“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

A little equine physical therapy...
A little equine physical therapy…


Water therapy rocks for injury recovery (for horses, too); this we know.  But does it also have the potential to aid in hypertrophy gains?

Readers of Theory to Practice realize that there is a difference (a HUGE difference, in fact) between studies indicating a “statistically significant” association between factors and one that reveals practical relevance.

Now, I’m all about tossing back a few tequilas and theorizing over how to manipulate the latest “statistically significant” findings into real-world results.  However, I’d much rather, put theory to practice in a practical sense — in the gym, on the field and at the table.  In other words, if you’re buying the shots, I’ll discuss / debate the efficacy of say, post workout meal timing, all evening.  If I’m on my dime, though, I’m blasting the bang-for-the-buck basics: smart resistance training, speed work, pinpointed correctives and rep work. I’ll eat (within a 90/10 Paleo template) when I get a chance, and when I feel like it.  Which is likely *not* to be carb-heavy, or within the “golden, 1-hour refuel window”.  Really, I’m rarely able to eat much, if at all, until a couple of hours after I work out.  And it has always been this way with me.  My consistently “missing the window” has never seemed to limit my recovery or hypertrophy.

But that’s another tangent for another time.

Back to attention-grabbing studies: I’ve been keeping my eye on the study referenced below since I was first made aware of it a couple of years ago.  This is really, really interesting stuff.  Check it out:

Lambert, Anabolic RE Aquatic, Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 308, 2015

And full disclosure, here (not that I think that it really matters) — but the lead PhD in this study (Stephen Crouse) is the father-in-law of my Efficient Exercise and ARXFit partner, Mark Alexander.  Yeah, it’s indeed a small world.

I had an opportunity to group-chat (informally, over some rather tasty tacos) with Dr. Crouse, while attending the NSCA conference at Texas A&M University a couple weekends back.  What I got from the conversation was that, although his research team can demonstrate substantial strength and hypertrophy gains (all while lowering body fat percentages) by following resistance training with  underwater treadmill work, they can only speculate as to why this happens.

This is yet another example where the more we know about human physiology, the more we realize that we really have a good handle on very little of the complex inter-workings of this marvelous machine we occupy.

For instance, anecdotally (according to Dr. Crouse), those engaged in the post-training underwater treadmill group reported less (or at least, complained less of) DOMS.  Kinda makes sense.  But does that mean that their actual circulating cytokine levels were lower (as one might expect from a cold plunge)?

Well, we know — or, at least we think we know — that an acute inflammatory response is required to signal protein synthesis.  So maybe there are other mechanism at play that don’t rely on an acute inflammatory response?  Redundancy makes evolutionary/biological sense; it would be very interesting, though, to see which of these mechanisms “picks up the slack”, and under what conditions they do so.

Or does this simply mean that, with less DOMS present, the aquatic treadmill (ATM) group simply “pushed harder” during their actual resistance training bouts?  More instances of higher intensity work would for sure make sense.  But again, we have to wonder what (if not cytokine signaling), actually kicks-off the muscle-building process?

This is all very interesting, indeed.  What could it be about walking chest-deep in a pool, post workout, that could spur such a substantial increase in strength and muscle mass?  And this was a substantial increase — not just the “statistically relevant”, fun-to-discuss-over-tequila findings I spoke of earlier.  And even more curious: although there was good fat loss within the ATM group, it wasn’t as pronounced as the fat loss realized by the dry land treadmill group.  Hell, if there was anything I would have put money on at the onset of this study, it would have been that the aquatic treadmill group would realize the most fat loss.

Goes to show you what I know.  And why I stay the hell out of Vegas.

Incidental aside: Dorian Yates was known for following his legendarily intense training bouts with very, very long walks.  Especially during the buildup to a show.  He knew, anecdotally, that these walks (a) aided recovery, and (b) helped him cut fat.  He didn’t need studies to tell him that; no more than we need RCTs to tell us that Paleo and parachutes are extremely effective.  If he’d have had access to this study, maybe he would have done a combined ATM / dry-land walk subsequent to his training?

Another thought: does this mean that all the brouhaha over antioxidants “killing your gainz!” is just so much internet hyperbole?  I can’t, without a doubt, say.  But I will say that I’ve been religiously taking my ID Nutrition for over a year now, and I’m still sportin’ 220 lbs at 11% BF.  And, oh-by-the-way, feeling and sleeping friggin’ great on top of that.  Muh gainz is still intact, bruh…   😉

And then there was all the speculation (related to the above, re: squelching inflammation, post workout) regarding ice baths following workouts for the same “gainz killin'” fears.  I’ve been around plenty of college football players, and more ice dunks than I care to recall.  None of them are melting away in size and strength — with or without those post workout ice dunks.

Related article, here: Cold Thermogenesis…or Core Cooling?

Now, maybe water temperature changes everything; who knows.  It’s yet another interesting variable that needs to be looked at in any follow-up studies.  And let’s hope there are plenty of follow-ons, because this is a very interesting line of study.

So, just a couple closing thoughts:

  • I have access to many pool options here in the ATX.  Treading water for a bit in Barton Springs, or at the pool in the park across the street from my house and Efficient Exercise / ARXFit headquarters (yeah, it’s nice to live a 2 minute walk from “work”) might not only feel good, but it might be very effective as well
  • I would *love* to see an ARXFit / Hydroworxs study come down the pike.  If the ATM / “less DOMS” group did in fact “push harder” during their workouts, it would be nice to quantify that.  ARXFit technology can spot and track that immediately
  • I would also love to see post-workout cytokine levels (along with the full array of protein synthesis markers) tracked in the next iteration of this study
  • And, as mentioned above, I’d like to see some precise numbers surrounding the resistance training.  Let’s face it, this *is* the meat of the study.  How hard did these folks push, workout to workout?  Not subjectively, but in real force, power and work output numbers?  This is where ARXFit can really come into play
  • How long will it be before we open an ARXFit / Hydroworkx boutique studio in Austin?  😉
  • Would treading water work as well as using an underwater treadmill?  Would “Tabata-ing” the tread cycles work?  Would that work even better?
  • What would the “underwater treadmill effect” work on trained individuals?  Would it spur additional growth?
  • How would this “aquatic” post-workout protocol help or hinder rate-of-force development (speed, power, etc.) training?

As always, we should never jump to conclusions based on one study.  But this is interesting enough to warrant keeping a very close eye on.  And maybe a little n=1 self experimentation.

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –







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