Top 10 Benefits Aquatic Therapy Offers For Runners
Runners like to run — a lot, as much as they can, as much as their schedules will allow them, or as much as their bodies can withstand. While this might be stating the obvious, this observation becomes problematic quite quickly simply because it’s what does in a lot of runners and fast-tracks them to injury and burnout.
Many runners (incorrectly) think that in order to run well — to be able to run faster or farther than ever before — that they should only run, and as hard and fast as they possibly can. Not only will these runners ultimately end up taxing their bodies far more than they need to, they’ll also be significantly increasing the chances that they’ll hurt themselves.
A lot of athletes find themselves in this same sort of predicament. They think that they should only do their sport of choice over and over again — without respite — in order to improve. In reality, these athletes are undermining themselves — and their propensity to improve — because they aren’t granting themselves adequate recovery time from their sport. If you’re a runner, for example, you’ll eventually likely find that you’ll want to work in some type of easy, low- or no-impact recovery process or activity that will allow your body to reap (and adapt from) the efforts from hard running and prepare for the next hard effort. Easy running can sometimes give you this respite, but so, too, can other low or no-impact activities like cycling, swimming, or pool running.
Aquatic therapy — such as lap swimming or pool running — can be beneficial for athletes and non-athletes alike. Swimming is an activity that you can do at all stages of life, and it’s also one from which you can benefit, whether you are nursing an injury or just trying to stay injury-free.
There are so many advantages to participating in some form of aquatic therapy, no matter your age or your level of athleticism.
Below, I’ll describe some benefits of aquatic therapy. They include:
Injury rehab. Many athletes — runners, in particular — find that swimming is an excellent way to rehab a running-related injury. Because swimming is a no-impact activity, it doesn’t stress the body in the same way that running does, making it an activity that’s safe for injured runners to do while still promising a cardiovascular burn. Swimming will also help to strengthen musculature not normally taxed as much — if at all — from running, such as the upper body and back.
Injury prehab. Conversely, swimming can be helpful to people who are looking to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. Whether you’re an endurance runner or a baby boomer, aquatic therapy can be a helpful, no-impact way of strengthening your body and in the process, preventing injuries from happening in the first place.
Meditative properties. Doing the same thing repeatedly — such as aquatic therapy — can be rather cathartic and meditative. Runners often say that they get into the “flow” when they’re running, when they begin to feel like they’re not even thinking about running as much as they are simply about moving through space. The same goes with aquatic therapy; while you have more latitude in how you go about pushing your body through the water (through the various stroke choices you have), once you get into a groove with your breathing and pulling, you may find the very movement and motion of swimming to be fairly cathartic and meditative. Even just the simple sound of water is enough to make a lot of people relax. Most people would (immensely) stand to benefit from taking time each day to unwind and meditate, and aquatic therapy can provide that reprieve.
Stress reduction. Closely related to its meditative properties I’ve outlined above, aquatic therapy can also play a huge role in helping to reduce people’s stress in everyday life. Study after study have shown that regular physical movement and exercise is important to reducing stress, and aquatic therapy can be one such avenue to reducing stress. Some people report that water naturally brings over them a sense of calm, so it makes sense that spending more time in it could help even further reduce their stress.
A chance to craft a new skill and improve over time. Many people shy away from swimming, particularly as they get older, because they claim that they don’t know how to swim or that they aren’t strong swimmers. While no one needs to necessarily become Olympic-caliber swimmers, everyone would benefit from having at least a rudimentary familiarity with water. To be sure, knowing how to swim is a life-saving skill and one that many parents even begin teaching their children while they’re still in diapers. Remember: you don’t need to strive to become the next Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin. Simply feeling safe and having a basic sense of knowing how to navigate the water is more than sufficient.
Weight loss or weight maintenance. Diet and exercise are two critical components to weight loss or weight maintenance, and aquatic therapy can potentially play a huge part in the equation. How it shakes out for you will depend on a variety of factors — and may be worth consulting with a certified coach or medical practitioner — but regular aquatic therapy may help you to achieve some of your health and lifestyle goals over time.
Gentle resistance training. Resistance training can help to not only strengthen bones and musculature, but it can also help you become more flexible and gain greater range of motion. Many people — athletes and sedentary folks alike — struggle with feeling like their muscles are unduly tight, yet swimming some laps or otherwise completing aquatic therapy can help alleviate some of the worst muscular tightness or tenderness. Some folks may feel intimidated to go lift weights in a weight room at a gym, but in the pool, you can still get an effective resistance workout and save yourself the trouble of going to a gym.
An efficient, whole-body routine. Aquatic therapy can be an excellent exercise, prehab, or rehab choice for individuals who feel strapped for time but still want to complete some whole-body exercise. It’s especially good for folks who want the whole-body routine but without a lot of impact or undue stress on their joints. As you go through the motions of various strokes, you’ll inevitably work many major muscle groups throughout your back, arms, legs, core, and butt. Of course, you can vary your intensity of the workout by how hard or fast you swim, too.
Buoyancy helps folks with limited mobility. If you’d like to partake in physical activity but have recently suffered from a stroke, it’s probably fairly challenging to find activities in which you can participate. Particularly if you use any sort of assistive device, like a wheelchair or a cane, you may feel like you’re especially limited as to what you can easily and feasibly do. Aquatic therapy can be a safe and effective type of exercise for individuals who are stroke survivors since the water’s natural buoyancy works to their benefit. There are aquatic therapy classes and programs that stroke survivors can take that may help increase their range of motion, as well as their muscular strength and/or endurance, too.
It’s fun! Aquatic therapy is a lot of fun and especially when you begin to see improvement with your strokes or your comfort level in the water. As we age, we so infrequently have the opportunity to try something new for a change, and it’s more likely than not that the hobbies we choose to pursue are the ones that we’ve had for many, many years. Fitting aquatic therapy into your lifestyle can be yet another hobby or outlet for you, and particularly if you don’t have much of a swimming background, it’ll be a lot of fun to learn something new and to see how quickly you can progress over time. In addition, if you have children (or even grandchildren), aquatic therapy is something that you can share with them and can actually do with them together. Children’s enthusiasm in the water is infectious; see for yourself!
There are so many reasons why and how aquatic therapy can benefit individuals at every stage of life that it becomes a small wonder as to why more people aren’t taking up swimming earlier and more regularly. Do yourself — and your body and your mind — a favor and seriously consider taking up aquatic therapy as part of your health and fitness regimen. Even a quick 20 minute swim each day will allow you to reap benefits.
Dan is an entrepreneur and distance marathon runner. He owns Runnerclick, Nicershoes, Fighting Report and Winter Ninja. When he is not busy running these websites, he frequently joins marathons around the world.