From Water to Land: The Concept of Minimal Essential Strain


Being a multi-sport athlete is tough. Regardless of the level, competing year-round in a variety of different sports can take its toll on the body, especially if you’re an athlete making a transition from a water based sport to a land based sport. Imagine competing in Water Polo for 3 months and then suddenly making a transition to Basketball. An athlete that has been competing in a zero-gravity environment for the past 3 months is at a much higher risk for injury since they haven’t accumulated Minimal Essential Strain (MES) due to the nature of water sports. MES can be defined as the amount of stress (strain) needed to stimulate new bone formation and promote stronger connective tissue. Research has shown that stimulating new bone formation via osteoblast activity requires a nominal force of 1/10 the stress required to fracture a bone. In other words, stimulating new bone formation is as easy as interacting with gravity.

However, for a water based athlete, you don’t have the luxury of constantly interacting with gravity to cause the necessary MES.

Therefore, multi-sport athletes that compete in water need to perform land based training both in-season and out of season. Obviously, the program will differ between in-season and out of season, but the take home point is there should be no prolonged cessation of training at any point during the year for these “water to land” multi-sport athletes. Of course, this can be said for every athletic population, but for some reason, coaches and athletes alike that compete in water based sports tend to shy away from land based training year-round.

For all the coaches and athletes that are “anti-land based training” please consider the following argument: If an athlete is making the transition from a water based sport to a land based sport, a training plan that works in conjunction with in-season practice and competition will help keep levels of MES high. This way, the athlete will constantly be exposed to the necessary stress he or she will encounter once they return to sport on land. If there is a lack of consistent exposure, performance could suffer and injury is more likely to occur once they transition back to land. If a coach cares about his or her athletes, they will provide the best possible plan and consider making land based training a regular activity for their “water to land” athletes.