Tyne Bridge Harrier Dan Birchall sends in this excellent article about his experience with Aqua Running
Blaydon, 9th June 2011
Here’s the scenario: Loving the training at the club; times coming down; a series of great races coming up – Tynedale, Morpeth; and clipping along the Scotswood Road in the Blaydon Race at PB pace. And then in the space of a couple of seconds on the Blaydon Flyover it all changes with a searing pain in the calf. A grade 2 calf tear diagnosed the following day completely dislocates everything – the enjoyment in running and racing, the continuing improvements, the camaraderie at the club – replacing excitement with upset and despondency.
It was all going so well. Is all that training going to go to waste? Am I crocked? What can I do to keep my fitness going? Will it take me months and months to get back to where I was?
And from the ether of Facebook came the utterance (from Big Mac): “Try Aqua running.”
Aqua running? I’d never heard of it, but over the next 6 weeks I threw myself into a programme of aqua running in the hope that it would provide me with a level of running fitness that would let me return to the sport I love as quickly as possible. I kept telling myself that the proof would be in the pudding – let’s see what I can do when I finally get back to the club, and see if it’s made any difference.
Now, 8 weeks after the injury, and just 2 weeks back into TBH training, I’ve managed a PB at the Park Run, and feel my speed is where it was on the 9th of June.
I am now totally convinced about the benefits of aqua running in rehabilitating from injury. And I thought it’d be useful to share my experience.
Aqua running, or deep water running, is a non weight-bearing activity that consists of performing a running motion in the deep end of a swimming pool. The purpose is to optimise cardiovascular and muscular conditioning, while minimising joint, bone, muscular, tendon and ligament stress. The forgiving qualities of water provide a safe and effective environment for exercise, and the exercise is not only impact-free, it also provides added resistance in the water. A flotation device designed for aqua running (and available free at Jesmond Pool and probably elsewhere) is worn around the waist so that the head is held comfortably above water, and allowing running form and posture to closely resemble the biomechanics of land running.
The benefits of aqua running include it being impact-free and a total body exercise. It allows you to ‘run’ hard, even with a healing injury. It burns lots of calories, and although there isn’t the same sense of cardiovascular stress, you know you’ve been in a workout when you get out of the pool. Crucially, it allows injured runners to be able to run without pain, and to maintain running performance during a period of absence from land running. Aqua running has the unique ability (better than any other form of cross training) to exercise the specific muscle groups used in running, without any impact, to deliver conditioning specific to land running. I have since read that studies have shown that runners with 6 – 8 weeks of deep water running have preserved, or even improved, their running performance when they return to land running.
Many elite athletes appear to use aqua running as part of a rehabilitation programme, and many seem to use it as part of their normal weekly training – including Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe. Premiership football clubs, including the Toon, also use it as part of a rehab programme.
What was incredibly useful to me was the company of a friend to do the sessions with; and using a schedule of varying aqua running workouts, particularly stressing the use of intervals. The most widely quoted schedule used seems to be that published by Pete Pfitzinger, an American international marathon runner and fitness coach. A typical weekly schedule might look like this:
Monday: 5 mins warm up (in the pool); 2 sets of 8 x 1:30 hard (30 sec easy recovery); 5 mins cool down.
Tuesday: 5 mins warm up; 9 x 2:30 hard (30 sec easy recovery); 5 min cool down.
Wednesday: 45 mins steady.
Thursday: pyramid 1 min – 2 min – 3 min – 4 min – 5 min – 4 min – 3 min – 2 min – 1 min with 1 min easy recoveries.
Saturday: 7 x 5 min hard (1 min easy recovery).
This was supplemented by the gradual introduction of other cross training from about 4 -5 weeks, especially for cardiovascular workout.
I have still found that my sharpness isn’t yet there, and particularly that my stamina isn’t there either. But I am amazed at how helpful aqua running has been. And I intend to keep it going as part of my overall fitness plan, hopefully to help prevent further injury in the future (important at my age).
Aqua running has been really important to me in providing a focus and structure to my rehab schedule. Just as important was the encouragement from friends at TBH, and at the local pool from Scott Armstrong of Jesmond Joggers.
And if it’s good enough for Mo, it’s good enough for me…