My calendar says it’s still spring, but sure feels like we’re already knee-deep into summer. It hasn’t gotten disgusting quite yet, but it’s just around the corner (otherwise, known as May). You don’t need me to tell you that the heat and humidity here in Central Texas makes running pretty darn tough. That is, running on dry land.
I’ve written before about the other, cooler way to run at least some of the time during our brutal blow torch of a summer: Deep-water running. It’s still running, but your feet never touch the ground. Or, in this case, the bottom of a pool.
Deep-water running has been around forever, but most runners hold their noses in contempt and only even contemplate doing it when forced into because they’re injured. Make no mistake about it, deep-water running is an excellent aerobic workout when you’re injured because there’s no impact whatsoever–the chief culprit of most running injuries. You can “run” safely through most common running injuries in the pool.
But deep-water running is more than just for injured runners. It’s a great hot-weather alternative to dry land running. It gives you a break from the pounding and complete relief from the blazing temperatures and oppressive humidity we enjoy so much during our gorgeous Texas summers. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.)
One of the beauties of deep-water running is how easy it is. All you need is a pool to get a terrific workout which is roughly equal to your dry land training but without the heat and pounding.
First things first. You’ll need to find a pool with a deep end. It doesn’t have to be extremely deep, just deep enough so that your feet won’t touch bottom. Finding a pool with a deep end isn’t as easy it sounds. Many pools today aren’t any deeper than 5 ½ feet. If that’s all which is available, you can still run in the water but your feet will obviously touch the bottom.
Regardless of the depth of the pool, you will also need some room (preferably, your own lane) to run so as not to get in the way of the lap swimmers or kids playing Marco Polo. Try to stay out of their way and hopefully, they’ll stay out of your way.
Barton Springs is perfect—deep, plenty of cool, open water. Deep Eddy’s OK too. Another good option is Dick Nichols Pool on Beckett in South Austin. There are plenty of other good pools in Austin. Best bet is to go early before the crowds get there. Lunchtime or early evening is usually when the lanes are the most crowded. I’ve never actually run in any of our recently filled to capacity lakes, but I’m sure doing so is just as good as a pool.
Your next step is to find a partner to “run” with because the No. 1 complaint runners have is that pool running is incredibly boring.
And, it certainly can be. So get a training partner who you can “run” with. Being able to chat, bitch and gossip the time away will make it pass that much quicker.
Even if you have a training partner, get some music and blast some high-energy rock ‘n’ roll on the pool deck if the lifeguards will permit it. Anything to get you motivated to do this because it will take some degree of added motivation to get into the water and go for a run.
You will look like an oddball running in the water, but bite on this: Doing a pool run of 45 minutes is not any different—aerobically speaking–than a dry land run of the same length. Plus, you’ll burn approximately 350 calories in 30 minutes in the pool. So if you’re injured and want to stay in shape until healthy again, hop in. If you’re not hurt and want to add a supplement to your running, the pool is a perfect way to get a second workout in. Or just a substitute for one or two days of hot, summer running without any impact.
Pool running is a much better alternative than swimming (in terms of giving you an aerobic boost for your actual running). If you are a good swimmer, swimming is great for the upper body but does almost nothing for the legs. But, unless you are a great swimmer and able to do a huge amount of intervals with short recovery, it doesn’t do as much for a fit runner as running in the water will.
The first thing potential pool runners want to know is whether they’ll need a foam flotation belt. You don’t. I know this goes against the grain, but most runners won’t need one. You won’t sink if you don’t wear a flotation belt. Even skinny wimps like me do just fine without any flotation aids. But if you’re not comfortable in the water, go ahead and wear a belt such as the Aqua Jogger. A water-skiing belt works just fine too.
Truth is, I’m a firm believer in going without a flotation belt. The advantage of not wearing a belt, means you’ll be working a little harder to maintain a comfortable running position in the water which will tax your aerobic system a bit more and give you a better, all-around workout. Many fit runners who want to try pool running, start out with a flotation belt or vest, but find they don’t get a good enough workout. So, once you’re comfortable in the water, ditch the flotation device and you’ll be able to get your heart rate up higher while running.
