When you think about plyometric exercises, you likely picture athletes bounding across a field, hopping over cones and hurdles, or jumping on and off plyo boxes. You probably do not visualize or think any of the exercises being performed in a pool. That may soon be changing.
Aquatic plyometrics give athletes the opportunity for an explosive workout with less of the impact. What does this mean? They can work harder for longer, with less risk of injury than on dry land.
One drawback to performing plyometric exercises on dry land is that the impact forces are relatively high. The impact forces or too many foot touches can result in increased muscle soreness and greater risk of injury. Performing plyometrics in water will greatly reduce the impact forces without compromising the strength gain opportunities. The water will not affect the gains because viscosity and drag provide resistance, forcing athletes to work hard through the movements.
What also decreases is the restrictions on the number of foot touches in a given week, because of the lower impact in the water. The decreases in impact forces are caused by the fluid density and buoyancy of the water. Buoyancy opposes gravity, so in waist-deep water, body weight is supported during the eccentric or loading phase of a lower-body plyometric movement, significantly reducing impact. Approximately 50% of an individuals’ body weight is supported in waist-deep water.
Because water reduces impact, athletes or individuals with joint, muscle, or tendon pathologies who cannot withstand forces on land can participate in aquatic plyometrics without exacerbating signs or symptoms. For the same reason, aquatic plyometrics can be particularly beneficial for heavier athletes in sports like football or a deconditioned individual.
An aquatic plyo program can also enhance joint awareness and proprioception by providing a sensory awareness that cannot be matched on land. The sensation of water against the skin allows athletes to be more mentally and physically aware of where their body parts are and how they are moving. This is especially true as they are moving through the water since athletes can feel their limbs and body placement during activity.
When an athlete’s performance goal is to develop explosiveness, plyometrics in general are a great tool to help them achieve it. Dry-land plyos have been shown to increase acceleration, power, vertical jump height, and leg strength, all while increasing athletes’ joint awareness and overall proprioception. The same has now been proven with the use of aquatic plyos.
Any power-based movement consists of an eccentric muscle action, an amortization phase, and a concentric contraction. The elastic energy stored during the eccentric action provides the force needed for the concentric portion of the movement. The goal of training with plyometrics is to shorten the amortization phase–to train muscles to more rapidly load and contract. This allows the movement to be completed in a shorter amount of time, thus leading to increased power and explosiveness.
Water offers new and different variables to training that work as a motivational stimulus for athletes and increases the potential to improve performance quickly. Athletes and individuals can become bored with their usual weight room programs, so why not have them jump in for not only a great workout but some fun, too?
By: Rocco Ferraiolo PTA, NASM-CT, SPARQ certified
By Dr. Michael Miller & Dr. William Holcomb. Michael Miller, EdD, ATC, CSCS, is a Professor and Director of the Post Professional Graduate Athletic Training Program at Western Michigan University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. William Holcomb, PhD, ATC, CSCS*D, FNSCA, is an Associate Professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He can be reached at: email@example.com.