Injured? Try pool running. This pro-runner swears by it

Injured? Try pool running. This pro-runner swears by it

How do you maintain your hard-earned fitness when you notice an injury looming?  Many try to run through the pain, but that can be risky. Instead, look for cross-training alternatives that help you hang on to your fitness, while also easing the load on your legs.

While battling chronic shin splints in March, April, and May, I found myself heading to the University of Michigan swimming pool every day to aqua jog (also known as pool running—and no, not how the dramatized photo above depicts it, but with your head above the water!).  Most days I saw 2016 US Olympic Trials 1500m 4th place finisher, Amanda Ecclesston, in the pool—she was always there before I arrived, and kept going long after I left.  As she describes in the interview below, Eccleston regularly completes a significant amount of her training in the pool—even when healthy—and has had some remarkable success on the track.  Years of trial and error with pool workouts have made Eccleston somewhat of a pool running guru, and I was fascinated by all the wisdom she passed on as we slugged out workout after workout together.

Amanda Eccleston PRs: 800m-2.02.03, 1500m- 4.03.25, Mile- 4.25.56, 5000m – 15.26.56

Amanda, how did you get started with aqua jogging or pool running as part of your training regimen?

I first added aqua jogging to train through injuries during my first few years of college. By my senior year, I began adding several morning pool sessions a week, even when healthy, to increase my volume in a risk-free way.

How much pool running were you doing during your highly successful 2016 season? How much real running did you do?

My running mileage varied a bit last year. During my base period I was able to get about 45-55 miles a week. March and April were pretty light because of some tendinitis, probably 15-30 miles a week, and then I built up to 40 in May and held my mileage in the low 40s the rest of the summer. My pool running varied from about 4-5 hours to a week on average all the way up to 9-10 when I wasn’t running as much.

How do you like to organize your pool running training? What sort of workouts do you do?

When I’m training at 100%, I usually use the pool as more easy mileage and recovery, so I might go 20-60 minutes after a run or workout and one day a week of a longer session (60-90 min). When pool running is the bulk of my training, I like to do hard workouts every other day and more moderate workouts in the in-between days. Some of my staple workouts are:

Tempo reps: 10 x 3 min hard, 1 min easy, finished with 10×30 sec sprint, 30 sec easy;

Ladder workouts (such as 30 sec hard, 30 sec easy, 60 sec hard, 30 sec easy, 90 sec hard, 30 sec easy, and back down, 5-6 reps of the ladder);

and Resistance Band workouts: 4-5 sets of 5 x 45 sec hard, 30 sec easy.

I also like to add short strides to the end of most days (10-15 sec all-out sprints). I do a huge variety of workouts to keep it interesting!

Amanda likes to do her “pool” running outside whenever she gets the chance!

How long does it take you to transition your pool fitness to running fitness after a long break (6+ weeks) from running?

If I’m taking a longer break from running, it’s usually something fairly serious and I have to ease back into running slowly. I may build my mileage to about 30/week over 6 weeks. But at that point, I can transition fairly easily to running workouts and be running fairly comparable times in my workouts. After 3-4 weeks of running workouts, I’m usually ready to race.

Has it become easier to put the time in the pool now that you’ve become so accustomed to the training, or does the time still go incredibly slow?

It’s definitely much easier now than it used to be! Anything under an hour feels quite short at this point. There are still days when it drags by, especially when I’m a bit hurt and putting a lot of time in day after day, but having company in the pool makes it much more enjoyable.

How would you recommend a first timer start pool running? How quickly can they progress into advanced workouts?

I would start by doing shorter sessions just to get used to the motions. Try 20-30 minutes at first and gradually add 5-10 minutes every few sessions. Start by wearing a flotation belt around your waist to help with proper form, which includes remaining upright and driving your knees like running hills. After getting comfortable with the form and being able to go without stopping for at least 40 minutes, you can progress to advanced workouts! When things get too easy, try taking off the belt and aqua jogging without it. This definitely gets your heart rate up!

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