UAA athletes embrace alternative training in the pool

UAA’s cross country runners take their speed to more places than a spot at the women’s Division II NCAA championship. They bring their run to the pool.

Strapping on blue foam flotation belts, both UAA’s cross country and track teams jog across the UAA Wells Fargo Sports Complex pool’s deep end during regular open-swim hours as they incorporate aqua jogging for injury rehabilitation, prevention and supplemental training.

The athletes have their upper body floating and their legs churning through the water underneath, so it makes for both an interesting sight and an interesting experience.

“Because it’s hard on the body running six days a week, anything’s good to mix it up,” UAA assistant cross country running coach Leslie Boyd said.

It’s also a lot more than just a routine change. For injured athletes, the chance to rehabilitate in water as opposed to on cement, ice or hard ground is a godsend.

Junior Stephanie Myers was prescribed aqua jogging as training while her left foot healed after a mid-season injury. The tendons connecting Myers’ fifth metatarsal—the long bone on the outside of her foot—had been strained, limiting her to crutches. Myers trained daily with aqua jogging and biking for a month until she could return to regular training. And no limp followed her recovery, Myers said.

“I felt like I hadn’t even quit running. The first couple of days it felt kind of weird seeing as I hadn’t run in a month but I got right back into it,” Myers said.

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An athlete’s aqua-jogging workout typically lasts an hour to help athletes maintain their weekly training hours, Boyd said.

“I really do think that my endurance is a lot better now,” Myers said. “I don’t know if it’s from the aqua jogging or increasing my volume, because instead of just aqua jogging I also did biking and weight lifting.”

Some athletes choose aqua jogging on their light-workout days, but even then it can be a challenge.

“You really have to be focused and make sure you’re maintaining a higher heart rate,” Boyd said.

Because aqua jogging can be repetitive and the belts can make the activity easy, athletes can quickly waste an hour of exercise, she said.

Myers said staring at the same wall for an hour and moving fast while staying mostly stationary can make aqua jogging difficult.

“It helps if the lifeguards have the music playing in there and you watch the people passing by in the halls and see if you know anybody that’s walking past,” Myers said. “I don’t like too much rap, but any kind of music’s good as long as it’s background music.”

Both Myers and sophomore Aaron Dickson said having someone to talk to helps ease the boredom of aqua jogging.

“The worst part about it is when you take off your belt and feel like you’re going to sink and you have to work hard to keep your head above water, when you have to focus to stay afloat,” Myers said. “On the hard workouts when I had to take the belt off, I had to really focus through.”

Myers is the most fit she’s ever been running for UAA and her speed and endurance have both improved. Aqua jogging also helped Myers focus, because aqua jogging requires intense focus to have a productive workout, Boyd said.

“I think the best part is that you can get as much out of it as you put into it. You can work as hard as you want or as little as you want,” Myers said.

Dickson does aqua jogging to relieve his joints.

“To me, it’s something to do besides running and to kind of release the stress and pounding of the joints for the day,” Dickson said.

Injured athletes benefit from the no-impact workout of aqua jogging because they can simulate running and work on their strides and technique in an aquatic environment that offers more resistance to movement than air.

“Anything you do on the pavement or the trail can be transferred to the pool,” Boyd said.

The national-qualifying women’s team has taken to the water more eagerly than the men, Boyd said.

“I try not to do it too much because running is definitely the best training for running,” Dickson said.

“Some of the boys just feel like they have a lot more trouble than the girls to stay afloat. So they don’t like being there close to the side and not feeling like they have to work so hard,” Myers said.

The group sessions on Wednesdays help bring the 40-plus members of the track team together, Boyd said, because when everyone is in the pool together, there is a positive atmosphere about the workout.

Both Dickson and Myers said they plan on using aqua jogging as either cross-training or supplemental training to decrease the impact to joints that running can cause.

“It’s boring but it’s good because I’ll be able to keep running longer, in terms of years,” Dickson said. “It’s good for the body.”