When Land-Based Strength Training Falters, Turn to the Water

When Land-Based Strength Training Falters, Turn to the Water

It’s something every athlete is familiar with: soreness.  This is expected.  But what happens when the soreness doesn’t stop and interferes with strength training, speed or explosiveness?  Rather than halting the process of getting stronger, many athletes and their athletic trainers are simply turning their attentions to water. ProductPageTechSpecsSquare2000

Murphy Grant, MS, ATC, NASM-PES, CES, speaks of this phenomenon in Chapter 8 of The Use of Aquatics in Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Rehabilitation and Physical ConditioningAs Grant points out, land plyometrics and other land-based power training modalities can be notoriously hard on muscles and joints.  This leaves athletes at risk of overuse injury and with a diminished desire to continue training at maximum capacities due to ongoing soreness or pain.  However, when the same exercises are performed in an aquatic environment, the complaints of aches and discomfort are noticeably minimized.

Two reasons for this are well known in the water therapy community and among those who engineer hydrotherapy equipment:

  • Hydrostatic Pressure. Unlike exercises that are conducted on land, exercises that are conducted in water are aided by a force known as hydrostatic pressure.  The pressure – coming directly from the water – is applied to the athlete’s skin.  This pressure helps naturally reduce muscle soreness and swelling.  It’s one of the reasons people who cannot safely run on land can comfortably run on an underwater treadmill without feeling depleted or achy.
  • Water is naturally buoyant, and a person submerged in water up to his or her xiphoid process has the sensation of being approximately 70-80 percent lighter.  This promotes a feeling of freeness that can’t be mimicked on land.  Essentially, the laws of gravity are suppressed, giving the athlete a forum in which to train without the risks associated with high-impact exercises.

Murphy points out that water therapy can help delay the specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID) principle, which says that muscles begin to adapt to the same exercise, thus lessening strength gains over time.  When water-based strength-building exercises are systematically introduced as a part of a land-based sports periodization process, SAID applies less.  The muscles don’t have time to adapt because they are always performing in new ways thanks to the difference between exercising on land and in water, even if the exercises are the same.

Strength training is essential for all athletes, at every level of play.  While professionals are certainly aware that they need strength to develop, and potentially achieve more financial success, even high school athletes are interested in gaining any natural advantages they can.  With the introduction of water therapy and exercise, they can enjoy significant gains while diminishing their risk of injury and off-day soreness.


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