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Running is one of the most popular forms of training, with about 49.5 million active runners and joggers in the United States.
It also tops the list of competitive and recreational sports that result in lower body injuries such as strains, sprains, stress fractures, patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, and plantar fasciitis.
The good news? Training exercises such as aqua jogging can help you maintain cardiovascular fitness and running form without the added wear and tear on your joints from pounding the pavement.
Aqua jogging, aka deep water running, is a form of cardiovascular exercise that mimics the motion of jogging while submerged in water. You can do aqua jogging by running laps in the pool or wearing a flotation device around your trunk and running in place.
A flotation device or running belt keeps your body suspended, allowing your arms and legs to move freely while keeping your head above the surface of the water.
For injury rehab
Aqua jogging is a top pick for injured runners because they can run without the discomfort or worsening of an injury associated with striking the pavement. In fact, deep water running while rehabbing an injury can help maintain your fitness levels, according to a 2015 study.
For focusing on running form
But it’s not just for injuries. One key feature of aqua jogging is that it allows you to replicate the same running form you have on land. By including water jogging in an overall training plan, you can increase cardio output, improve posture and form, and increase muscular strength, all while minimizing the wear and tear on your body.
For gentler aerobic fitness
That said, Jennifer Conroyd, ACE certified personal trainer, USTAF certified run coach, and founder of Fluid Running, points out that due to hydrostatic pressure (or how hard the water pushes against the pool’s walls), your heart rate will be lower by about 10 to 15 beats per minute when running in water than at the same exertion on land.
For low impact exercise
“Aqua jogging is considered low impact, which makes it especially good for people with joint pain, and particularly arthritis, as the water buoyancy reduces weight-bearing to a mere 10 percent of full body weight when immersed in water up to the neck,” said Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, a board certified physical therapist.
Strengthens your entire body
Aquatic exercise also provides a unique form of resistance training, says Gasnick, since movement in water has 12 times the resistance of air. Vertical positions such as aqua jogging provide four times greater resistance than horizontal positions like swimming.
Takes the load off the lower body
Aqua jogging significantly decreases pressure on large weight-bearing joints such as the hips or knees, which Gasnick says can be weak or painful with activities on land. “Plus, the buoyancy of the water offloads the spine against the forces of gravity, facilitating improved overall movement,” she said.
Provides a steady temperature while training
Doing aqua jogging workouts in an indoor pool means you can control the external temperature. This is seen as a plus for people who want to avoid running outdoors in cold weather during the winter or training in extremely hot weather in the summer months.
You don’t have to wait until you’re injured to use aqua jogging. This form of training is a great way for healthy runners to cross-train, as it can help prevent injuries.
When training for a distance race such as a half or full marathon, include one aqua jogging workout in your weekly routine.
Not only is it an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness and work on running form, but it also minimizes the impact on your joints. Plus, since the water provides resistance, aqua jogging is similar to running against the wind.
Now that you understand the benefits of aqua jogging for both injured and noninjured runners, it’s time to get in the pool.
What you need to get started
To get started, you’ll probably want a swimsuit, goggles, and a running belt that allows you to run in place.
While a swimming belt or flotation device is optional, many people aren’t comfortable in the water, so using a belt can boost confidence and result in a better workout. It also helps put you into a forward lean, like when running on land. So, if focusing on form is one of your goals, you may want to try a flotation belt.
Sample aqua jogging workout
While the duration of an aqua jogging session depends on your training goals, in general, most workouts last about 30 to 45 minutes. A sample lap-based aqua jogging workout might include the following elements:
- Warm up at an easy effort for 5 to 10 minutes. You can also do the warm-up poolside if the surface doesn’t aggravate the injury or you’re not injured. High knees and jogging in place work as warm-ups.
- Perform two to three higher intensity laps by sprinting to one end of the pool and jogging back at 50 percent intensity.
- Perform 10 rounds of 2 minutes jogging at high intensity, followed by 2 minutes at low intensity.
- Cool down for 5 minutes.
To break up the laps, you can add intervals of jogging in place using a running belt. Swap out a few of the jogging rounds with running in place for 3 to 5 minutes.
Aqua jogging as part of a training program
While in the water, try to visualize yourself running outdoors. Think about how your body moves when your feet hit the ground. What position are your arms in? Is your body upright and core tight? Focus on these elements while training in the water, and you’ll be sure to transfer the benefits to your road or trail training.
To supplement marathon training, you can swap out a long cardio day at the gym for a water jogging workout. For example, do 1 hour on the treadmill, followed by 1 hour of aqua jogging.
Train in deeper water
To be able to replicate land running form and to run fast enough to get your heart rate into your moderate to higher heart rate zones, Conroyd says you need to be in water that’s deep enough that you don’t touch the bottom. For many people, that means at least 5 feet, 5 inches tall or more of depth.
Pay attention to upper body posture
Postural cues, according to Conroyd, include lifting your head, pulling in your chin, pulling your shoulder blades together and down, and pulling your belly to spine. Arms should be bent at a 90-degree angle and swing through the water like a pendulum.
Use lower body basics
To mimic land running biomechanics with the legs, Conroyd says it helps to start with a vertical flutter kick and then gradually open up the stride. The knee bend is slight, and the quad pushes the water forward, not up, then the heel leads the backward part of the stride. The foot should act like a paintbrush and be relaxed, sweeping back and forth.
Consider decreasing workout time
Water activities increase your metabolic rate and energy expenditure. Because of this, Gasnick says you may find that you fatigue faster with aquatic exercise compared to land-based activities, so your workout time should be reduced.
For example, swap out a 45-minute treadmill run for a 30-minute aqua jogging workout.
Consult your doctor if you have heart conditions
Most indoor and outdoor pools are heated. And because your heart rate increases with warmer temperatures, Gasnick says if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure, you should consult your doctor before beginning aquatic exercise.
Aqua jogging is a safe alternative to running on the pavement or treadmill. When used for rehab, it allows you to maintain cardiovascular fitness and work on running form while decreasing the pain associated with your injury. It’s also an excellent addition to an overall training plan, whether you’re injured or not.
Consider swapping out one of your regular cardio days for an aqua jogging session. You can vary the workouts by using a running belt and jogging in place or running laps in the pool.