Aqua Running

This is NOT Dan

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, for this the use of training and supplements found in this description online. 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, check to learn more. 

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…

Daniel Birchall

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  1. Daniel is the quintessential Tyne Bridge Harrier! After his injury he didn’t disappear from TBH; he was there to support at all the races and events he missed – supplying us with the positive attitude and encouragement we’d come to know from training with him.

    Fantastic that you’ve come out of injury feeling positive mate and perhaps stronger for the future of your running!

    • Paul Hilton on 7th August 2011 at 16:48
    • Reply

    Daniel that is a great report and that aqua running has done wonders for you whilst injured.

    Totally agree what young spuggy says above, about you still coming to help out and being around the club when you were injured its great to have you back training with us and brill pb yesterday and with your temperament am sure its the 1st of many.

  2. Cracking report Daniel, off on my holidays on Friday and I intend to follow your advice and incorporate some aqua training in between drinking sessions….Good to see you back and well done on your PB yesterday.

    • Rich T on 7th August 2011 at 21:26
    • Reply

    Great read Dan , nice to see you back and running so well after being injured . i know how you felt, having an injury is such a dark place to be in

    • dan b on 7th August 2011 at 22:56
    • Reply

    thanks for the comments guys, really appreciated. I hope it’s helpful to anyone who picks up an injury. but I’m sure it can fit into a weekly training plan. In fact, I used a 60 minute aqua run today as a recovery session, and to replace a planned long sunday run.

    another really helpful link is:

    This site includes Q&A about many different injury and training scenarios, and is authored by Dean Hebert – a highly regarded American fitness coach.

    • Brother Louis on 8th August 2011 at 13:21
    • Reply

    Top stuff Dan! I certainly echo all the comments above. A great example of not getting down about an injury but getting on with it. Loved it!

    • Deka on 9th August 2011 at 15:24
    • Reply

    great to see you back daniel. fantastic park run when just getting back to training will be many more to come. great report and excellent atitude

    • Cat on 17th August 2011 at 22:00
    • Reply

    Great to have you back down the club, Dan – and as Sparrow says, it never felt that you quite left us in the first place! Always a pleasure to see you down at the club :) Keep on running – onwards and upwards, more PBs to come I’ve absolutely no doubt

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