Skip to content
Landing page show after 5 seconds.

When water is safer than dry land


WATER-BASED REHAB Being in water allow you to perform exercises and motion ranges that often shouldn’t be tried on dry land in the early stages of injury recovery.


Paul O'Brien

Pursuing an active lifestyle is a no-brainer if you want to remain mobile, decrease your risks of degenerative conditions and disease and enjoy vitality no matter what your age. Like most anything you will undertake in your life, there are both risks and rewards involved with physical activity. If you’re active then chances are you have been side-lined at some point by injury. It comes with the territory.
Injury occurs to most people as an inconvenience. It places a barrier in the way of progress. It’s usually accompanied by feelings of frustration, anxiety and disappointment. As a result, very few people manage injury properly, returning to activity far too soon and doing too much.
The fear of losing what they’ve gained drives this behaviour in many cases. Often the result is further disappointment through aggravation of the injury and a longer recuperation.
One way to avoid this pitfall is to follow a water-based return to exercise route. The prevailing approach is to return to your chosen activity and just do less. This can be problematic for a few reasons. Returning to the activity that caused your injury, even at lower intensity, will initially slow the healing process. Land- or gym-based training loads also means additional compressive force upon a body, and that takes the focus away from healing.
Water, on the other hand, has distinct advantages over traditional rehabilitation approaches:

  • Increased buoyancy, due to water density (1,500 times that of air)
  • Reduced impact, due to buoyancy
  • Increased resistance, due to density
  • Increased stability
  • Decreased demands on muscular contractions

And the best part is that these advantages allow you to perform exercises and ranges of motion that you couldn’t do on dry land in the early stages of injury rehabilitation.

Pool your resource
Water-based training is particularly useful for lower-limb injuries (injuries to hips, hamstrings, knees, ankles and so on). Extra care needs to be taken when exercising an upper-body injury, however, as many water-based movements will necessarily mean working in water at chest to neck level, although adaptations are possible. (A good trainer will be able to prescribe a suitable programme for any particular injury.)
Water can also be great for cardiovascular training during rehabilitation, especially when running- or cycling-based movements, like running lengths and exaggerated knee drills, are incorporated into the routine.
For resistance training, pool equipment, such as floats, can be used to create additional resistance when performing lower- and upper-body exercises. By changing the position and the number of the floats in the water, and by using artificial currents, resistance can be increased or decreased as desired.
The pool is an excellent environment for early plyometric training, or returning to it earlier than is possible on land following injury. ‘Plyometrics’ refers to the stretching and shortening actions of a muscle, typically seen when an athlete is jumping or bouncing. The increased density of water will displace the weight borne by an injured muscle far more effectively than air. For sportspeople who rely on this type of movement in their sport, water-based training is often the only way to maintain plyometric training in the early stages of rehabilitation.
The density and buoyancy of water also makes the pool a great place to perform stability training. Single leg and other stability exercises, which can be very unsafe on land, are far easier to perform in water, while still offering the neuro-muscular (brain-body) benefits to the athlete.
Finally, the psychological benefit of water-based training can also be invaluable. The specific challenges of the water environment will help maintain focus and consistency, while the relative safety of the water environment can allow an athlete get back to training much earlier than if they were focused on land-based training alone. This provides a massive mood boost, helping to keep motivation and morale high. So make a splash and take the wet route to recovery.

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or