Water is an excellent medium that provides unique qualities that athletes can exploit for various needs such as conditioning, specific strength, joint mobility/flexibility, and rehabilitation. What I like about the zealous enthusiast is that they explore all the possibilities that water can do, even if another option is superior. This is important for well rounded programs, as even if a tool or protocol is used once, it’s still an option if you need it. Currently some coaches don’t like pool workouts as they find them not good investments of time or they find them an administrative nightmare of getting a large group of athletes to do a program with a wide variety of swimming abilities. As a former swimmer I don’t use the pool much as it represents a small percentage of my program in terms of time, but when results are on the line, especially in the rehab or heavy volume periods, it is of great use.
- Water training can injure athletes debate- It can. Any exercise can cause harm but is it the exercise or coach/athlete? Swimmers do get swimmers shoulder and breastroker’s knee but what type of program is doing that type of volume with basketball players? You see the Boston Celtics doing 8k of laps 6 x a week? Please. Overuse injuries require volumes that are high to very high. Most successful programs have a balance of pool workouts to land training. Water running and hip flexor tightness is a tricky one as people may overload the high knees if they only do Mach drills or water running. I find that pool running doesn’t get a good transfer as you are not getting ground reaction forces from the bottom if it’s done in deep water. Shallow work tends to place overload on the calves as the water resistance adds too much forces against the push-off (concentric phase). Options like split jumps, tae bo like kicks, Aquabell like water lifts, and alternating kickboard (flutter)and pull buoy (with arm breastroke), are great options. I have never seen this harm or hinder an athlete over the last ten years. Remember many seniors can do such programs as they have issues with pain. A shoulder injury or other aspect that is complicated will need to be evaluated like any other modality. Again if people are getting injured (discomfort) I wonder what type of screening was done or how prepared the athlete is for general training. General Strength tends to be neglected in advance programs as athletes tend to like the high profile exercises.
- Due to the reduced eccentric properties and the hydrostatic pressure of water, coaches can really challenge the metabolic demands of a recovery workout. When tendons are inflamed and joints are impacted it’s time for the plunge as the movement is a natural hybrid of open chain and closed chain mobility. Ankle sprains are many times mobilized manually with a PT, an option many programs will not have access to. I love the fact that track athletes who tend to do a lot of jumping and sprinting can enter the water and do movements that unwind fascia and release jammed joints. While the restoring of the joints and washing the connective tissues with a milking action of the muscular system and lymphatic system. Cellular debris is cleared away by the immune system and the lymphatic system is like the sewer of a city. Many times soreness and pain factors limit the intensity of the training, but when the heart and lungs need a workout and the joints need a rest, the pool is a smart option.
- Aquatic PNF? While the mechanisms of PNF are debated, we know it works some how so I will save time later for future investigations but will point out that water allows for multiple planes of resistance that gravity limits with land training. Most of our training should be placed in offsetting the vertical forces of gravity but some water resistance in planes that are in all directions can help. Crane kicks motions tend to relax the hamstrings by resistance of the kick up with the quads. Other motions help stubborn muscle groups when you are in situations where patten overload is inevitable like cyclical sports.
- Athletes like a change in the program as they burn out from being in the same environment. The pool has a special feeling like going back to the womb and is used symbolically in literature as a rebirth, be it spiritual, physical, or mental. Some pools are heated at higher levels to deal with pain and create comfort to someone in physical pain. The receptors of the body find the water a great feedback and athletes leave refreshed if done right.
Water workouts are not evil, as they are a special opportunity you can’t get from land. It does require more work and time at first if you are new to aquatic workouts but over time they are are a breeze. Thanks to Dr. Beasley from my class at USF, I feel that that has helped many of my athletes get better and feel better. It was nearly 10 years ago when I did my project with Steve Grant (former Colts Line backer) for class, and I still have that excitement of knowing I am doing the little things that add up to the spectacular.