April 05, 2023 9 min read

Water Cycling, aka Aquatic Biking, is promising in injury prevention and rehabilitation among athletes and sporting teams. With water's unique properties, athletes can push their limits without the typical strain on joints and muscles, which can cause injury or aggravate an existing one. This article delves into the benefits of aquatic cycling and its potential for injury prevention.


Water cycling, or spinning, has become a popular year-round exercise in Australia. Cycling in the water involves cycling on a purpose-built Hydrorider in a pool. When the rider is on the bike, the water typically comes up to between the chest/waist so that the lower half of the body is submerged in water.

There are numerous benefits to water cycling. This is particularly relevant to athletes and sporting teams because it provides an excellent form of cross-training. Water cycling is low-impact, high-intensity, and effective for injury rehabilitation to get athletes back in the game efficiently and safely. Lower limb injuries that are common in athletes can be rehabilitated with aquatic therapy due to the water’s supportive properties. 

Ultraman Triathalon World Record Holder Richard Thompson, utilises low-impact aquatic fitness modalities to keep in prime fitness while remaining uninjured. Thompson deemed the underwater treadmill as a quote, 'continually revolutionising my performance as a road runner'. As do Tennis greats like Novak Djokovic and Australian Soccer legends, The Socceroos.


Prevention in medicine is a cornerstone principle that, when prioritized, can save individuals mental and physical pain, significant time, and considerable financial costs. 

Researchers estimated  $265 million Australian dollars in direct costs from sports-related injuries from 2004 to 2007. Not to mention, the time required for athletes to rehabilitate has associated indirect costs. Musculoskeletal injuries, which are rampant among athletes at all levels, pose a direct health concern and can impair performance and mobility later. Previous athletic injuries have increased the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis later in life. The psychological aspect of returning to sport after an injury can also be a difficult hurdle for athletes to overcome and another indirect cost to the medical system.

Water exercises have emerged as a trusted ally for athletes, mainly due to their gentle nature on the joints. The benefits of aquatic activities extend beyond mere injury rehabilitation but can also safeguard musculoskeletal health in athletes and prevent injuries. 


According to experts in the prevention space, modifiable risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries include proprioception, strength, range of movement, and movement skills. Common sport-related injuries can be prevented by focusing training on these factors. This is sometimes referred to as 'prehabilitation.' For injury prevention in athletes, Johns Hopkins Medicine also stresses the importance of adequate core strength and flexibility and allows for proper injury recovery to avoid re-injury. These things can be achieved or enhanced through a water cycling program for athletes. 

Injuries in athletes are the most common at joints, specifically the knee and ankle. It’s estimated that 60% of sports-related injuries are lower limb injuries, and 60% occur at the ankle or knee joint—training for cardiovascular fitness in water instead of land places less pressure/impact on joints. Water cycling provides an effective way to train without increasing the risk of injury down the line. 


Injuries in youth sports have become a significant concern for parents, coaches, and healthcare professionals worldwide. While sports offer numerous benefits for young individuals, including improved physical fitness, team-building skills, and a sense of accomplishment, youth sport's rising intensity and competitiveness have heightened the risk of injuries. Sprains, strains, fractures, and concussions are the most commonly reported injuries.

Athletes of all ages suffer from overuse injuries, and young athletes (ages 12-18) are no exception. An article regarding overuse injuries and burnout in young people suggests that there needs to be limits on sports-specific repetitive movements, scheduled rest periods, modifications based on the sport and athlete’s age, and careful monitoring of training during an athlete’s growth spurt. 

Osgood-Schlatter disease (OSD) is a swelling between the patella and tibia bone, also known as the tibial tuberosity. This disease is most common in youth athletes (particularly males) who participate in sports with a lot of running or jumping, like basketball or football. It’s frequently associated with growing pains because its etiology is due to overuse at an age when a young person is growing fast, commonly known as a growth spurt.

OSD typically resolves itself when the individual stops growing, and the cartilage is replaced with bone, typically around age 20 in boys. Until then, different pain management methods are used. Aquatic training can significantly help mitigate overuse injuries in lower limbs in youth sports. 



