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Aquatic Cycle

14 Sep 2020

           Over the past few years, aquatic cycling has become a trending fitness activity, the modification of standard ergometer bicycles for aquatic programs is nothing new and stems from the late sixties. Researchers used water immersion as an effective simulation of prolonged weightlessness, moreover, the utilization of the aquatic environment has been recognized as useful in rehabilitation. Similar to land-based cycling, the repetitive circular movement of pedaling against the water resistance ensures a use of a large range of motion (ROM) of the lower limbs to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength.

          The fact that individuals are sitting on the aquatic bike can be beneficial for those who have problems with balance and independent gait. However, in contrast, while the sitting position and hydrostatic pressure assist with postural control, the loss of free movement i.e. reduced challenges to balance, and the few variation of the exercises may limit its effect on functional capacity. A shared characteristic with other types of aquatic exercises is the decrease of joint loading due to buoyancy of the water.

           During aquatic cycling, participants are immersed in water up to the chest and the buoyancy of the water unloads the joints of the lower extremities and the lower spine, a condition appealing for patients experiencing pain or problems with physical functioning during exercising on land.

           Cardiac output and stroke volume was reported to be higher during aquatic cycling. These results are in line with the general understanding concerning the effects of water immersion on the human body.  Hydrostatic pressure exerts pressure on the immersed body, which increases with increased depth. Due to the hydrostatic pressure exerted there is a shift of blood from the extremities to the chest cavity, increasing arterial filling, and thus cardiac output and stroke volume are increased.

Aquatic cycling as an intervention

           Only six studies investigated the effect of multiple aquatic cycling sessions. In four studies aquatic cycling was used in a clinical context for patients with multiple sclerosis and as exercise training for older adults and obese individuals. Research showed that aquatic cycling was equally effective than land-based cycling for improving cardiovascular fitness.

           Most of the included studies have a cross-over design with few cycling sessions and investigated the exercise response in young healthy males, because gender, body mass and morphology are known to affect the response to aquatic cycling.

           To further improve the understanding of acute and long-term physiological adaptions to aquatic cycling training and facilitate between study comparisons, consistent reporting of the following parameters is recommended. Studies should describe the type of aquatic bike, body position, level of immersion, water temperature, methods used to control and assess exercise intensity i.e. training frequency, duration, rpm and pedaling resistance.

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