Aqua Jogging at the YMCA

>> Tuesday, November 2, 2010

As I wrote in our weekend recap, I'm taking an entire week off from running. Of course, the minute I got to the gym last night, I decided to test my knee with a mile jog on the indoor track. (No pain! But that's not the point.) I'm not better. My knee hurt after the super-slow Halloween's Zombie Jog. So, starting today -- no running. At least until Sunday. For me, this is difficult. It's been . . . well . . . over a year since I've taken a break like this.

It's driving me CRAZY!

We joined the local YMCA (image source) last Friday night. Ever since, my mission has been to find cross-training activities that work for me. Not just for my mind (because running is also my stress release), but also for my body (because I still very much want to run the half at the end of the month).

What's on my list of things to try? Today we'll focus on aqua jogging. First, because it has the word "jogging" in it, which I love. Second, because I keep reading accounts from injured athletes who swear by it. Third, because I have a shiny new pool to try it in. And fourth, there's something incredibly fun about swimming in 87-degree water when it's only 35 degrees outside!

Welcome to my pool:

I dragged myself out of bed at 5:15 AM this morning so I could splash around at the beginning of lap swim (which runs from 5:30 AM till 7:50 AM). When I arrived, there were 3 ladies in their 80s walking in the pool, another older gentleman swimming laps, a guy in his late 40s just sort of hanging out (which was -- admittedly -- pretty strange), and another guy my age, again, swimming laps.

The lifeguard was great at explaining the "rules" of the pool. I asked if there is a slow or fast lane. Answer: No. I asked where it'd be best for me to do my jogging thing: She pointed to the wide lane with the walking old ladies. Yahoo!

Thankfully, the Y has lots of jogging belts (above) that I can use, so I don't have to fork over the $40-$75 to buy one of my own. This morning's workout was my second time in the water: 5 minute warm-up followed by 2 sets of 7 x 1:30 "sprints" with 30 seconds of recovery jogging in between, 2 minutes recovery between sets, and a 5-minute cool-down. 40 minutes in all.

I found this fantastic training plan online from Pete Pfitzinger. It's 9 weeks long in all, with 5 in-pool workouts per week. I skipped to week three to start since my endurance is pretty good right now.

Here's the thing about aqua jogging: It looks silly (image source -- and no, I don't jog in a bikini!), but it's much more difficult than you'd think. I thought I'd get right in the water and just naturally know how to do it. That my form would fall into place without feeling awkward. It took me until later in the workout today to feel like I wasn't straining or doing something weird. And even now, I'm not sure my form is spot-on.

Here's a great demo I found on YouTube. She moves a lot faster than I do, but you get the idea:


Q: What is it like?

A: Wearing the belt allows you to keep your head above water with no trouble at all. I had this idea that you'd be moving forward while running. Well, not a lot -- but a heck of a lot more than you actually do. It's kind of funny how much effort you put in while going pretty much nowhere. I stick to the deep end of the pool where my feet don't touch. The movement is similar, but not exactly the same as running. I'm having trouble knowing what to do with my feet.

To flex or not to flex my toes? Any seasoned pool runners out there? If I flex, my shins feel strained -- hurt. If I point, I feel like my calves aren't engaged, definitely not working as hard as my quads. Hmmm.

Q: Does it feel like a good workout?

A: Depends on your intensity. The training plan I'm following emphasizes intervals. I think without the intervals, it would be rather boring. I also don't think my heart rate would get up quite as high. As with any workout, it's important to vary intensity. So, tomorrow's 40-minute steady jog should tell me more. My heart rate was reaching up in the 140s and 150s today. I don't know how that compares to my running rate, but I don't think it's terribly off.

Here's the thing: During the middle of my second set of sprints, I was actually sweating. In the pool. My face was so hot. It. Was. HARD. My quads were burning. I think for me, longer intervals will really do the trick. I'm not sure if the plan was written for someone who's used to running for 3 hours at a time -- but I think I need to add more endurance stuff into it.

And if you try it and think it isn't hard . . . there are people who deep water jog WITHOUT the flotation belt. I tried it for a bit. INSANE.

Q: Isn't it terribly boring?

A: Not any more than running on a treadmill. Actually, it's much better than running on a treadmill. The time -- at least for me -- melts away. Also, doing intervals helps with the monotony. And I'd rather be in the water than at home on my butt.

Q: Does it really keep you fit throughout the duration of injury?

A: I don't know. But here's some info from Pete Pfitzinger: Among other reports and studies cited, "at the University of Toledo, in which trained runners ran in the water 5 to 6 days per week for 4 weeks . . . runners had no change in 5K performance time, VO2 max, lactate threshold, or running economy after 4 weeks of water running. So, there is little question that water running is an effective method for runners to stay fit." (Source and more information.)

Have you tried aqua jogging? If so, do you have any advice for me? If not, do you think it's something you'd be interested in trying? I can see myself continuing some pool running even after I'm healed. We'll see! Leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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