What You Need To Know About Underwater Treadmills

Treadmills are one of the oldest and most basic exercise machines, but new uses and innovations are continuing to be developed for them all of the time.

One of the more popular implementations over the last several years is underwater treadmills. This form of treadmills may seem fairly self-explanatory at first, but they are a little more complicated than you may think.

Underwater treadmills take a simple concept and reimagine it within a different type of environment which creates an entirely new form of treadmill and workout, while still retaining much of what comes along with conventional treadmill use -- and plenty of unique advantages.

Curious as to why anyone would use an underwater treadmill? Wondering what benefits they offer? Read on to find out.

What Are Underwater Treadmills?

As I’ve mentioned already, underwater treadmills are essentially just treadmills that are submerged in water, just as the name indicates. They can take on a few different forms, but the idea remains the same.

underwater treadmills guide

The most basic forms of underwater treadmills involve self-propelled models that you drive with your feet. These are somewhat small, and can simply be placed in the water when they need to be used. They most often come with handles to remain upright as well.

More advanced forms of these treadmills include models powered by a battery, many of which have multiple speed settings.

The most expensive and advanced underwater treadmills are large submersion tubs that have been custom made and include the treadmill assembly on the bottom. These tubs have just enough room to fit on a person and allow you to control the water height and temperature for maximum effectiveness and control.

How Exactly Do They Work?

Regardless of the model, the idea of an underwater treadmill is to replicate the motions and stance of a conventional treadmill, while leveraging the resistance and buoyancy water naturally provides.

The belt of the treadmill moves at a slower pace than conventional treadmills due to the water resistance, but everything else is similar to regular treadmills. The belts are softer and may have more texture for better grip, as 99% of users run barefoot on underwater treadmills.

Brief History

Conventional treadmills exploded onto the fitness scene by the early 1980s, and underwater versions weren’t that far behind.

Sports medicine scientists have been using water-based devices for years, so it was only natural when they began to apply the same benefits and advantages of water resistance to treadmills.

Underwater treadmills began to gain popularity with professional athletes and training facilities by the late 1980s. By the mid-1990s, companies like HydroWorx were offering commercial versions of their various underwater treadmills to consumers.

Benefits Of Underwater Treadmills

Before going into the exact benefits of an underwater treadmill, it’s best to first explain why the environment they are used in is so favorable for different reasons.

group workout with underwater treadmill

The primary key to the effectiveness of underwater treadmills is the water itself.

Standing in water that comes up to your waist effectively reduces your body weight by about 50 percent, while chest-height water can create a 75-percent weight reduction. This ensures a workout environment with very minimal impact.

Furthermore, the water’s buoyancy creates natural resistance that makes running harder. This causes your body to work harder, and get more of a workout in, without the impact stress that running long distances would sustain.

The benefits for this are widespread, including:

  • Improving gait
  • Building muscle mass
  • Promoting a better range of motion
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    Increased flexibility
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    Improved cardio abilities
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    Reduced blood pressure
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    Reduced joint stiffness

Post-Injury Recovery

Underwater treadmills are often a critical part of post-injury recovery for both professional athletes and the average person. This is especially true for lower body injuries.

post injury recovery with underwater treadmill

Part of a successful rehab program includes gradually using the affected area(s) to rebuild strength and range of movement. When running on the regular ground, this can sometimes be hard to do without causing pain and soreness or even reinjuring the area.

The decreased weight-bearing provided by water with an underwater treadmill helps to avoid stress and pain while providing increased resistance and more fluid movements. This creates not only a better workout in general, but with barely any impact at all.

Overweight And Elderly Benefits

The same general benefits of underwater treadmills are especially useful for older users, and those with weight issues.

Elderly users can utilize underwater aquatic therapy treadmills as an easier way to promote a range of motion and strengthening of their joints, while also getting much-needed cardio exercise in a safe, comfortable environment.

Those who are overweight can be at a disadvantage when desiring to be active and healthier, mainly due to the stress on their bodies caused by their excessive weight. Underwater treadmills provide an environment where they can workout without a full load of their weight bearing down on their joints.

Underwater Treadmills For Pets

Pets who are recovering from injuries often have a difficult time, mainly because they aren’t human, and have no idea what’s going on.

underwater treadmill for pets

Because of this, many pets are unwilling to use a limb after injury, causing the recovery process to slow. However, when placed on an underwater treadmill, they will use the limb to help maintain balance and stability in the water.

The comfort and resistance of the water encourage them to put weight on the injured limb, and regain their gait patterns in a more controlled way.

Because of this, it’s now common to see underwater dog treadmills at a number of veterinary clinics, where owners can often bring their pets in for therapy sessions after surgeries.


The simple concept of using a treadmill underwater can provide a number of positive benefits that range from better injury recovery to better workouts in general, regardless of physical ability.

Interested in underwater treadmills? There are likely a few gym and training facilities near you that offer sessions, or you can always check out the many manufacturers that make them for home use.