The benefits of an underwater treadmill

Underwater treadmill

The look of pure joy!

Over Easter, my husband and I went on a family trip to a wonderful place called Canyon Ranch, a health and fitness retreat in Arizona. On our first day, one of the lovely staff members gave us a tour of the property. One of the three onsite pools had underwater treadmills! I was thrilled! I jumped up and down like a kid who had just seen the ice cream truck go by. This, I decided, would be one of my first stops of the trip.

I had always heard about the benefits of an underwater treadmill but I have never had the opportunity to try one! I mean, where do you even find one in London? The ones at Canyon Ranch were called AquaGaiters and the logo was an alligator with running shoes on. (I wanted to take a pic of the logo but the risk of dropping my phone in the pool was too great, so you’ll just have to imagine it)

Underwater treadmills are great because you use the same muscles you use to run on land, but the weightlessness of water eliminates the pounding on your joints. This is why underwater treadmills are so commonly used for both recovery and rehabilitation. It’s a great way to work out with less pain, more resistance and minimal stress. You can also achieve a full lower body workout, core conditioning and cardio training all at once!

Underwater treadmill

My first attempt on the underwater treadmill was a little underwhelming. The first treadmill I used had a max pace of just 4.7 miles/hour which was barely enough to get up to an easy underwater bounce. I quickly discovered that the other treadmills had higher max paces, but alas, the fastest I could go was 5.7 miles/hour. This was at least a slow running pace, and good enough to give it a try. I went an easy one mile. I mean, I was on holiday after all.

I could immediately feel the decreased impact and was able to play around with my form a bit. According to an article in Runner’s World, waist high water reduces your body weight by about 50%. Chest-high water, in the case of the Canyon Ranch treadmills, creates close to a 75% weight reduction. For runners recovering from an injury, this can be the perfect way to maintain a running routine as it helps retain muscle strength without the impact.

Underwater treadmill

Family treadmill run

I decided to try another run on the underwater treadmill. My muscles were super sore from days of activity, so I thought this might be a good recovery run. This time, I ran 3 miles. It didn’t feel tiring at all. In fact, I felt as if I could barely get my heartrate up. To be honest, it didn’t really feel like much of an effort. More like a brisk walk.

Disappointed, I ended my run and resumed my position in a lounge chair by the side of the pool. Does a workout need to feel tough to be effective, I wondered?  Perhaps if the treadmill could go faster it might have felt like more of a workout. I tried to adjust the mechanism that controlled the speed lock, but failed… and with a wet hand, I also didn’t want to risk electrocuting myself.

Canyon Ranch underwater treadmill

Obviously, the very first place I went.


Regardless, it was still a unique experience to finally try aqua running. Studies show that whether you’re on the healthy or injured list as a runner, you can easily add mileage with an underwater treadmill, helping to improve recovery and performance in a low-impact environment. The water also helps soothe muscles which can leave you feeling refreshed – not something I often feel after a hard run!

The trick of course, is to find one you can readily use. I have never seen them in a regular gym environment before. If you do find one, give it a try. It’s a lot more fun as a novelty vs. something you have to use due to injury!

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