aquatic exercise class using aquatic exercise equipment
Fitness

Beat the Heat with Aquatic Exercise

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Whether you’re looking for a low impact workout or just want to cool off, pool exercises can hit the spot. 

Aquatic workouts can also offer something to all fitness levels. 

Check out these great aquatic exercise options to switch it up this summer (or anytime!)

*Bright flowered bathing cap not required*

Disclaimer: Always seek proper instruction before initiating an exercise program. Not everything is great for everyone! Consult with your qualified health care practitioners for an exercise program tailored to your needs. Stay healthy and injury-free people! Read the full disclaimer.

What is aquatic exercise?

Swimming has always made the list of high intensity, low impact workouts. 

But what happens when you’re not a swimmer? 

If your technique is not up to par, jumping in and just trying to swim until you get tired can be a recipe for a shoulder injury. 

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

For those who aren’t into laps but want to cool off with some pool exercises, keep reading.

Aquatic exercise is performing cardiovascular and strength training exercises in a pool. 

The aquatic exercise scene has taken off in recent years, with new programs emerging like Aqua Zumba, Aqua HIIT, Aqua Barre, and Aqua Yoga. You can find some of these programs offered at fitness centers across the country. 

There’s also plenty of things you can do on your own (ideas below).

What are the benefits of aquatic exercise?

  • The buoyancy of water decreases weight bearing by 70-80% in chest-deep water and 50% in waist-deep water. 
  • The viscosity of the water provides resistance for strengthening activities.
  • The hydrostatic pressure of the water can help decrease swelling from a recent injury or chronic issues such as arthritis and may also contribute to increased proprioception (joint position sense).
  • Allows for movement with less pain
  • Warmer water temperatures can promote relaxation and greater ease of movement.
  • It can be a fun way to cool off and get your fitness on during the summer and can be done year-round if you have access to a pool.

What are the limitations of aquatic exercise?

  • Exercises may not translate to functional gains on land – so don’t swap out all your activities for water exercise. 
  • Most studies have been performed on populations with specific medical conditions or athletes, therefore it’s difficult to apply to a general population. 
  • Access to facilities
  • Can be more time consuming
  • May not be suitable or safe for those who don’t know how to swim
  • Not a great option for those with sensitivity to chemicals, open wounds or post-surgery, or issues with incontinence.
people in an aquatic exercise class performing kicking at the wall.
image source: AndrewLozovyi / depositphotos.com

Aquatic Exercise Ideas

Cardio options

  • Aqua jogging
  • Water walking: forward – backward – sideways
  • Jumping jacks
  • Kickboard drills
  • Tuck jumps
  • Scissor jumps
  • Squat jumps
  • Tik-toks

Upper body strengthening exercises

  • Noodle push down
  • Triceps kickback with water dumbbells
  • Alternate punching with water dumbbells
  • Biceps/triceps with water dumbbells or webbed gloves
  • Push-ups at the wall
  • Triceps dips at the wall

Lower body strengthening 

  • Single leg kicks in all four directions
  • Kicking at the wall or with a kickboard
  • Shallow water squats/jumps

Core

  • Rotation with aqua dumbbells or noodles
  • Mountain climbers at the wall
  • Knee to chest at the wall
  • Water taxi seated on a kickboard

Stretching

Stretching is similar to if you were out of the water. You can also use steps and ladders as an assist with the placement of arms or legs. 

Exercises can be performed for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time. 

You can get creative and utilize intervals to make it more like an aquatic HIIT workout. 

YouTube Aquatic Workouts

To help you visualize these ideas and more, I’ve curated a few youtube videos for you. 

This video, 50 Pool Exercises | Choices Coach | Sara Moser, gives a fun underwater look at 50 different exercises you can do in the pool. 

This video by Ruth Ungerer Health Coach demonstrates a cardio-based 10-minute pool workout. 

For a low impact water-walking workout, check out Ask Doctor Jo. She has several videos on aquatic exercise/therapy. 

For my hardcore athletes, check out the Bas Rutten personal pool workout.  Warning: this is not your Grandma’s water aerobics! 

image source: depfotovampir / depositphotos.com

Aquatic Exercise Equipment

It wouldn’t be a pool exercise party if there weren’t cool stuff you could buy. 

Add some flair to your pool workout with these extras. 

Kickboards

Kickboards are made out of dense foam, float, and can be used for kicking, pushing, and pulling exercises.

If you’re up for the challenge, you can always try the water taxi! Just as long as you don’t mind going under if you fall off.

Shop kickboards at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Webbed gloves

Webbed gloves are just like they sound and are used to add resistance to upper body exercises. 

I would caution against swimming with webbed gloves or paddles as they have been known to cause shoulder issues if used too much with improper technique.

Shop webbed gloves at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Water dumbbells

The opposite of land dumbbells. They float! 

Water dumbbells are made of foam and provide resistance when pushed through the water. 

They can be used to add resistance to upper body exercises. 

Shop water dumbbells at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Waterproof fitness tracker

What fun is it to workout and not get credit?

Make sure you have a waterproof fitness trackers to capture all your hard work.

You can read more about the pros and cons of fitness trackers in The Ultimate Guide to Fitness Trackers.

Shop waterproof fitness trackers at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Pool noodles 

A similar concept to pool dumbbells, and you can also sit on them and perform movements like underwater bicycle and other kicking motions. 

Noodles are a seasonal pick up at any store. 

Water sneakers

Yes, they make these. Water sneakers can provide cushion and traction to your water workout. 

More Pool Workout Tips

Hydrate

You can be easily tricked into thinking you don’t need water because you’re in a pool.

Wrong! You can still get dehydrated, especially in sky-high temperatures. It’s impossible to assess how much you’re sweating and can skew your perception of exertion.

Keep a full bottle of water near by during your workout. 

You can still get hurt

Aquatic exercise may be a low impact workout option, but it’s far from injury-free. 

Whether it’s cardio or pool weights, it’s possible to overdo it, so always listen to your body. 

Take breaks

Once again, don’t overdo it. Cooler water temperates can skew your ability to perceive exertion.

A pool is a bad place to start feeling woozy. 

Don’t stop breathing

When performing exercises in the pool, it’s common to start holding your breath. 

Give your breathing priority and check in frequently. 

Observe all pool safety precautions

As a former lifeguard at a super strict facility, pool safety is my jam. 

It’s still a pool, which comes with its own risks. Don’t ignore normal water safety precautions. 

Visit the water safety page at the American Red Cross to brush up, including what to do in an emergency.

Stick to shallow water workouts if you’re not a strong swimmer and always have someone with you. 

Final Thoughts

Aquatic exercise provides another venue to get your fitness on and boasts a host of low impact options from low to high intensity. 

As with any workout, always listen to your body and don’t work through pain. 

How intense does aquatic exercise get? 

You’ll have to wear your waterproof fitness tracker and let me know!

featured image source: Nomadsoul1 / depositphotos.com

References

Becker, Bruce. (2009). Aquatic Therapy: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Rehabilitation Applications. PM & R : the journal of injury, function, and rehabilitation. 1. 859-72. 10.1016/j.pmrj.2009.05.017.

Buckthorpe M, Pirotti E, Villa FD. BENEFITS AND USE OF AQUATIC THERAPY DURING REHABILITATION AFTER ACL RECONSTRUCTION -A CLINICAL COMMENTARY. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(6):978-993.

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