Water has long been used to help rehabilitate sports injuries, but healthy athletes can also dive in to supplement their training.
“Working out in water is great for building cardiovascular capacity and muscle strength, and it’s a great complement to your land training,” says Stephen Clark, P.T., president of Athletic Physical Therapy of Southern California. “While there’s no better place to train for your specific sport than on its court, field or track, the pool provides a great intermediate place to work on your conditioning while limiting the risk of injury.”
Low-impact water workouts can be done all year at little or no cost-all you need is a pool. If your gym isn’t so equipped, contact your local YMCA, parks department or community college. You don’t even have to know how to swim, though for present safety and future recreation, you might as well learn. Besides, you’re already wet.
A 20-MINUTE HOUR
“The performance of the heart increases the moment you immerse yourself neck-deep in the pool,” says Timothy T. Davis, M.D., director of physiatrics at the Spine Institute of St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Because 90 percent of your body weight is eliminated when immersed in water, your circulatory system can return blood to the heart more efficiently without having to do battle with gravity. As circulation increases, so do pulse rate and cardiac volume, enabling the heart to expel more blood with each beat.
“The amount the heart empties each time it pumps is known as stroke volume, and it can increase by up to 35 percent when you train in the water,” says Davis. “Heart rate times stroke volume equals cardiac output, or how much work you need to do to burn calories. You can do two or three times less work in the water than you would on land to reach your target heart rate-so 20 minutes of water running translates into approximately one hour on land.”
Of course, if you’re already injured, prone to injuries, or just looking for a way to avoid soreness, water is a great option. “In the pool, there’s no impact and no weight placed on the joints, so risk of injury is minimized,” says Clark. “You also work opposing sets of muscles evenly, such as your hamstrings and quadriceps, because the resistance comes from all directions.”
Water’s buoyancy relieves pain and stress on injured muscles and joints, allowing the body to stretch through its full range of motion and maintain flexibility. The hydrostatic pressure and density of water create constant resistance around the body-between 12 percent and 14 percent more than air-that uniformly supports body parts just like an Ace bandage and helps reduce swelling. Because water is such a forgiving environment, water rehab is recommended by therapists even for acute strains and sprains.