#2: Discovering an Aqua Jogger (March 2012)

Time for a Change
Months ago a friend mentioned using an Aqua Jogger for her aerobic workouts in the pool. Recalling my inevitable chill from swimming and lacking reliable access to a pool, the notion went into my mental filing system under "Nice idea but not for me" without knowing much about it. But luckily her comment made enough of an impression on me that the concept was readily retrieved when I was sitting in physical and psychic pain from a second presumed overuse injury in 2 months.

Listening to myself rehash my predicament with Bill made it clear: it was time to do something different. My best guess at the time was that I was overdoing running and jumping rope--high impact activities intended to briefly fill-in when the hiking, cycling, and cross country skiing venues weren't available. But participating in those preferred sports hadn't happened as frequently as anticipated and running and jumping rope prematurely became my main sources of CV exercise. I needed yet another alternative, but what? Then I remembered her comment about the Aqua Jogger.

Not much to my new Aqua Jogger buoyancy belt.
The timing of the "Ah-ha" moment wasn't perfect, but it was good enough. We were in an RV resort adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park that had a covered pool that was actually long enough and unused enough for lap swimming. I was hobbling over to the pool every day for my rehab while Bill drove into Joshua Tree for hiking, so we had decided to stay put until I was able to walk convincingly. My slow progress had me gambling that we'd be staying there long enough to receive an Aqua Jogger from Amazon.com. It was minutes from the time the notion of the pool accessory bubbled up until I was online ordering one. There were many unknowns, but I knew I needed to add something to my workout mix and if my athletic friend liked the Aqua Jogger, it was a good place to start.

Unfortunately inspiration struck on a Friday night so those unproductive weekend days delayed delivery of my new Aqua Jogger until Wednesday. But I positioned myself to intercept the UPS driver as soon as he arrived on the grounds and I was in the pool with it strapped around my waist an hour later. I suspected when I ordered the buoyancy belt that the 5' maximum pool depth was insufficient for the premier activity, which was jogging, and unfortunately I was right. But as I had hoped, the pool was deep enough to explore the alternative motions with the belt.

Aqua Jogging vs Swimming
Relatively Stationary
The Aqua Jogger product was conceived as an aid to permit running in place in deep water to allow elite athletes to continue training while recovering from an injury. The beauty of the approach is the zero-impact quality--no hitting the ground. The combination of the no-impact with the buoyancy makes deep water jogging an ideal activity while mending from many kinds of bone and soft tissue injuries. Other non-jogging variations can be performed with the buoyancy belt, but most are coordinated arm and leg movements from an all or mostly upright position that resembles running in place.

A huge advantage of water jogging over swimming is the tiny amount of fixed space required. Almost all of my opportunities to swim are in small hotel or RV park pools that usually aren't big enough for serious lap swimming and may be roiling with screaming children, so I rarely swim. With the Aqua Jogger, all you need is to carve out a space the size of a small elevator at the deep end to do your workout. Of course, more is always better and more fun, but unlike swimming, you do not need a continuously clear lane to get your heart rate up, just a patch of water little a big bigger than you are when in a running position.

Your Head Is Always Out of the Water

I immediately noticed that the buoyancy belt kept my head well above the water all of the time so there were none of the troublesome issues with water in my ears, eyes, or up my nose. None of that inadvertent snorting chlorinated water or stinging eyes later. And if you have a compelling reason to keep your hair dry, you can do that too.

Being stationary with your head above the water are nice features of the belt.
Having my head continuously out of the water conferred other advantages. The first was that it was far less boring to be bobbing than swimming: I could look around like a marmot on sentry duty instead of using the lines on the bottom of the pool or on the ceiling to track a straight line when doing laps. Swimming has almost zero visual stimulation whereas use of the belt let me continuously look around, which I loved.