Land-based training can place enormous stress on the knees, ankles, and hips. The buoyancy of water minimises this impact, providing a rigorous workout that's easy on the joints. This means reduced wear and tear for athletes, making it an excellent option for off-season training and injury rehabilitation.

This is even true in non-elite athletes who may be prone to common overuse injuries in both children and adults, such as:

  • Avulsion fractures 
  • Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis)
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease 
  • Osteochondritis dissecans 
  • Sever’s disease (calcaneal apophysitis)
  • Shin splints
  • Spondylolysis 
  • Swimmer’s shoulder (rotator cuff impingement)
  • Tennis elbow 


The consistent resistance from water ensures that muscles work hard during every pedaling phase. This not only improves muscle tone but also endurance.


Aquatic cycling provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, helping improve lung capacity and overall stamina. This is especially helpful for athletes in rehabilitation to maintain their cardiovascular fitness during recovery without aggravating their injury.


The natural resistance of water makes every movement deliberate and controlled. This promotes better stretching of muscles and increased joint flexibility, both critical components in injury prevention. When muscles are more flexible, they can handle more stress and strain before reaching a breaking point. Similarly, more limber joints can navigate a broader range of motions without injury.


Warming up is indeed an important aspect of fitness, but proper recovery post-exercise is often overlooked. Water cycling is great for recovery after an intense game or competition. 


While it might not be immediately obvious, water cycling heavily engages the core muscles. The water’s natural resistance forces athletes to maintain a steady posture, aiding in the development of core muscles and enhancing balance. To maintain balance and posture on an aquatic bike, the cyclist must continuously activate their core, which aids in stabilizing the spine. A strong core not only enhances athletic performance but also plays a pivotal role in preventing back injuries.


Training in water naturally cools the body, reducing the risk of overheating. This can be particularly beneficial in warm climates where traditional training might pose health risks. Plus, it’s just refreshing! 


For athletes recovering from injuries, particularly those related to the lower body, water cycling can be an invaluable rehabilitation tool. The supportive nature of water allows them to begin resistance training and muscle activation earlier than they might on land. This hastens recovery without compromising safety.


For sporting teams, the integration of aquatic exercises, including water cycling, offers a plethora of advantages. It's a tool that can be used in various phases of a team’s training cycle. Whether it's pre-season, where the focus is on building endurance; mid-season, to maintain optimum fitness levels; or post-injury phases, for accelerated rehabilitation, water cycling emerges as a holistic solution.

The main benefits of water cycling for sporting teams as a whole are cross-training capabilities, adding variety to training, team bonding, lowering injury rates, and financial benefits. 


Cross-training is imperative for athletes who practice repetitive motions and high-impact sports to reduce impact. Swapping just one workout a week for a water workout significantly reduces impact and strain on the body and can help prevent injury and even speed recovery after large events or matches.


An added benefit of aquatic cycling is the variety it offers, keeping team members engaged and breaking the monotony that often accompanies repetitive training regimes. Athletes can integrate interval training, resistance-based workouts, or endurance-focused sessions into their routines. Given the water's resistance, athletes can also adjust their training intensity by varying their speed and pedalling techniques, offering a more tailored and dynamic workout experience.


Beyond physical benefits, group water cycling sessions serve as an innovative means for team bonding, introducing players to a fun and different activity that fosters camaraderie.


One of the paramount benefits is the potential to lower injury rates. With the rigorous schedules that athletes adhere to, reducing downtime for key players is crucial for a team's sustained performance. It can also help keep cardio fitness levels while an athlete is sidelined, recovery from surgery or on physiotherapy treatment.


Additionally, the financial perspective cannot be overlooked. Investing in preventive measures like aquatic cycling can lead to significantly lower costs for individuals and athletic departments, owing to the decrease in injury-related expenses. 


There is a plethora of evidence that supports aquatic therapy for rehabilitation after anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. The reason ACL injuries can be so debilitating is that many athletes report a loss of neuromuscular control in the quadriceps and hamstrings. Aquatic therapy helps focus on regaining this control so that athletes can return to sports feeling closer to how they felt pre-injury. Water cycling, given the structure the bike provides to the motion is even better to help ACL rehab in athletes also looking to build strength and cardiovascular fitness. 

