to jog without a belt – so it becomes more of a workout than a leisurely jog.
You can also do a range of different ‘workouts’ in the pool – focusing on differing levels of intensity, just as if you were running on the road or in the trails. You can do intervals, where you do 2 minutes on, 1 minute off, or 30 seconds at 95%, 15 seconds rest. Alternatively, you can do your ‘long run’ in the pool, jogging between one and three hours at a conversational pace (a pace where your heart rate and breathing is maintained at such a pace you can easily hold a conversation with a friend – ie. you aren’t out of breathe and you don’t get tired too soon). I also did a mix – longer ‘intervals’ of a tempo type – Doing 30 minutes at 80%, then 10 minutes slow, and another 20 minutes at 80%.
And it sounds silly – aqua jogging being hard work – but it is. You use your entire body, and you actually feel your arms. After aqua jogging yesterday, I woke up this morning and my pecks and biceps hurt – they were sore! Not because I went to the gym and did weights, but from the action of using my arms pumping them back and forth for 60 minutes straight. And while I was a bit skeptical even this time, before getting in the pool, I felt wonderful after. Refreshed, energized and tired, but without any actual pain or fear of pain. And while initially you feel silly being that person in the aqua jogging lane who is 50 years younger than anyone else, you get over that. When done right, it is an extremely effective cross-training option. It is zero impact, and it closely mimics the natural running form, so it provides an alternative workout that helps keep your running specific muscles active.
And what a wonderful way to extend the concept of running to people who aren’t runners – or those who can’t run or can’t run for long distances. And to socialize with friends you would not normally exercise with. One of my friends hates running – yet loves aqua jogging. The other friend that joined us yesterday can’t run very far due to back issues. But 60 minutes in the pool – no issues at all. In saying that, running out of the pool still offers something that running in the pool can’t – distance. There is something about running a far distance that is extremely satisfying. Spending 2 hours running in the pool, I’m lucky to reach 2 kilometers. 2 hours on the road, I would run about 20 to 25 kilometers. So while I enjoyed Saturday, I am not going to be rushing back to the pool anytime soon. In saying that, however, the mere act of aqua jogging for one hour really did help me mentally and physically get back into running itself. I’ve had such a long time off, it is scary getting back into it again. I am sure I can run 60 minutes non stop, but what if I can’t? I don’t want to try in case it’s impossible. But now, after 60 minutes in the pool, I’m ready to get back into it. Ready to put on my running shoes and give it a go – push myself, explore, and see what happens. Because what is the worst that could happen? I get tired, I stop, I rest. I keep going. It’s a process. And I should love the act of running, and not put pressure on myself to be the best. So that is what I need to remember – to just do it, just run, and just love it again.
If you haven’t aqua jogged before, I definitely recommend giving it a go. And structure it – don’t just jog aimlessly, challenge yourself. Jog at 90% intensity for 2 minutes, then stop or jog lightly for 20 seconds, and resume. Repeat four times and then have a longer rest. Or just go at an easy pace building up stamina – focus on moving your arms forward and backwards, and drive with your knee. Otherwise you end up kicking and it isn’t as efficient or helpful in staying afloat. This is a great website setting out the proper technique for aqua jogging and things to think about. Think of 90 degree angles in your legs and arms, as if you are marching. It feels weird but it helps simulate ‘running’ and also helps maintain/improve technique. Most of all, it keeps your above the water!