Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Supplemental maintenance for pool running (part 1)

OK, I'm sold on the pool-running as a way of preserving basic fitness.  However, it's not the exact same as running, and I've found that there are certain areas that need to be supplemented.  More specifically, pool-running differs from land-running in two ways:

1) your feet push off against less resistance than they would on land (water only, as opposed to a firm surface)

2) your knees lift against more resistance than they would on land (lifting against water, not just air).

As a result, I've found that my hip flexors have gotten greatly strengthened by pool-running, with the happy consequence that my running form's improved -- I'm no longer the shuffler I once was.  However, I've also developed weaknesses in other areas, due to the reduced resistance. 

I've been doing a ton of different exercises to address this.  I'm outlining them in two posts, in case they're helpful to anyone else. 

First, I'll focus on my feet and calves, since those got practically no work in the water.

Foot and Lower Leg Strength Exercises:
  • Towel curls to strengthen feet -- lay a towel on the floor, and then attempt to "scrunch" it up with your toes..  You need a flat smooth surface for this -- wall to wall carpet won't work.  I do this for 2 minutes each morning with each foot in my kitchen while waiting for my oatmeal to cook - multi-tasking FTW.
  • Rocks -- this is another foot-strengthener -- I have a collection of pebbles in a jar, and I dump them out, then pick them up one by one with my toes. I do this 2-3 times a week.
  • Funny Walk -- This strengthens both the calves and shins (especially the anterior tibialis).  I walk around on my toes for a set period of time, then on my heels for a set period of time (started at 15 seconds for each, and worked my way up to 45 seconds).  I did this daily when I first got the aircast off - I've gradually backed off, and now do 1-2 times a week.
  • Ankle Eversion/Inversion with theraband (those latex stretchy bands) -- tie a loop in one end of a theraband, then tie the other end to something.  Now, stick your foot into the loop, so that the band is around the foot roughly half-way between toes and heel.  Move far enough back that there is tension in the band, then slowly first "invert" your foot against resistance (move the inside of your foot more to the inside) for a set of reps, then "evert" your foot (move the outside of your foot more to the outside).  I do 20 reps each of inversion and eversion on each foot, for 80 reps total, on a daily basis. (here's another article explaining).   These work the anterior tibialis and the posterior tibialis.
  • Windmills -- I like this one a lot, because it strengthens your feet and lower legs, but also works your glutes, quads, and core.  To do it, you need two small traffic cones.  Basically, you balance on the left foot (right held up) while holding a cone in each hand. Steps are:
    • Perform a single leg squat while rotating your torso to the right, reaching across with the right hand to place a cone on the floor at "10 o'clock".  
    • Return to standing (still single leg).  
    • Perform a single leg squat while rotating your torso to the left, reaching across with the left hand to place a cone on the floor at "2 o'clock".
    • Return to standing (still single leg).
    • Repeat the squat/rotate right to pick up the first cone; then repeat a second time to pick up the left.
    • That's one repeat.  I do 5 on one leg (so a total of 20 single leg squats), then 5 on the other, nearly every day.
  • Calf raises -- find a ledge.  Balance on one foot on the edge, so the heel hangs down, then lift and lower in controlled fashion.  I shoot for several sets of 10 on each leg, alternating sets between straight-legged (to target the gastrocnemius) and slightly bent knees (to target the soleus).  I do these every other day; on the intervening days, I do eccentric calf dips instead (raise with both legs, then controlled slow lowering with one leg).


  1. Per usual, I am so impressed with your regiment, focus and posting about it. These exercises look great and really helpful!

  2. interesting. i find that my hip flexors are really tight after pool running. but i also focus almost entirely on cadence/turnover, not knee raise, in the pool. although, they only both me on land when i'm doing a lot of fast running (think tempo efforts). regardless, this is very helpful - i do some but not all of these things.

    also, thanks for your input re: long runs. your comment regarding underperforming in races somehow locked into the part of my brain that was searching for logic and reason.

  3. These are all great. I am actually in PT for my injury and I am doing most of these. I really don't think it will help heal the bone, but I go because I know I am losing strength in those areas and don't want to be re-injured when the time comes to run again. I like your assessment about the differences with regard to resistance.