While the above research discusses special aquatic training, a formative trial comparing aquatic treadmill running (ATM) to land-based running also found that muscular activation was higher in ATM in healthy individuals and post-ACL reconstruction.  Studies like this show that aquatic fitness modalities can be a vital rehabilitation tool for athletes due to water’s unique properties compared to land-based rehab. 

Ankle impingement syndrome is another condition that affects athletes who do a lot of running and jumping, and also commonly ballet dancers. Anterior ankle impingement also referred to as footballer’s ankle, is when the soft tissue is inflamed at the front of the ankle below the shin bone. Posterior ankle impingement syndrome (PAIS) is the same but on the back side of the ankle, but it is not to be conflated with Achilles tendon issues. Roughly 40% of those suffering from PAIS will require surgical intervention eventually. Reducing impact can help prevent ankle impingement syndrome from escalating.

Aquatic cycling is a prime candidate for training to prevent re-injury, which is all too common in athletes at any level. Often a result of returning to play prematurely or without adequate rehabilitation, re-injuries not only exacerbate the physical damage but also compound the psychological toll on the athlete. The cumulative effect of repeated injuries can shorten an athlete's career and have long-term health implications. 


The most significant advantage aquatic therapy has over land-based activity is that water lessens the impact on joints. The hydrostatic pressure from water also has its role in promoting circulation and reducing swelling. Water temperature is a factor that can be manipulated for different purposes as well. 

When it comes to aiding muscle recovery and reducing the risk of lower extremity injury, training strength and balance are two key prevention methods according to a review study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The authors also stated that multi-component training in lower body limbs lessens some injury occurrences in knee, ankle, and ACL injuries. 

Since aqua cycling is still a relatively new training modality, the research on aquatic cycling and health outcomes and prevention is limited. This lack of evidence was acknowledged in a 2019 scoping review that synthesised water cycling research. Speaking with Water Resist who are working day to day with athletes and teams or the athletes themselves is one of the best ways to understand the most update to date insights on water cycling and the outcomes they have achieved.


An essential aspect of aquatic cycling is the specialised equipment used. Unlike conventional bicycles, aquatic bikes, called Hydroriders,  are engineered specifically for underwater usage, made with rust-resistant materials, and designed to maximise resistance and biomechanics. The handlebars and seats are adjustable, and the pedals are crafted to ensure optimal resistance and foot grip, even underwater.

The features of a good aquatic bike:

  • Self-Propelled Water Resistance: The bike should have a large flywheel that provides scalable, naturally propelled resistance. This ensures the resistance level suits what your body is ready for.  Be aware that without a flywheel, the bike can only offer constant one-level resistance and not provide more challenge over time for the rider as they improve. A mechanical lever is similar to a land bike but does not make sense in water. It makes the pedal harder to push but doesn’t use or increase water resistance. You might as well ride on land. Any turn knob adds load to the joints and is dangerous as you could overload the joint. It can be jerky on the joints or require the rider to stop to add resistance. A natural resistance with a flywheel is preferred as self-propelled, so it only adds resistance when you are ready. This reduces the risk of injury and maximises benefits without significant intervention. The key to water resistance is the size of the flywheel paddle, not levels. A bike with more levels but a shorter paddle has less resistance than one with fewer levels but a longer, high functioning flywheel paddle.
  • AdjustabilityFull seat and handlebar vertical and horizontal adjustments ensure you can find your optimal cycling position for your leg length and height.  We recommend the Hydrorider AquaBike Pro-Fix and Professional models for fast or frequent use.

Hydroriders are made in Italy but can be found in Australia and New Zealand through Water Resist and purchased online.


There are immense benefits of water cycling for both individual athletes and teams. Alongside the underwater treadmill, it’s encouraged athletes and teams to incorporate water cycling into their routine for optimum performance, during rehabilitation and most importantly injury prevention.

Aquatic cycling, with its fusion of resistance and buoyancy, offers a new frontier in athlete training and injury prevention. While water-based exercises have been around for centuries, the integration of cycling in an aquatic environment is a game-changer.

For athletes, from youth sports to professional sporting teams, this means a safer, more effective way to train and maintain and even build cardio endurance. And as the trend catches on, we can hope for not just fitter but also healthier athletes who can challenge themselves without fear of injury.

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