Traditionally, runners had few options and little awareness regarding physical injuries in their joints and muscles. They could either train through the injury or rest until they recover. Today, however, many resources can help you in your ache and pain.
One such resource is an underwater treadmill, which many athletes prefer when running is not an immediate option.
As you know, your body may not perform well with full-weight-bearing activity when you're experiencing muscle pain or recovering from an injury. Thankfully, underwater treadmills allow users to run at a lower percentage of their body, similar to training on a zero-gravity treadmill. In addition, it increases the resistance and reduces the running impact. So, even if you're technically running underwater, the equipment ensures you're still getting a decent workout.
Interestingly, those are not the only benefits of underwater treadmills. This article highlights some of the most notable benefits of walking in water!
How Does an Underwater Treadmill Work?
Most underwater treadmills combine land-based workouts with water's advantages: the buoyancy principle and hydrostatic pressures. This allows the body to maintain muscle memory for normal activities like jogging and walking. At the same time, the training allows muscles to function better over time for better mobility, helping patients regain coordination. Moreover, underwater treadmill therapy helps them sustain and improve their flexibility, gait, and balance.
What’s Hydrostatic Pressure?
By definition, hydrostatic pressure refers to the pressure/ force caused by the water surrounding the immersed body parts, creating gentle resistance and support. This results in equal pressure around the body, thus reducing stress and swelling on the joints and increasing flexibility.
In addition, jogging or walking in water creates greater resistance than performing the same activity on land. Better still, it increases cardiovascular strength and muscle tone, especially if you combine underwater treadmill training with weight-bearing workouts on land.
What’s the Buoyancy Principle?
The buoyancy principle refers to the amount of water that displaces a person's weight. In other words, your body will feel about 25 percent lighter if you're training in water. This weight reduction helps reduce the impact on your muscles and joints while working. But, more importantly, it will reduce the impact forces on existing injuries, allowing you to start therapy sooner while retaining your muscle conditioning and strength.
Benefits of Underwater Treadmill Running
1. Improves cardiovascular stamina
The first benefit of using an aqua treadmill to run underwater is it generates greater cardiovascular endurance. Specifically, underwater treadmill physical therapy involves longer workout durations combined with increased water resistance. This helps to increase your on-ground physical stamina.
Therefore, underwater treadmills can be used as cardiovascular fitness equipment for patients unable to exercise on land after a surgery. Over time, the training will rebuild the patient's strength and remove joint stress.
2. Muscle & joint relaxation
Underwater treadmill therapy helps to reduce muscle and joint pain, especially in older people. Also, walking on an underwater treadmill can significantly reduce the pain or cure chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis. Thanks to the natural hydrostatic pressure of water, which acts as the source of healing powers for the treadmill. At the same time, it reduces swelling, boosts flexibility, improves strength, and relaxes joints.
3. Promotes gait training
Exercising on an underwater treadmill like the Hydroworx treadmill is one of the best ways for gait training for anyone who is finding it difficult to walk. One reason is that an aqua treadmill allows patients to do gait training without the fear of falling. In addition, it makes elderly patients feel more secure, encouraging them to attend underwater treadmill physical therapy sessions.
According to statistics, about 30% of adults over age 65 suffer a fall annually, mainly because of the weakening of their bodies and lack of balance. Therefore, clinicians need to have equipment that helps patients regain their balance. In that regard, many physicians recommend underwater treadmills as the perfect equipment for low-impact gait training.
Besides, underwater treadmill training improves gait patterns by replicating the biomechanics of land movements. Simply put, these treadmills promote a more natural gait pattern than training in a static pool. This creates proper biomechanics in a low-impact environment and transfers them to land movements.
4. Strengthens muscles
Muscle strength is one of the most overlooked factors of all the benefits of walking in water. Yet, according to recent Texas A & M University research, combining aqua treadmill exercises and strength training builds body mass more effectively than doing strength training alone or together with regular treadmill exercises.
When you run on an aqua treadmill, your body experiences greater exertion because of the water's viscosity. This results in significant improvements in core muscles throughout your body and greater leg, foot, and hip strength.
5. Increases flexibility
The other great benefit of training on an aqua treadmill is increasing the patient's flexibility. As already mentioned, training underwater reduces a person's weight by up to 80%, reducing stress on the joints. More notably, the sensory effects of water allow patients to enjoy more muscle and joint relaxation. This results in higher flexibility, especially when combined with different cardiovascular activities and movements one experiences on the treadmill for the pool.
6. Reduces joint stiffness
A recent study conducted by Utah State University established that underwater treadmill therapy reduces joint pain and increases mobility in patients with osteoarthritis. In another research, the number of Americans suffering from osteoarthritis, which increased from 21 million to 26.9 million from 1990 to 2005, will certainly increase with each passing year. Therefore, an underwater treadmill will be an important physical therapy for patients with osteoarthritis.
7. Reduce blood pressure levels
Like any other exercise, training on an underwater treadmill helps reduce hypertension. This makes it one of the best and most effective exercises to do every day. A recent Texas A & M University research even suggested that underwater treadmill exercises are more effective at reducing blood pressure than land-based workouts. According to a study that analyzed 60 adults comparing underwater and on-ground treadmill workouts, aqua treadmill training led to a greater reduction in diastolic blood pressure. Therefore, underwater treadmill training is an ideal workout option for over 67 million patients suffering from high blood pressure in the USA. Most of these individuals avoid land-based workouts because of pain.
8. Increases strengthening and healing of injured tissues
In addition, training on an underwater treadmill promotes the healing of injured tissues. At the same time, the machine can be used for gait training to improve patients' physical mobility, reduce other conditions like osteoporosis and improve strength. Moreover, this training can be combined with jet therapy in physical therapy for patients with stiff muscles to reduce pain and improve mobility.