I immediately discovered a nice social advantage of the Jogger, which was that I could visit with others and still get some exercise. On Day 2 with the belt at the RV park pool I was switching from using the Jogger to doing laps when 2 women I knew came into the pool. They were both content to keep their feet planted on the pool bottom and do gentle arm movements for their injured shoulders while they visited. I discovered I could compromise: I gave up my more robust laps for a recumbent bike-like pedaling motion with my legs and swirls with my arms so I still got a bit of an aerobic workout while being sociable. It was a welcome trade-off for the situation: I could be friendly without getting chilled from too little activity and I got a better workout during that half hour than if I hadn't had a way to actively engage my legs.

The social side of using an Aqua Jogger is quite nice. The moves you use with the belt are such that you don't break the water with either your arms or your legs so you can be discreet with your vigor when close to others, like I was with my neighbors. A YouTube video I watched demonstrated that rehab'ing marathoners with wildly different paces could train together using Aqua Joggers because they are essentially running in place whereas they'd never be able to run on land together . The video highly recommended finding pool buddies to combat the boredom from doing long water jogging workouts but at least I didn't find it as boring as swimming laps.

I could also imagine that people playing with or supervising children in a pool could add a workout component to their immersion time by using the Jogger because they could keep their legs going while maintaining eye contact with their charges. No doubt a highly motivated individual has figured out how to watch TV while using their Aqua Jogger.

Vertical vs Horizontal
All of the moves using an Aqua Jogger are done with your body in a vertical position or close to it whereas swimming is always in the horizontal plane. That difference in orientation is especially nice for people like me who are using the device for rehab. I began using the Jogger while my injury was still active and its extent was unknown. I desperately wanted to keep moving but didn't want to respond to an overuse injury with more overuse. It was very appealing to not only mix up lap swimming strokes but to also to vary my workout by frequently shifting between the vertical and horizontal planes. "A little of this, a little of that" was my substitute for knowing what would have been optimal for the injury.

The Jogger doesn't create the opportunity for the great reaching-over-the-head motion that one gets with the crawl strokes in swimming. For that reason, I will likely always include a bit of lap swimming during my pool time if it's possible. As people age they tend not to reach overhead and the crawl strokes, both front and back, are great for retaining that ability. Not only do you work the big range of motion with the crawl strokes, but you do it in a strength-building, symmetrical way.

No Skill Required to Work-Up a Sweat
Unlike swimming, you don't need to take lessons to be active and safe with an Aqua Jogger. Basically, there is no "mastery" involved. The big caution is to stand tall rather than give in to the temptation to hunch over when wearing it in the water. Beyond that, it's move those arms and legs as fast as you want or dare. I looked at a few online videos, watched the DVD that came with my Aqua Jogger, read the product instruction booklet and said "I've got it, I've got it."

There isn't much to using an Aqua Jogger, at least for getting started, which is great. I'm sure there are some refinements that I'll learn along the way but it's about as simple as it comes for getting started in a new sport or workout routine. Injured or out of shape, it doesn't matter: you only need to be able to get yourself into the pool and feel safe there to get a water jogging workout with a buoyancy belt. And it's definitely easier to do one-legged actions with the belt than when swimming, both of which I did for several days during my healing process.

Suitable For the Reluctant Swimmer
The Aqua Jogger is a buoyancy device but not a life preserver so it's not suitable for non-swimmers but it could be a big confidence builder for weak-swimmers. I did a few laps with the belt on and loved it. It was so nice to have my head farther out of the water and yet be swimming. And it made swimming so easy. Using the Jogger might just tip the balance for adults that never gained enough confidence to enjoy swimming to allow them to have fun being in the pool. And certainly less-confident swimmers could get as much benefit as accomplished swimmers when doing the upright water workouts.

A 75 year old RV park neighbor who "never quite learned how to swim" later confirmed my hunch: she immediately loved my Aqua Jogger. She had a grand time leaning back a little on the belt and paddling and kicking around and around in circles. It seemed to give her the freedom to explore movement in the water in a way she hadn't done before and she commented on how nice it was to exercise her legs a bit instead of just her arms when in the pool.

