The Value of Water for a Collegiate Distance Runner

The Value of Water for a Collegiate Distance Runner

Kansas University AthleticsIn a collegiate setting, hydrotherapy is often used for the football, baseball and basketball players. At the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS, even the cross country and track and field teams use hydrotherapy almost daily to help transition runners with musculoskeletal injuries back to full running.

Zach Sanchez, ATC, works with the men’s and women’s cross country teams as well as the track and field teams. He recently saw a 21-year-old distance runner who had been diagnosed with a sacral stress fracture. Once he was able to participate in partial weight-bearing activities, Sanchez got the runner into their pool with an underwater treadmill to begin a running progression.

By running on the underwater treadmill for a few weeks he was able to maintain his cardiovascular fitness while also promoting healing and reducing pain in his lower back. In the water, multiple factors work to a runner’s advantage:

  • The buoyancy of the water can remove up to 100% of an athlete’s body weight, which reduces stress on the lower back, hip and knees. This means that while running on land is not possible during recovery from an injury, running in water can provide the safety needed to prevent further injury, while also pushing an athlete’s cardiovascular endurance at similar levels to land running.
  • The viscosity of the water provides “drag” while running which means muscles work harder than on land to “cut” through the water. An athlete can actually increase leg strength while running underwater due to this property of water. Add resistance from jets in the pool and you can increase the amount of work an athlete is doing, while still maintaining partial-weight bearing on affected joints.
  • The warmth of the water increases range of motion and flexibility in joints and muscles, allowing an athlete to move smoothly and with less pain. This enables them to move freely and with less joint stiffness when movement on land is limited.

Watch the following video to learn more about the case study of this sacral stress fracture at the University of Kansas:

Learn more about how underwater treadmill running can impact fitness training and view sample workouts in the book, Underwater Treadmill Running by Alberto Salazar and Dr. Dennis Dolny. Download your free book here.


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