If you have ever tried to run or walk quickly to get out of a pool, then you have had the opportunity to experience the difficulty of moving fast in water. This is the premise behind pool walking, an effective, easy-to-learn water activity that requires absolutely no swimming skills. This form of exercise is performed in waist- to shoulder-deep water.
Pool walking combines the toning of weight training, the cardiovascular benefits of aerobics, and the enhanced flexibility gained through yoga—all in about 30 minutes per day. Water is a natural and instantly adjustable weight training machine, providing resistance in all directions to tone and strengthen the muscles. Because of this, pool walking promotes balance in muscular development in addition to the cardiovascular benefits you achieve. The same muscles used in walking on land, the lower leg muscles—gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, anterior tibialis, and ankle muscles—are all used in the water as well.
Water workouts effectively burn fat and strengthen the abdominal muscles without doing a single sit-up! This is the result of your body’s stabilizing itself while maintaining balance as it reacts to the buoyancy of the water surrounding you. The movements are low impact and joint friendly, helping to prevent injuries as well as heal them. Choose this type of workout when looking to avoid jarring and high-impact activities, when you want to add a little variety to your cross-training routine, or when you want to perform a cardiovascular routine that will also enhance leg strength.
Footwear is suggested for pool walking and pool running. Pool bottoms can be slippery, especially the lane markers painted on the bottom of the pool. In addi¬tion, when you jump or run in the water, you are adding impact to your activity. Although the impact is less because of the cushioning effect of the water, there is still impact. A good aqua shoe with cushioning and lateral support will help protect your limbs, back, and knees from the potential shock of impact. Aqua shoes are available at sporting goods outlets. They are lightweight and dry quickly. These shoes are meant to be worn without socks, so be sure to try them on without socks before buying.
In water, resistance determines your intensity. You are in charge! You choose the intensity level by incorporating speed, force, or surface area. The larger the surface area presented against the water is, the greater the resistance is. Adding arm movements under the water will add to the challenge because the arms have to work to propel you through the water. Also, by increasing your speed, you increase the intensity of the workout. The higher the water level is the more challenging the workout will be. Start pool walking in waist-deep water and increase to chest level for maximum benefit.
Before your pool walking workout, it is important to warm up first by walking slowly for the first five minutes. Once you begin your workout, start at one end of the pool or lap lane and walk at a moderate, comfortable pace across the pool to the other side and back. You can vary your workout and increase the intensity by adding arm and leg movements. Extend your arms out to the side, keeping them underwater. With palms facing forward, bring your arms toward each other with fingers closed and cross them in front of you, then turn your palms back and push them back. Swoop both arms from side to side, alternating using both arms and using individual arms. Vary your leg movements—create a letter V, stepping “out, out, in, in” as you walk across the pool. Step forward and lift one knee toward your chest, repeating with the other leg. Follow your workout with a cool-down in the water for about five minutes with gentle relaxing moves to bring your heart rate back to where it was when you started.
Perhaps you need a break from the impact of day-to-day fitness activities. Maybe you’ve been hurt and need a non-impact way of keeping fit. Or perhaps you want a gentle, refreshing, yet effective way to work out. Pool running, whether in shallow or deep water, can do the trick. It is an effective aerobic workout, certainly gets your heart rate up, pumps your muscles, and will leave you feeling as though you’ve had a full-body massage!
Pool running is a wonderful alternative to running on land. It is easier on the joints, increases range of motion, rehabilitates injuries, and builds sport-specific strength—making running on land easier and more fluid. Athletic trainers and coaches are now incorporating shallow- and deep-water running into their athletes’ training because they have found that the training benefits achieved in the water cross over to the demands of their sports on land. It is also a good exercise if you are pregnant because the water keeps your temperature fairly even, and it eliminates the stress on your body and joints by providing cushioning and support.
For effective pool running, make sure you have proper form. Keep your abdominal muscles contracted to support your back, and avoid leaning forward from the waist. As you run, raise your knees to about hip height, then push down and slightly backward with your foot. Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle and swing them from your shoulders. Allow your fingers to come just below the surface of the water in front of you, and to your hips at your side in the backward swing. To increase intensity, try to run harder by moving your arms and legs faster. The faster you run, or push, the harder the workout will be because of the resistance of the water against the push.
