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Now in my third year of writing the Fitness
Makeover columns, I've noticed that the letters and questions that pour into my
mailbox come in trends: one month they're about wanting to lose weight;
another, about staying motivated; the next, about getting faster or developing
This month was no exception, as there were
several readers who wrote with a debilitating running injury wanting to know
what they could do to stay in shape while their ailments healed.
Nelly Galdindo, Katarina Schmidtova,
Kathleen Manning and Cici Ross are just a small sampling of active athletes who
have recently been sidelined by a foot surgery, a torn Achilles,
chondromalacia, and torn knee cartilage, respectively.
They all have in common a love of running,
and are anxiously waiting for their injuries to heal in order to get back into
Of primary concern to them all was what they
could do to maintain their running conditioning while obeying their doctor's
orders to stay off the trails and treadmills.
This running-injury theme must have been in
the cards this month, for another reader wrote in with a Makeover suggestion
(rather than a question) that addressed this very concern and offered a
Megan Melgaard is a former U.S. National
Swim Team member and current triathlon junkie who ended up with a bum knee
after a minor freak accident involving a 50-pound weight and the ability to
drop it on fragile parts of her anatomy.
Always one to think out of the box, Megan
decided to give Aqua-jogging a try, having heard that friend and pro triathlete
Bill Schultz came away from a serious injury to win the St. Anthony's triathlon
in Florida this year after resorting to the exercise therapy for several
"Deep-water running is a super, no-impact
cross-training activity for anyone who wants to build or preserve leg
strength," Megan says.
"Because it uses the same muscles as running
on land, it's especially appealing to runners who are prone to or recovering
from shin splints, stress fractures, and hamstring or lower-back injuries."
Aqua-jogging requires little (if any)
swimming skill. Most runners who might be uncomfortable in the pool can either
jog in waist-deep water or invest in a flotation vest (indeed, such a vest is
also recommended for those athletes whose buoyancy may be questionable). An
Aqua-Jogger vest can be purchased at almost any fitness-gear retailer.
Megan opts to go sans vest in the deep end,
since it is more difficult to keep your head above water without the flotation
device. She concentrates on good form and a long stride, but cautions that one
can get fatigued quickly:
"Being in the water creates more resistance
than running on land, and I can sure feel it in my legs!"
Other than good form (which is essential
underwater, or else you end up flailing and tilting uncontrollably), focus on
getting your heart rate up by being forceful and fast, yet smooth in your
Mimic the body's running motion on land
while you're in the water. Keep your feet flat, as if you are running on the
ground, making sure not to pronate or turn your feet outward.
You will realize that while your heart rate
escalates, the low-impact nature of the activity should have no painful side
effects (however, check with your doctor before attempting to Aqua-jog, as
certain knee injuries may require complete immobility in order to heal
Hal Rothman, well-esteemed long-distance
running coach and producer of the TV program Saucony Running and Racing,
suggested the following workout to Megan in her quest to maintain her running
physique while being sidelined in the pool.
10 min. warm-up
(light Aqua-jogging in
10 x 25's @ 15 secs rest
water, alternating high knees and fast feet)
15 x 1:00 (40 secs sprint/jog, 20 secs
10 min. warm down
Approx. duration: 55 mins.
The main set of 15 x 1:00's is challenging
because it follows the theory of incomplete recovery (in that you are still
moving during the "down" time rather than completely resting).
If endurance running is your strength, you
can opt for a 45-minute session of Aqua-jogging with no rest, increasing and
decreasing levels of intensity throughout the workout. Approach the 45 minutes
as if it were a typical training run, starting out smooth and picking up the
pace to your aerobic threshold capacity for the last 15 minutes before warming
down for 5 or 10 minutes.
Shallow-water Aqua-jogging has additional
benefits. High knee movements and shallow steps in waist-deep water will
increase your foot speed on land while really putting the burn in your quads.
Consider wearing a pair of water-shoes (Speedo has a line of "Surfwalkers" and
"Aqua Fit Trainers") for traction as well as added protection from sandstone
"Whatever running one does on land may be
adapted to the pool," Megan says. "Degrees of exertion, duration in the water
and stride can all be altered based on your ability, endurance, and performance
Done steadily and vigorously, high returns
are possible from Aqua-jogging. In one study Megan found that maximal oxygen
consumption, lower extremity concentric muscular strength, and endurance in
well-trained male runners remained unchanged during a three-week deep-water
training program similar to the one outlined above ("Effect of Water Running
and Cycling on Maximum Oxygen Consumption and 2-Mile Run Performance," The
American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 21(1), pp. 41-44, 1993).
Too often, passionate runners and
triathletes aren't willing to allow enough time for their injuries to heal
properly, which results in more serious disabilities and compounded
frustrations later on. It is encouraging to note that Megan is offering a
solution that allows runners to continue their training without suffering from
the high-impact side effects of the sport.
In the long run (pun intended), Aqua-jogging
just might be the compromise between doing nothing and over-training to the
point of serious injury.
If you are interested in being the
subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and include
a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.
A former swimmer at Stanford University,
Alex Kostich has stayed strong in the sport at the elite level even while
maintaining a day job. The three-time Pan-American Games gold medalist still
competes in ? and wins ? numerous open-water races around the world each year,
as well as competing in the occasional triathlon and running race. In addition
to being Active's main swimming expert, Alex writes the Fitness Makeover and
World Class Workouts columns. You can send him questions and article idea via
e-mail. Train like the pros with
Alex's World Class Workouts column
Get advice for getting back on track with
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