I felt like Pamela Anderson, floating along the beach in slow motion…well, minus her famous upper body bounce. I had just stepped on an underwater treadmill at LiquidGym, an underwater gym, and with the belt turning at a slow jogging pace, I bounced slowly up and down as I floated between foot strikes. “Try not to bounce,” said Katie, my personal exercise physiologist for the session. Right, I was supposed to be running. With my Baywatch attitude in check, I took command of the water and began to run. Forget Pamela Anderson, it was Lauren Fleshman time.
Once I remembered I was actually supposed to be running, it was really just that, running. Unlike traditional shallow and deep water running I had done in the past during bouts of injury, the underwater treadmill kept the biomechanics the same. That meant instead of kind of getting similar stimulus, I was getting running stimulus and the adaptation would actually be comparable. Biomechanics aside, the feel was similar but, since the water takes away most of the impact from body weight but adds resistance, my rate of perceived exertion was lower than actual exertion. Translation? I could train harder and longer without increased risk. Heck, yes!
As Katie finished taking me through all the settings we started to talk training options. She made me run backwards (ridiculous for this uncoordinated kid), side stride, use the underwater foot camera for stride correction, and then we got to the resistance jet. We turned on the jet and it wasn’t a CareBear stream of goodness, it was a rocket jet pointed straight at my abs. With an additional crank on the speed dial as I regained my balanced and rhythm, I was into some quality work. The $25,000.00+ piece of equipment under me wasn’t just for rehab.
My half an hour introductory session flew past but when Katie found out I was a triathlete, she suggested I try the endless pool or on one of the water bikes before I left. I jumped at the chance and opted for the rarer of the two commodities, the endless pool.
Next to a separate wading pool full of physios and recovering clients, I slipped into the endless pool, trying to act like it was normal but actually gushing about how excited I was. The lifeguard Max, in full knowledge he was about to see a dream come true, turned on the current and explained the settings. “Not so fast!” I said to Max, afraid I would be smacked up against the back wall. In about four seconds, however, I popped my head up, “faster, faster!” I said. “Told you,” said Max, and he hiked up the speed with a smile. He left me to my vices after that and I took to increasing the speed in increments until I could just hold it.
I swam at a steady tempo, wavering left and right out of the current sweet spot, up and down in the stream, working on my open water technique in the comfort of the pool. Just like the underwater treadmill, it felt like the real deal, minus the fish and the salt. As I swam, I realized I just didn’t want to leave and that I wanted to come back. I was beyond impressed with the facilities, staff and possibilities of incorporating hydro-training, not just in the winter or for rehab, but year round as a not-so-secret weapon in my training. Against every wish bone in body I eventually hopped out of the pool, showered and headed back outside into the reality of the snowy, cold, winter knowing full well I had stumbled onto a little slice of athlete heaven.