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Water running and recovery

Peter Reaburn, Department of Health and Human Performance, Central Queensland University


In the football season, every Monday night on the sports news there are glimpses of rugby league, rugby, and AFL players coming out of the water at the local beach freezing their ‘butts’ off or doing exercises in a pool to help recover from the bruising games over the previous weekend. Coaches and conditioners have done this method of receovery for years now and research is starting to show that it works. 


A recent Japanese study examined whether leg muscle functioning after high-intensity eccentric exercise (downhill running) could be promoted by water exercise.  Ten male long-distance runners (age 20 ± 1 years, height 1.71 ± 0.03 m, body mass 58.2 ± 4.0 kg) participated in the study. They were divided equally into a water exercise group and a control group that did no water running. All runners then performed three sets of five-minute downhill running exercise on a treadmill at a speed corresponding to their individual best times for a 5000m race, with a five-minute passive rest between sets. The exercise group then moved to a pool and did water exercise (walking, jogging, jumping) for 30 minutes and the control group did no recovery exercise. Before and after the study, the following tests were conducted: a questionnaire about muscle soreness, creatine kinase activity (a blood measure of muscle damage), muscle power, flexibility (sit and reach, stride length, range of motion of the ankle), whole-body reaction time and muscle stiffness


Muscle power was significantly reduced on day one in the control group but not the water recovery group. Muscle soreness in the calf on day three was also significantly greater in the control group than that in the water exercise group. In the water exercise group, muscle stiffness in the calf was less than that in the control group over four days.

Coach's takeout

The results of this study strongly suggest that water exercise after muscle-damaging exercise promotes recovery of muscle power, muscle soreness and muscle stiffness more quickly than in without the water exercise.  The benefits of using water resistance, buoyancy and active recovery exercise thus appears to work and coaches and athletes involved with muscle-damage sports are strongly advised to use this mode of recovery.


Takahashi, J, Ishihara, K and Aoki , J 2006. 'Effect of aqua exercise on recovery of lower limb muscles after downhill running', Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(8) pp. 835-42.

Source: Sports Coach Volume 29 Number 2

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