In shallow-water running, you are in water from waist to chest deep and your feet are in contact with the pool bottom, as in pool walking. In deep-water running, you are suspended vertically in the water by wearing a flotation belt. It’s as though you are running in midair!
• Shallow-water running. Shallow-water running is performed in water from waist-deep to shoulder-deep levels. The deeper the water is, the more intense the workout is because more body parts are submerged. Because your feet are in contact with the bottom of the pool as in pool walking, this is an impact activity (i.e., you rebound from one foot to another as you do when running on land). The difference is that the buoyancy and properties of the water cushion the landing to absorb the impact, thereby reducing the amount of shock to the legs and back. For this reason, pool running is a great choice for runners looking to take a break from the jarring impact of their daily running. Footwear is recommended for this activity. As with pool walking, choose a shoe that is flexible and has cushioning. Most aqua shoes are lightweight and dry quickly. Remember—no socks!
For variety you can run across the pool from one wall to the other or stay in place and focus on lifting your knees. It is important to move your arms as well to increase your heart rate. Exaggerate the arm movements to get the most out of your workout by pushing and pulling the water. Interval training can be incorporated into pool running. By working harder in intervals, followed by an active recovery of working at your normal training pace, you can train your system to work at higher intensities for longer periods of time. Shallow-water running allows you to train with less impact to your joints, which might allow you to train longer than you would be able to on land. For this reason, shallow-water running is a good choice for those look¬ing to increase the duration of their running workouts with less strain to the body. For a workout that takes the impact completely out of the picture and presents an entirely new dimension to running, deep-water running is worth a try.
• Deep-water running. Let’s get vertical! Deep-water running, in which you are suspended vertically in water wearing a floatation belt, is a perfect cross-training activity. Just by participating in deep-water running, you are helping yourself prevent injury! And if you are already injured (we hope not, but let’s face it, it does occasionally happen to the best of us), deep-water running is perfect for keeping your fitness up while your injury heals. Be aware that in the pool your heart rate will be 10 to 15 beats less than it is on land. This is due to the physiological response of the heart when the body is submerged in water. This doesn’t mean you are working any less; in fact, your muscles will have to work harder in water than they do on land.
In deep-water running, you wear a flotation belt (available at most swimming specialty stores) around your waist or torso. The belt holds you vertical in the water without your feet touching the pool bottom. This is the difference between shallow-water running and deep-water running. Your head and the tops of your shoulders are out of the water. You will need to be in a pool anywhere from 5 to 6 feet (152 to 183 centimeters) in depth, depending on how tall you are. Some people deep-water run without a belt; however, a belt will allow you to stay tall and not lean forward from your back, helping you stay focused on getting your heart rate up rather than on staying afloat or upright. Also, you can use your belt as a tether to tie yourself to the side of the pool so you can work harder by running against the tether.
The goal of deep-water running is to stay in one place by pushing and pulling the water at the same time. The key is balance and core strength. Keep yourself as upright as possible, with your abs held in tight, and your head looking straight ahead. Make sure you don’t bend forward from the waist and stick out your butt. Push your feet up and down to a 90-degree angle rather than moving them in a cycling motion. Your arms should stay as close to your body as possible with a 90-degree bend in the elbow and palms facing the body with thumbs up.
To increase the intensity, you can rotate your palms down toward the water, which increases the surface area. You can do interval training drills by running a minute fast and a minute slow, alternating for as long as you want, which is similar to the interval drill in shallow-water running, or you can just re-create the same workouts you do on land.
Water exercise in the form of running is a great way to cross-train and save your legs. You will be saving some of the miles in your legs for another day. Some athletes shrug and shy away from water exercise, claiming they don’t like the water. But my theory is you don’t know until you try it! Not only is it effective, but it is also great on hot days. On cold winter days, the warm pool is a wonderful retreat. The best part is that water running will protect and save your joints and will allow you to keep those cardio workouts going for years to come.
From Morning Cardio Workouts by June E. Kahn, CPT, and Lawrence J.M. Biscontini, MA.
Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. Available to order at www.HumanKinetics.com or by calling 1-800-465-7301.