Water exercise

Caroline Halliday
Friday, June 3, 2005
Aqua aerobics and aqua exercise have been a popular way of keeping fit for years, particularly for people with certain health problems or those recovering from injury. There is also a growing trend to extend its appeal to younger fitness enthusiasts, with pools and gyms offering an increasing number of classes with topics such as Water Boxing, Aqua Step, as well as using specialised equipment to extend the normal range of exercises. As a result, it has the potential to appeal to a wider range of people than ever, and regardless of your fitness level there's a good chance you'll find a water exercise class that you'll enjoy.

Types of exercise
Exercises may be performed with or without pool equipment such as hand & feet flippers, different foam floats such as “noodles” and weights. They may also be held in different water depths, with some deep water classes providing float belts to assist exercises. Generally you don’t even need to be able to swim to participate in water exercise classes.

Most classes can be broken down into two main groups:

1. Aqua aerobics: although generally more low-impact than land-based aerobics, these classes have most of the fat-burning and endurance-building benefits that you get from other forms of aerobic activity. An aerobic water exercise of around 30 minutes will help you burn about 300 calories. Most classes will run for around 45 minutes and should include a warm-up, cool-down and stretching exercises. The classes will include things like jogging, kicking, jumping, squats, and dance movements, and may or may not be accompanied by music.
The main benefits of this type of exercise are:

  • Great for all fitness levels
  • Good for weight loss / fat burning
  • Builds strength and flexibility
  • Excellent cardio-respiratory exercise

2. Aqua exercise: resistance/strengthening classes aimed at improving tone, strength and mobility. The main advantage of exercising in water is that it offers resistance in all directions, compared to land exercises where you work only against gravity. Because of the cushioning effect that water provides, this form of exercise is particularly beneficial to anyone at risk from bodily stress, including the elderly, overweight, or those recovering from soft tissue injury. It’s also particularly good for pregnant women and is an ideal post-natal exercise. Its benefits include:

  • Increased aerobic endurance
  • Greater flexibility
  • Increased muscle tone

If you don’t have classes in your area, a simple way of incorporating water exercise into your regular fitness regime is simply walking, jogging or running in water. You can start this by walking through the shallow end of a pool, increasing the depth to waist- or chest-level as your fitness increases. This exercise is great for toning legs and strengthening your hips, as well as increasing cardio-respiratory fitness levels.

Water squats are great for toning your lower body as well: stand in hip-deep water with feet apart. Bend your knees and squat as low as you can comfortably manage, using the side of the pool to steady your balance if necessary (but don’t use it to support your weight or you’ll lose the effect of the exercise). Return to standing. Repeat 5-10 times.

Other benefits

  • High calorie burning during and after a workout.
  • Renews your energy level as it releases your stress and tension.
  • Privacy of the water: if you hate the idea of jumping around a room full of people in tight gym clothes, exercising under water is a great alternative.
  • Exercising in water requires you to support only 50% of your body weight, making exercises easier to perform.
  • You don’t need any special equipment, although there is a variety of equipment available for increasing variety, fitness and helping with floatation if required.
  • Water’s buoyancy lowers the risk of stress-related injuries that some land exercises have
  • The water’s resistance against your movements results in a higher workout intensity compared to land exercises.
  • A massaging effect is created when your muscles are surrounded by water.
  • With indoor pools, it’s a great year-round activity; although in the hotter months it’s one of the best ways to get a total body workout without overheating.
  • You’ll come out of the water looking fresher and smelling nicer than many other exercise classes: no sweat, and no wet hair!

Water exercise is commonly advocated for people with the following conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Joint problems
  • MS
  • Soft-tissue injury
  • Cardiac patients
  • Obesity

If you suffer from any of these conditions, however, you should speak to your doctor before undertaking any exercise regime.

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