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Is Swimming Right for You?

You know as well as I that Buffalo Summers are as warm as they are fleeting! We don’t have long to enjoy them, but we’ve gotten good at packing in the fun. One of the more frequent questions I’m asked this time of year: My shoulder/back/knee hurts, should I exercise in the water? In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Is aquatic exercise a good mode of exercise for YOU?
  • What aquatic exercise CAN/CAN’T do for you.
  • One great exercise you can do with a kickboard!

Pool: Yes or no?

Let’s get right to it. You should avoid the pool/lake/ocean if:

  • You have open incisions/wounds
  • Your balance is poor AND the water will be choppy
  • You have an unstable cardiac condition

If none of the above apply, you’re likely a good candidate for aquatic exercise. I especially like the water if you have a low back, hip, knee or ankle injury. The buoyancy of the water counteracts the force of gravity. Gravity is always pushing us downwards, but water helps negate some of the effects of gravity, rendering us “lighter” underwater. This reduces forces placed on the aforementioned joints and allows us to exercise longer and with less pain. Water exercise is the ultimate “low impact” mode.

What makes water exercise so wonderful, also lends towards its shortcomings. Our muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments need some stress and strain to maintain their normal integrity. In order to grow stronger tissues (all of the above), we must subject them to greater stress and strain. The gym is a simple example – increasing resistance or weight, eventually makes us stronger. Keeping the same level of resistance maintains, and consistently lowering resistance makes us weaker.

Here’s your takeaway: If you’re having trouble exercising on land, try taking your exercises to the pool. The pool is a means to decrease exercise intensity temporarily until you can perform exercises more easily. At this point, you can port some exercises to land and keep some higher-level exercises in the water. If you have no difficulty exercising on land, but want to try higher-level pool exercise like swimming or diving – go for it! The pool is a great place to get your heart rate up and burn some calories.

Benefits and Limitations

We’ve established that aquatic exercise can be a great way to either exercise with less stress on a joint or simply be another fun mode of cardio for those go-getters. So what can aquatic exercise do and what is just hearsay?

The Good

  • Can improve balance if in slow-moving water
  • Can strengthen significantly weakened joints
  • Can help improve walking, squatting and reaching patterns

The Limitations

  • Does not significantly improve bone density (need the full force of gravity on land)
  • Much more difficult to build muscle and tendon strength in water
  • Water makes strength exercise easier, goal – train on land because we operate on land

One Last Thing!

Here’s a phenomenal core strength exercise you can do in your own pool with just a kickboard:

  1. Stand in the water up to your chest
  2. Straighten your arms fully and place your hands palm down on a kickboard
  3. Keep your back straight and chest tall; push the kickboard several inches underwater
  4. Hold for 1-5 second and repeat for 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
  5. In summary, water exercise is a great supplement to an exercise regimen. We won’t build strength as quickly or efficiently in the pool, but it can be a safe foray into exercise for those who need to start gently.

    If you’d like to learn more about water exercise or would like to speak directly with one of our Physical Therapists, you can schedule your free appointment here.
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    Murtezani, A., et al. “The effect of land versus aquatic exercise program on bone mineral density and physical function in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis: a randomized controlled trial.” Ortopedia, traumatologia, rehabilitacja 16.3 (2014): 319-325.



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