Rehab & Beyond
My initial motivations for considering the Aqua Jogger were to both let me workout while I was still injured and to add a no-impact CV activity to my repertoire. But it was the reviews by serious marathoners using the Jogger to continue their event training while injured that really tipped the balance in making my rather impulsive "Buy" decision. All of the reviews included the comment that they were so impressed with the benefits of the Jogger that they continued doing the pool workouts even after they were cleared for running on land. That got my attention. Most people doing something for rehab don't do it to begin with and if they do, they ditch it as soon as possible, but not these guys, they added water jogging to their training regime. Amazing.

Running is an all-or-nothing motion with considerable impact and I appreciated the Aqua Jogger for providing an incremental way to return to running. When my leg issues while in Joshua Tree calmed enough that they weren't yanking on my knee, I began lightly running on the floor of the pool while wearing the buoyancy belt. That allowed me to re-acclimate both legs to the motion with only a little of the impact. As I became more confident in the sturdiness of my injured leg, I gradually moved to more shallow water to reduce the buoyancy and increase the pounding forces in anticipation of returning to the land.

Skipping the Jogger
Watching the videos for the Aqua Jogger made it clear that I could have be doing more kinds of activities in the water than I've been doing, even without the buoyancy belt. That's often the way: it frequently takes having more to understand what can be done with less. But no regrets here for buying the Jogger--I'll do both.

I intend to learn more about the shallow water exercises with the belt as well as doing water aerobics without a belt. There is no way I'll haul the belt around with me when we travel by bike but it would be delightful to use the rare overseas pool for CV cross training instead of only for rebalancing my body with lap swimming.

I'm convinced that one commentator is correct: it is a more efficient workout to jog using the Jogger than without. I tried jogging in place in the pool without the belt while waiting for its delivery and couldn't imagine how I could possibly push myself enough to get a high heart rate. A few days later I strapped the Jogger on and said "That's how." My best guess is that one can spin their arms and legs around enough faster with the belt than without to get a better workout. Perhaps with practice I would do better but jogging without the belt seemed to split my effort between staying afloat and jogging, which shortchanged the jogging intensity.

Interrupting the Downward Spiral
I can imagine buoyancy belts being a wonderful tool for many people to break out of that terrible downward spiral of injury leading to weight gain, which leads to more injury and more weight gain. This downward spiral is especially nettlesome for middle aged women and one I keep trying to avoid.

Most women's knees (including mine) are accidents waiting to happen because of one or more unfortunate design flaws. By middle age, the normal stresses and strains of living often start revealing the vulnerabilities of a woman's knees to her. Pain and perhaps swelling succeed in their goal of inviting her to do less instead of more, which often results in weight gain. Extra weight can destroy a normal knee and adding additional weight onto an already challenged knee is devastating. Then what? She is left with cycling--which has a considerable expense and learning curve if you have knee problems--and swimming. And unless she is already a skilled swimmer, it will be hard for her to be vigorous enough get a good workout swimming laps with a bum knee.

But the nice thing about the buoyancy belts is that they don't require swimming skills, or any skills, to be robust in the water. Your swimming ability should be strong enough for you to be safe in a pool, but that's it because the workouts essentially require no skills. Unlike most sports, you don't have to spend months or years mastering technique to perform well enough to get a CV work out. Conditioning in the water with the belt, like with swimming, is no-impact, which improves the odds of the knees being happy. With both swimming and upright pool workouts, there are motions that can be stressful to the knees, but it doesn't take long to identify those. And there is a big enough variety of possible leg movements that most people should be able to customize a robust workout for themselves without putting the knees at risk. As the leg muscles get stronger, the knees may tolerate a growing number of motions, increasing the variety of moves available.

"Yea" or "Nay"?
If you are at all tempted and have ready access to a pool with a deep end, I'd recommend buying an Aqua Jogger or similar buoyancy device. I paid $46 for mine through Amazon.com, which was the best price I found. The common price for an Aqua Jogger and it's competing products is in the $50-55 range. It's a lot of money for what it looks like but its cheap if it motivates you to exercise more or more wisely.

If you are on the fence about buying a buoyancy belt, watch the online videos on aquajogger.com and on other sites to identify exercises you can experiment with in the water before buying. Or consider taking a water aerobics class to see what can be done with non-swimming, water workouts. Perhaps you'll spot someone using a belt in the pool who would let you try theirs for a few minutes to help make your decision.

