Three Water Exercises to Help You Walk Better

Summer weather is here and water is a great place to keep cool and exercise. Each year around this time I field a number of questions about aquatic exercise. It’s a useful alternative to other more impactful modes of cardio and can help bridge the gap to a more effective land based routine. Today, we’ll cover:

  • How you can improve your walking and running form by training in the water
  • 3 water based exercises you can practice this summer

Underwater Walking/Running

As we age, the combined effects of moving less and sitting more compound to affect everything from the way we bend and lift to how we walk. Let’s think of the leg as a chain of three important links; our hips, knees, and ankle/foot. Each link has a job to do, but over time with less activity, the important muscles in our hips tend to weaken and muscles in our calves tighten. This causes a convergence of extra stress upon our knees.

There are many land based exercises that help strengthen our hips and stretch our calves, but the water can be another option for those with access to a pool or the beach. When we walk our gait cycle should look like this:

  1. Our front heel strikes the ground as we push off on our rear foot toes
  2. Our rear foot leaves the ground and we balance on our front leg momentarily
  3. Our foot strikes the ground and the cycle repeats

With weakness in our hips and tightness in our calves, this cycle can deteriorate. Practice this underwater to reinforce a normal pattern. The more you practice, the better your land walking will become. The same applies to your running form and practicing a powerful “push off” with your rear foot/toes can help translate to better form and improved strength of the intrinsic muscles of the foot.

Top Three Water Exercises

Walking Balance

  • Take a step forward and balance on one leg. Hold this single leg position for 2-5 seconds and keep your chest tall. 
  • Keep your hips squared forward while you hold this position
  • This will strengthen the muscles in your hips as you fight to keep your balance

Squats

  • Can’t squat well on land? Try in the water where you “weigh less.” Sink your hips back and keep your spine in a straight line
  • Your back shouldn’t be perpendicular to the ground. Your spine can still be straight if you’re bending at your hip
  • Limit how far your knees bend. Focus on sitting backwards and leaning your “nose over your toes”

Monster Walk

  • Not as cool as the monster mash, but a better way to train your hips. Assume a quarter squat position with your bottom shifted back
  • Keep this mini-squat position and take steps to the side, keeping your hips and shoulders squared forward
  • Pretend you have a tray of drinks resting across your pelvis – don’t spill them! Take steps as wide as you can without tipping side to side

In summary, if you’re not comfortable exercising on land or if you’re just half-fish, the above exercises are an easy way to address better walking and/or running while having fun in the water. Try these movements 3x/week for optimal benefits and try them on land after 4 weeks of water practice. Because we ultimately operate on land, the goal is to transition exercises to a our normal environment.

Check out this quick video for a review of the above exercises:

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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