Aquatic Regeneration: 3 Benefits We Use to Our Advantage

Recovery days are just as important as training days – arguably more so because without recovery it’s near impossible to continue to train hard. Recovery methods (depending on the sport) can range from stretching, foam rolling, tempo running, bodybuilding circuits, pool workouts, massage, thermotherapy, cryotherapy, and many more. Depending on the sport and athlete(s) in the conversation, the recovery method you choose to do may be different in each scenario.

If you look at the chart below, recovery is the very first block of the week and if done well, this recovery block can set up the ability to train harder and more intense in middle of the week or if the team is in a Saturday / Wednesday / Saturday game type of week, to be better prepared for the mid-week game.

I’ve seen this chart in a few places now, but because I knew exactly where to find this one, I’ll give Mladen Jovanovic the credit of creating this weekly chart with three mini-blocks that make up the week.

credit: Mladen Jovanovic (complementarytraining.net)

For our recovery block, we use the pool as our main recovery tool because we have it at our disposal. We are lucky enough to have access to a local high school’s aquatic facilities. Even if the high school’s pool isn’t open, I’ll make an effort to go to the apartment complex where many of the players live to do a session out there.

In deciding what to include in our pool recovery session, I tried to pull in concepts that I have read from people like Carl Valle (Aquagenesis, Pool’s Gold) and training principles and philosophy that I have learned from Athletic Lab.

Our general plan for players on MD+1 is:

  • >60+ minute players: pool regen
  • 45-60 minute players: case by case
  • <45: training session or weightroom

If we do a good amount of post game fitness, we like to have another weightroom session on MD+1 while the big minute players are doing regen.

While there are many recovery options that work well, here are a few reasons I have found the pool to be a useful tool and how we use it to our advantage:

1. Hydrostatic Pressure:

One of the biggest benefits of underwater recovery is hydrostatic pressure. This pressure acts as compression on the submerged portion of the body. This compression acts as inward and upward pressure on the body. So in waist height water, this compression causes fluid to be pushed up toward the midsection of the body. This fluid can help transport metabolic waste and nutrients away from and to the extremities of the body through the lymphatic system (1). It is believed that this movement of fluid enhances recovery.

Due to the lower body being taxed the most during matches, we stay submerged in at least waist height water for the entirety of the regen, but at times move to chest and neck height water to utilize this compression benefit for the upper body as well.

For the first 5 minutes or so we’ll do a free swim to get players acclimated to the water and relaxed. During this time, I encourage general movement like jogging, skipping, swimming, etc. but as long as they’re moving around a bit, I don’t mind what they do in the free swim period.

After the free swim period we’ll work through larger ranges of motion using the water as resistance. This brings us to the next benefit…

2. Resistance:

Water is unique that it offers multi-directional resistance. After the free swim, we do a ~10 minute period of resistance work and include both the upper body and lower body. I this section of the regen, we use about chest depth water and do different push/pull activities with the upper body and use an open palm to increase resistance slightly and do abduction/adduction with the upper and lower body among other exercises. During our lower body portion, I also encourage players to challenge coordination and balance by not putting the working leg back on the ground until they are finished with the exercise. These exercises are done not necessarily at a fast pace, but the movement on each repetition is fast to increase resistance as well as get the residual resistance from the flow of the water on the antagonist side.

3. Buoyancy:

Simply, submerging the body in water makes the body lighter. The more the athlete is submerged, the less they weigh (and the less impact there is when moving). Due to this, the eccentric load on the body is drastically reduced. When we combine this idea with hydrostatic pressure, a low intensity jump circuit seemed a good use of the recovery time. I think underwater jump circuits offers the benefit of relatively unloaded contractions that can act like milking the muscles and tissue. Along with this, considering they are barefoot in the pool, my thinking is that the low intensity jump series could be a tool to introduce different contacts to what they are normally used to in an attempt to strengthen the ankle joint and foot.

While using the pool is a new recovery tool for me, I have seen the physiological and psychological value in it and will continue to use it and refine our protocol as we go.

References:

Wilcock, I., Cronin, J., & Hing, W. Physiological Response to Water Immersion. (2006). Sports Medicine. 36(9):747-65

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