Most athletes have felt the frustration of training hard only to suffer an injury and snowshoe racers are no exception. The thought of losing hard-won fitness has sent many back to intensive training before ready, often with the result of an even more serious injury. Pool running is an option that allows athletes to continue training while injured or even as a complement to work on the trails.
According to Barry Short, a certified personal trainer who specializes in training elite athletes, water running is a fantastic fitness tool. According to Short “water running is a non-weight bearing alternative to snowshoeing that maintains the neuromuscular specific conditioning. Athletes with injuries such as shin splints, sprains and strains, tendonitis, faciitis, etc. can still run in the pool and preserve their cardiovascular integrity. All without causing more damage to the injury.”
In fact, there is some evidence that water running can actually improve your speed. Since water is more than 700 times more dense than air, water running is not only great aerobic training but an excellent resistance work out as well. One example of someone successfully incorporating pool running into her training is Canadian triathlete Sue Watson. At 52 years old, she was the fastest woman overall in two local triathlons this past season, posting faster times this season than in previous years. Watson credits her improvement to doing the majority of her running in the pool while nursing some nagging injuries.
And Short concurs: “High end athletes must maintain peak levels of fitness. I use water running with my athletes because we can get as hard a workout in the pool with a much lower risk of injury.”
How to do it
Most pools have waist flotation belts but if not, straddling a pool noodle will work. The requirement is to simply be buoyant enough to float unassisted. It is also important to maintain good running form, keeping the shoulders over the hips with head and eyes forward; sucking the belly button in to engage the core and using a complete range of motion.
Pool temperatures vary so be aware during warm down and stretching. If a muscle tightens and does not relax immediately get out of the water, dry off and massage the tight area. It is also difficult to gauge body temperature in the pool so it is important to stay hydrated. Keeping a water bottle on the pool deck and drinking from it regularly is a good idea.
The workouts themselves will depend on the training goals but basically whatever the outside training calls for can be done in a pool. Like all workouts, start with a warm up. Short suggests five minutes of simple exercises like hurdles and jumping jacks followed by an anaerobic set of 12 sets of 45 seconds hard running followed by 15 seconds easy. During high intensity running try for a cadence of 105 leg rotations per minute. Uphills and downhills can be simulated by simply changing your body position slightly forward or backward. To minimize the risk of injury, test every motion first before working it into a vigorous workout.
When running, it is a good idea to vary the stride. Most of the workout will be regular running with shoulders over the hips, the arms relaxed, and with a slight forward extension and a small heel lift to the back. Some running should be done knees up where there is no heel lift behind keeping a slight flex in the hips and the knees finishing under the hips. For heels up, push the hands in front for balance with a flex at the knees and kicking to the back. For a long stride there will be an extension forward causing a slight stretch in the hamstring and with a strong pull back.
For variety there are some simple moves like cross-country skiing, tucks (pulling your legs up to your chest), soccer kicks, bicycles and mogul skiing. Simulating the football drill of running through tires by running with the legs slightly apart and high knees is particularly good for snowshoe racers. Using equipment like webbed gloves, ankle and body weights and foam dumbbells can all increase the resistance, giving a more intense workout.
So whether you are recovering from an injury or your schedule just won’t let you get out onto the trails, or maybe you simply want to try something new and different, it might be time to try water running.