9. Promotes early range of motion
People suffering from chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis usually avoid activities like physical exercise and walking. The same case applies to older adults with muscle and joint pain. Interestingly, underwater treadmill therapy can make some of that pain disappear. At the same time, water has natural hydrostatic pressure, which aids the healing process in patients with chronic pain conditions.
Besides, patients only bear about 20 percent of their bodies while they are chest-deep in the water. At the same time, waist-deep water will reduce your body weight by around 50%. Whichever the case, this reduces the impact forces on existing injuries, allowing you to start therapy sooner while retaining muscle conditioning and strength. In addition, the training aids relaxation reduces swelling, boosts flexibility, relaxes joints, and improves strength.
10. Weight loss benefits
Lastly, walking or running underwater can help people with weight problems shed off some pounds. The comfort and buoyancy offered by underwater treadmill conditions make the workouts more inspiring and enjoyable for obese adults.
In 2009, research conducted by Texas A & M University involved 57 obese adults assigned 3 weekly workout sessions on an underwater treadmill. The participants maintained their daily activities and diets over the 12-week study. The report of this study demonstrated that the participants showed considerable improvements in the body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio compared to similar land-based studies.
More importantly, this research established that underwater treadmill training significantly improves aerobic capacity and reduces body fat & weight, regardless of the diet. In addition, the participants experienced significant reductions in stress-related body pain because of underwater treadmill therapy.
Common Uses of Underwater Treadmill Training
Athletic trainers and physical therapists commonly use underwater treadmills to help patients improve their strength or keep athletes in shape during an injury. Some of these uses are;
⦿ Prevent injury
As you know, all leg movements in the body are connected to the hips. Therefore, any injury that affects the hip can cause further injuries around your body. To avoid that, it's important to perform hip-strengthening workout programs to reduce ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears yearly.
Underwater treadmill workouts are considered one of the most effective techniques for preventing ACL injuries. Thanks to strength-building benefits and soothing factors to minimize swelling of training on an aqua treadmill. If you've just suffered a tear, underwater treadmill training can prevent further injuries and side effects like the loss of mobility, muscle strength, and balance.
⦿ Improve gait after an injury
Recovering from a leg or hip injury through gait and rehabilitation treadmill training can be lengthy and discouraging. But, all in all, recovery is an important step if you want to resume your life as normal, regardless of how it takes.
Underwater treadmill therapy sessions provide unique benefits for patients that want to regain their walking ability after joint surgery. In most cases, underwater training allows you to walk sooner than on land because of the reduced weight-bearing water buoyancy. On top of that, rehabilitation treadmill training significantly reduces your chances of falling, encouraging you to stay committed and positive about your recovery. In addition, water helps patients correct faulty postures they might have developed post-injury and strengthen through resistance.
⦿ Increase leg muscle strength
Training on an underwater treadmill has been proven to tone leg muscles. According to recent research, alternating on-land strength workouts with aqua treadmill training leads to greater lean body mass improvements than only doing on-land strength training. Also, make sure you eat healthy foods every day to increase the effectiveness of your strength training.
1. Are underwater treadmills good for your knees?
An acute workout period on an underwater treadmill positively influences arthritis-related joint pain and joint angular velocity. Therefore, underwater treadmills are good for your knees as they can be used as a conservative treatment to relieve osteoarthritis pain and improve lower-extremity joints' angular speed.
2. Why is underwater treadmill training good for athletes?
Underwater treadmill running allows athletes to engage various muscle groups and provide resistance, improving their overall strength and flexibility. Besides, underwater treadmill training increases their lean muscle mass more than resistance training and land training.
3. Where can I use an underwater treadmill?
These systems are commonly found in physical therapy clinics & athletic training rooms. However, some portable underwater treadmill manufacturers sell units you can put into an existing pool.
4. What types of underwater treadmills are available?
Underwater treadmills can be categorized into 2 types; Free-standing tub (motorized underwater treadmill) & standard treadmill for pool/ rehabilitation tub.
The 1st system consists of a freestanding tub with a motorized belt, the ability to turn on jets to increase resistance, and adjustable water heights. Moreover, water on these tubs can be heated to about 90 - 95 degrees to reduce fatigue, promote flexibility and help the muscles relax. Free-standing underwater treadmills are manufactured by companies like Hydro Physio, HydroWorx, and Hudson Aquatic Systems.
On the other hand, rehabilitation tubs involve more minimal treadmills placed into a standard pool. Some models have adjustable speed settings for the moving belt, while others are self-propelled. More importantly, the water height in these systems usually depends on where you place the treadmill in the pool. These treadmills are manufactured by companies like Aquabilt, Hydro Physio, and Hudson Aquatic Systems.
5. What injuries can be used for rehabilitation with an aqua treadmill?
An underwater treadmill can be used to treat running injuries like generic knee pain, Achilles tendonitis, ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome), and plantar fasciitis. Also, the equipment can aid in rehabilitating injuries such as fractures, ACL reconstruction, ankle sprains, and other knee injuries.
Note that underwater treadmill training doesn't cure injuries. Instead, it offers a means to rebuild muscle strength and maintain fitness, thus speeding up the recovery.
In general, underwater treadmills are used for patients with muscle or joint problems. So, if you're suffering from physical injury and are not making any progress with your usual treatment, it's about time you try out these amazing benefits of underwater treadmill training.
The only drawback with this equipment is that it's quite costly to buy a home underwater treadmill for personal use. Alternatively, you can head to a verified rehabilitation center, clinic, or health center and train on the machine at a reasonable price!