Give Your Joints A Break, Work Out In The Water

 Photo by  Todd Quackenbush  

Photo by Todd Quackenbush 

I was introduced to interval training in the water when I was a not-so-skilled track and cross country runner in college. Those days, my coach had me deal with my sprained ankle by water running. With my track clothes on, I would jump into the deep end of a pool and run - with absolutely no idea that there were things to consider such as form and intensity.

I know my coaches knew something back then that I didn’t: water training works. Now, water training isn’t new; it has been around centuries. Sadly though, if you ask anyone what they know about water training, they usually only think of rehabilitation and for medicinal purposes. Because of this stigma, the average athlete or fitness enthusiast might doubt a water workout as a viable way to train. Yet countless Olympic athletes use the method year after year with podium results.

Thus, we have an amazing fitness method which just hasn’t hit mainstream.

For me, I came a long way from those early years of practically drowning. I had the opportunity to be trained by some major players (Shirley Archer and Sharon Svensson) and then I honed those concepts and integrated more variety and intensity drills for training and my clients and classes. I also used water to train for ultra running and ironman events, and eventually, to rehabilitate after some major bicycle accidents.

Water training is truly a platform in which you can work at any level. For example, after my knee surgery, I couldn’t walk on land without crutches, but I could walk in the water due to the effects of buoyancy and minimized gravity. Once I was given the green light to get back to harder workouts, I slowly increased the intensity and the variation of exercises until I could run on land again (something my doctor told me would be unlikely). Since the surgery, thanks to water training, I have participated in other ironman and ultra running events.

 Photo by  chrissie kremer

You may be thinking, “Why should I use the water?” Maybe you are new to fitness or are not dealing with any injuries so you just don’t see the reason to include it. Well, all I can say is that with a society bent on increasing fitness at all costs, I keep thinking about joint health.

More and more people are getting involved with land-based fitness classes, marathon & triathlon training programs, high-intensity Cross-Fit or Spartan events, and there isn’t much thought to the pounding the body is taking, specifically the joints. Joint health today could be analogous to our past obsession with sunbathing. All of us children of the 60s and 70s paid no mind to sun damage as we rubbed oil on our bodies for a deeper tan. Well, this caught up to us, didn’t it? Joint health may have the same future.

Research has shown that a 150-pound runner could actually experience 600-900 pounds of impact force with each stride, and we’re looking at 2,000 strides per mile! Now, I’ve run some LONG events, so training in a non-impact generating environment has been a game-changer for me.

Consider changing your workout a day or two a week and hit the pool (or ocean) for a deep water focused workout. Your joints will thank you in another 5-30 years!

Here is a Total Body Workout for you to try: This workout is approximately 50 minutes in length. To start, perform a water-based warm-up of approximately 5-7 minutes of all the intended main set exercises. The workout can be performed in a HIIT or MISS type training (High intensity interval or medium intensity steady state); all depends on your needs for the day. To increase intensity, use gloves or resistance bells (just watch over gripping; first timers may experience major forearm fatigue). Recovery between each section as suggested or as needed!

 Photo by  Mike Wilson  

Photo by Mike Wilson 

  • Pyramid: perform the following (1,2,3,4,3,2,1) [approx. 10:30+ sec.]
  • Water Run: 4x’s 15 sec. on/ 10 sec. recovery jog
  • High Knees: 3x’s 15 sec. on/10 sec. rec. jog
  • Karate Kick: 2x’s 20 sec. on/ 15 sec rec. jog
  • Cross Country Uppercut: 1 min. on/30 sec. rec. jog
  • Repeater: Perform series 4 times through. 20 sec. on/15 sec. rec. with a 1 min. jog between series [approx. 10:00 min.] UpperCut Punch, Straight Shot Punch, & Hook Punch.
  • Eddies: [approx. 4+ min.] Perform 1 rep. each:
  • 1 min. Water Run Eddy at 85%+ effort, rec. 45 sec.
  • 45 sec. Water Run Eddy at 85% effort, rec. 40 sec.
  • 30 sec. Water Run Eddy at 85 % effort, rec. 30 sec.
  • Repeater: Perform series 3 times through. 30 sec. on/15 sec. rec. with a 1 min. jog between series [approx. 4+ min.]
  • Cross Country
  • Water Run
  • Backward Cross Country (legs only): 3x’s 20-30 sec. on/ 15 sec. rec. jog
  • BreastStroke
  • Cross Country Pop-Up
  • Run

Cool Down & Stretch

When you do a water workout, it will be hard work. Oddly enough though, it is also refreshing. So much so that right when you are done - you feel great. It almost will feel like you didn’t worked out. But, don’t be fooled; if you work as hard as I do, you shouldn’t be surprised if you feel a wee-bit tired a few hours later!

Workout adapted from Deep End of the Pool Workouts: No-Impact Interval Training and Strength Exercises. Author, Melis Edwards has over 30 years of experience as a running and triathlon coach, personal trainer, fitness instructor and athlete, having participated in Ironman distance triathlons, and the Western States 100 mile endurance run. Ms. Edwards holds a Master’s Degree in Health Promotion, a Bachelor’s in Health Education, and several teaching and training certifications. Check out www.hitmethodfitness.com for more info. Water Run: Fairly intuitive, but remember to use opposite arm and leg movements and keep your body vertical with a slight lean forward. Use a nice long stride since there’s nothing holding you back.

High Knees: Like playing hacky sack under water. Try keeping your arms above your head for an extra challenge.

Karate Kick: Unleash your inner action movie star and strike two foes at once! Keep your legs bent while they pass under you, but strike out front and back at the same time. Try adding opposing punches to level up this move.

Cross Country Uppercut: Move your legs like a cross country skier (long strides like running, but keep your legs straight without locking your knees), while using your opposite arm to deliver an uppercut punch a la Rosie the Riveter. The twist is especially good for your obliques. (For regular Cross Country, use opposing limbs for similarly long strokes.)

Eddies: This is an intense drill which is all about working against the water. Run forward for five seconds, then turn 180 degrees (a u-turn) into wall of swirling water created behind your body (i.e., the eddy) and continue with the Run. The key to making this drill extremely challenging is timing; turning just before the water starts to give way as to not lose the intended effect of trying to “run up stream”. Breaststroke: Use your legs to do a water run while mimicking a traditional breastroke with your arms. Start with your arms in front of you and push the water to either side in a sweeping motion. Cross Country Pop Up: Think about inverting the original cross country stroke. Rather than the active portion being your legs moving away from the body, think of spreading them to power your torso straight up out of the water like an octopus uses its limbs to propel itself forward. This one is fun once you get the hang of it, and it’s a serious workout for your core!

Workout adapted from Deep End of the Pool Workouts: No-Impact Interval Training and Strength Exercises. Author,  Melis Edwards has over 30 years of experience as a running and triathlon coach, personal trainer, fitness instructor and athlete, having participated in Ironman distance triathlons, and the Western States 100 mile endurance run. Ms. Edwards holds a Master’s Degree in Health Promotion, a Bachelor’s in Health Education, and several teaching and training certifications. Check out www.hitmethodfitness.com for more info.

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