Underwater treadmill therapy goes by a lot interesting names. Some call it aqua jogging, while others prefer the terms hydrotherapy, aquatic therapy, or water running. But it doesn’t really matter what you want to call it. Using water as a form of resistance training has been shown to deliver powerful benefits with hardly any downsides.
What is Underwater Treadmill Therapy?
Underwater treadmill therapy involves a special tank with a treadmill at the bottom. The speed of the treadmill is set at different levels, depending on the person’s overall fitness level. Some treadmills can be set as low as .3 mph or as high as 7 mph.
When you step into the tank, the water adjusts to your height.
The height of the water makes a big difference when it comes to how much body weight the person training on the treadmill will put on his or her joints. For someone who is 200 pounds, setting the water at waist level will make it feel like he or she is only putting 100 pounds of force on the joints. Setting the water at chest level, on the other hand, would apply only 50 pounds of force.
This is a major consideration for people rehabilitating from any sort of leg or foot injury. The less force placed on the affected joint, the faster you can begin rehab. It also reduces the risk of reinjury. Water not only reduces the stress on joints, it’s also safer because it provides support for the body.2
Who should use Underwater Treadmill Therapy?
This type of underwater workout is becoming most popular as a form of rehabilitation. People who are recovering from a back, knee, or hip problem use this kind of hydrotherapy on a regular basis.
But research shows the benefits of this form of therapy could extend even farther. According to the results of one study, underwater treadmill therapy could provide significant help to people who have suffered a stroke.
The study involved 21 people who had suffered a stroke. One group worked out on a traditional treadmill while the other group worked out on an underwater treadmill. The participants increased their walking speed until they couldn’t go any further.
The researchers found that the people using the aquatic treadmill consumed oxygen more efficiently than the other group. In addition, the group using hydrotherapy had heart rates that were similar to those using regular treadmills. The results showed that water resistance is as good – or even better – than using a traditional treadmill.1
These findings are very important because they support the idea that stroke victims could benefit significantly from hydrotherapy. Patients have an extremely hard time working out on land because of the risk of falling. This, of course, could result in a devastating injury. Fortunately, working out underwater is a safer and more effective option.
Can you still do underwater treadmill therapy if you’re not injured?
Underwater treadmill therapy isn’t just for those who have suffered an injury. Mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor used one while training for his fight against boxer Floyd Mayweather in 2017.
After all, sparing your joints the impact they would normally undergo is something anyone can benefit from. It gives you just as intense of a workout as running on land — but your muscles will be much fresher.
Proponents of underwater therapy say the technology has helped extend the careers of many professional athletes. They take a pounding – not only on the field, the court, or the ice — but also in the running they do on a regular basis. Working out underwater, proponents believe, provides all of the benefits without the soreness. Athletes in all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, as well as many college athletes, use underwater training regularly.3
So what are the drawbacks?
While there are plenty of benefits associated with hydrotherapy, there could be some drawbacks. Running underwater will typically burn fewer calories than running on land. Also, pool water can cause eye and skin irritation because some people react badly to the chlorine used to treat the water. This could, in some cases, even put someone at risk for respiratory problems.4
The biggest drawback, however, may be availability. While most pro athletes have unlimited access to underwater treadmills, the rest of us don’t. It can be hard to find a place that offers this kind of device. Your best bet will be to either buy one for your home or see if your local fitness facility has one.
The Bottom Line
Most of the issues associated with underwater treadmill therapy are relatively minor. It definitely appears that the pros greatly outweigh the cons. You should always talk to your doctor first before using this type of rehabilitation method to make sure you won’t have any problems. But once you get permission, it shouldn’t take long before you start reaping the benefits.