To begin a pool workout, all you need to do is start your runners’ watch, hop into the deep end and begin to run. Move your arms and legs as if you’re running on land. Try not to bounce up and down in the water, but maintain a steady cadence with short, quick strides. The quicker the strides, the better the workout. Breathe normally.
If you can’t find deep water and can only run in water with your feet touching the pool bottom, that’s OK too. The running motion is the same as you go back and forth. One of the things I do (after my regular swim workout) is “run” one lap forward and the next lap backward. I believe that helps balance my leg muscles out and it also relieves the tedium a bit.
Regardless of the depth you’re running in, the first thing you’ll notice is you’re going very slow. That’s because water is so much denser than air that it provides much more resistance which is the basic concept behind doing this. As you will quickly find out, running in the water works your quads, calf muscles, hip flexors and hamstrings—all the primary running muscles– without placing any impact stress on your lower legs. If your feet do touch the bottom, there is some impact but not much because you’re going so slowly.
If in deep water, you will move, but you’ll be going so slowly it’s almost imperceptible how little you move. For ambitious runners, this is kind of a downer at first because we want to go as fast as we can. But in the pool, your speed doesn’t really matter. The training effort (time spent pool running and the intensity you do it) is what counts; the laps don’t. (I don’t even count laps. I just measure my pool running by the clock.)
If the pool is crowded, you may have to just go back and forth in a lane. Or in a tight circle. So being slow actually helps in reducing the water you cover. Again, Barton Springs is ideal because there’s so much open water and you shouldn’t get in anyone’s way if you go early enough.
Continue running and try not to pull with your hands or kick your feet back more than normal. Don’t cup your hand to provide added propulsion. Simply, use your hands in the same up-and-down motion and rhythm as running and allow the legs to move you forward. It will be much harder to pull your legs through than on land—much harder–but that’s what will provide you with such a terrific workout.
One major difference between running on land and in the pool is your heart rate is about 10-15 percent lower in the water because the water makes you so buoyant (and it’s cooler, especially if you’re running in The Springs). Plus, since you’re constantly being cooled by the water, you aren’t heating up like on dry land which also lowers your heart rate.
Still, it’s important to get your heart rate up. To do so, simulate a speed session. Try running hard for one minute, recover for a minute and then follow with another minute of hard running. Do 10 of those. Or sprint hard for 30 seconds every minute. That will get your heart rate up.
Or, do a fartlek workout. Run hard for five minutes, recover for two, run hard for 10 minutes, jog recover for three. Or run hard to one pool ladder and recover as you run to the next ladder. Mix it up and add variety by simulating your dry land workouts. Do whatever it takes to make it interesting and elevate your heart rate.
A long run in the water? It’s certainly possible and I know runners—injured runners—who will go for two hours running in the water. But it’s very difficult to do, plus you monopolize limited space for a long time.
You don’t need to wear goggles because your face should be above water most of the time, but sometimes the chemicals in the pool (especially early) can irritate your eyes. Generally, I wear goggles when I run in the pool just to give my eyes some protection from the sun. I’ve seen people wear sunglasses when they run in the water, but they tend to get wet from the splashing.
I started running in the pool years ago when I was injured and much to my amazement felt like I hadn’t lost anything when I returned to dry land running. When I started running again, I continued pool running as a supplement and discovered that I semi-enjoyed it and felt that it paid dividends in terms of strength and overall body fitness.
Admittedly, I’m fortunate to have a 50-meter pool in my neighborhood. I’ve always been a swimmer and every day after work, I do my normal swim workout. When I finish, I hop into the kids section (about four feet deep) and “run” forward and backward for another 20 minutes, emphasizing good form.
Assuming you aren’t injured, use pool running to supplement your regular training. Instead of running on dry land, substitute one or two pool runs per week during the heat of summer. Again, running in the water is just like running on the land—except without the pounding and heat.
Is pool running boring? Well yeah it can be. But if you can get over it, pool running is an ideal way to supplement your summer running and/or keep running while injured.