Contrary to popular perception, the pool isn’t just for streamlined swimmers and old ladies doing water aerobics. It can be an injured runner’s playground and is perhaps the safest option for cross-training through many impact-related injuries.
Of course, if you’ve ever treaded water for more than 5 minutes in the deep end of a pool, you know it’s an exercise in monotony as much as it is an excellent aerobic workout. The good news is that there’s no impact on the body, so you can run in the water for as long you would run on land and perform hard workouts almost daily with no concern for aggravating an existing injury. This is important because not only will intense interval sessions keep you fit while you overcome your injury, but they will also keep you from losing your mind as time seems to stand still.
In the pool, short intervals from 30 seconds to 3 minutes with half to equal rest will give you the most bang for your buck. Because of the resistance provided by the water, your turnover will be slow but be sure to drive your knees in a sprinting-like fashion to keep your heart rate elevated. Even so, your heart rate will be lower than when running on land, so use perceived exertion to gauge your effort in the water. Wearing an aqua jogging belt is best for beginners and encourages proper form, while water running without a belt provides a better total body workout and demands a little more focus to maintain good form.
In addition to running in deep water to maintain fitness, I’ve used the shallow end of a swimming pool to fine-tune my form without the risk of unnecessary impact by performing a few sets of basic drills such as high knees, butt kicks, bounds and fast feet. Because of the reduced speed in the water, 15 meters worth of work for each drill is fine, but be sure to keep the intensity high and focus on covering ground with fluid form throughout the session.