I did my "speed shopping" thing when I purchased my Aqua Jogger so there is certainly more to know than what I learned before buying. One tip I got from reading reviews was that some products tend to 'ride up' when in the water, which was easy to imagine would be very annoying. For that reason I selected the original Aqua Jogger brand that has a contoured shape and men's and women's models. My women's model stays in a comfortable position and doesn't interfere with my arm movement. The owner's DVD indicated that there are far more models to choose from than I saw during my brief online search, so it might pay to delve deeper into the options.

Water running has been around long enough to have developed its own specialty collection of toys. There are special dumbbells, booties, and gloves to intensify and augment your workouts. Our shortage of space in the camper will have me resisting the temptation to add accessories but I'm sure they are great for increasing the variety of challenges and keeping it interesting. However, I do hope to buy some sort of a tether, though probably not an authentic one. One workout option I saw on the videos was tethering yourself to the side of the pool in deep water so you can run harder. It's a 5' bungee with hooks on the end, which is small enough accessory for our cramped quarters to be stored in the camper.

"Gotta-Go, Gotta-Go...."
A postscript if you are heading back to the pool after a long lapse and notice that you are like me and suddenly have to pee, perhaps after as little as 30-40 minutes in the water and since last voiding. It's not that your bladder has gone awry or that you are imagining things but that you are experiencing "cold diuresis." You really do need to go even if it's been less than an hour since you urinated.

Cold diuresis likely only happens to you when the water is cold and you feel a little chilled, as I often do in swimming pools. It won't happen in a hot tub because this form of diuresis (excessive production of urine) is a survival mechanism triggered by the cold. But it can happen without the water: being chilled on land will trigger the same response, which I also experience.

When the human body is stressed by the cold it is at risk of being unable to maintain its core temperature, which is critical for keeping your brain and internal organs functioning optimally. To prevent disaster, the body decreases the blood supply to your periphery, like your arms and legs, and hoards the blood in the core where it is easier to maintain the correct temperature. But this shift of blood from the periphery results in too much blood volume in the core and throws the fine balance of a number of systems out of whack. The body is quick to rebalance the unhealthful increase in pressure by triggering the kidneys to begin pulling fluid out of the blood and dumping that fluid into your bladder. Suddenly, you've gotta-go because your urine output has significantly increased in response to the threat of the cold stress.

A simple diver's cap can be an effective urinary urgency management device.
There are only 2 strategies for dealing with this urine-producing survival response: avoid getting chilled or emptying your bladder when it signals you it is full. Dehydrating yourself is never a good strategy with any form of exercise and isn't recommended with swimming either. In my case, finding a warmer pool wasn't an option and my injury prevented me from sustaining a level of exertion high enough for the hour in the pool to keep from become chilled. After 2 weeks of swimming with more attention on the issues around cold diuresis than my form, I finally tumbled to buying a swim cap to limit the loss of heat from my head.

I passed up the $3 latex divers cap in favor of the $6 silicon model at Walmart and felt the difference with the cap on my head the first minute in the pool. I didn't have to stick to less-warming strokes with my head out of the water until I could bear the additional chilling of wetting my head. I could pick my strokes based on my preference at the moment rather than how cold I was getting. And during the two 15 minute segments using the Aqua Jogger, I didn't have a wet head catching the breezes and cooling me further. Wearing the cap almost completely interrupted the daily cold diuresis response I had been experiencing in the pool, allowing me to complete my hour workout without being on the verge of bursting or having to take a break to urinate. On that first day using the cap, I vowed to always pack a snug-fitting swim cap with my suit.

Whether on land or in water, if you experience cold diuresis be prepared to chug some water as soon as you warm up. When you are no longer chilled, your arms and legs will again get the benefit of their usual blood supply but your total blood volume will have decreased with the extra urine output and you may be mildly dehydrated. So you'll keep your body working at its best by giving it back the water it needs to correct the new imbalance once you are warm.