Water Training: More Than Swimming “Upstream” for Fitness
If you think of swimming only as a leisure activity that older women do to relieve arthritis pain, then you may be the one who is sorely mistaken. Water training has become a legitimate form of cross training for many people, from those who just want to be fit to superior athletes.
You can do more than swim in a pool. Water training can involve bathing caps and swimming laps, but it can also be much more engaging and fun, especially if you try innovative activities such as water tennis and water country-line dancing, for example. Whatever the water activity, taking the plunge has many benefits, some of which make exercising in water even more desirable than exercising on land.
Why Water Exercise?
You may be able to run, take aerobics, and practice yoga on land, but water uniquely provides many benefits that land exercise does not, including:
- A “Cushion” for Your Body— According to the United States Water Fitness Association, 90% of your body weight is buoyant when you’re in water up to your neck. This buoyancy decreases the impact on joints. This allows people to do exercises that may otherwise be difficult on land.
- Added Resistance— Water provides 12%-14% more resistance than when you exercise on land. Every move you make in water increases resistance for muscles, which is important for improving strength.
- Temperature Regulation— Exercising in water helps disperse body heat efficiently to prevent overheating. You don’t feel sweaty in the process, so water training is likely to be more comfortable than exercising on land.
Benefits of Water Exercise
There are many physical benefits to working out in the water, including:
- Building cardiovascular endurance
- Improving strength and flexibility
- Improving or maintaining body weight and composition
- Rehabilitating or preventing injury to muscles
There are also social benefits of water training, since it may require coming to a pool to take group exercise classes. In addition, water training, like many forms of exercise, may foster a positive attitude, feelings of well-being, and relief from stress.
Types of Water Exercises
- Swimming laps
- Water aerobics
- Water walking
- Deep water running
- Water yoga and relaxation
- Water toning and strength training
- Water flexibility
- Therapy and rehabilitation for injuries, particularly in the lower extremity injured person
Other Creative Water Exercises
- Water volleyball
- Water tennis
- Water polo
- Water country-line dancing
- Water hip-hop
- Water funk
- Water Tai kwon do
- Water Tai chi
Adjusting Workout Intensity
Because water offers so much resistance, to increase the intensity of a workout often only involves relocating to the deeper end of the pool. The more work you have to do to keep yourself afloat to exercise, the more difficult your workout will be. Conversely, to decrease the intensity or to rest, you need only stand in shallow water or lay back and float.
Flotation and Other Optional Equipment
Also, using certain equipment may help you adjust the intensity of your workout, including the following:
- Flotation belts
- Kick boards
- Resistance bands (theraband)
- Styrofoam dumbbells
- Old tennis rackets (that can get wet)
For example, flotation belts or kick boards can help you work less to remain afloat, making the workout easier. Old tennis rackets may add more resistance and simulate land tennis movements, building those muscle groups needed for that sport.
Tips on Getting Started
- Check with your healthcare provider or doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Shop around for a gym facility with a pool. Ask about group classes that may be available.
- As with any physical activity or exercise, prepare for the exercise by warming up for 5-10 minutes before increasing the intensity of the workout. Walk or swim slowly, stretching your muscles.
You may want to start with water walking, which is easy to do and can be done a few different ways, either forward, backward, or sideways:
- Normal steps
- Quick, short steps
- Long steps
- Step kicks
- Move your arms in a variety of ways
- Cool down by slowing down and using gentle movements that allow your heart rate to return to normal.
- As your fitness level improves, gradually increase the intensity of your workouts, the length of your workouts, and the number of times you work out per week.
When To Seek Medical Help
As with all exercise, there are warning signs to be aware of in case you may be in need of medical attention. Some examples are listed below, but other symptoms may exist that are not on the list:
- Abnormal heart action/rate
- Pain or pressure in the chest, throat, or down the arm
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, sudden loss of coordination, confusion, cold sweat, near fainting
- Persistent rapid heart action even after you stop exercising
- Flare-up of an arthritic condition
- Side stitch (cramp)
- Muscle fatigue or cramps
So, whether you think you’re able to dive right in or would rather ease into the water, check with your healthcare provider or doctor first.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
United States Water Fitness Association, Inc.
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
Mercer J. Biomechanical comparison of deep water and treadmill running. University of Nevada at Las Vegas website. Available at: http://www.unlv.edu/faculty/jmercer/dwr/dwr.html.
Pöyhönen T, Sipilä S, Keskinen KL, et al. Effects of aquatic resistance training on neuromuscular performance in healthy women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2002:34:2103-2109.
Quinn, TJ, Sedory DR, Fisher BS. Physiological effects of deep water running following a land-based training program. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1994;65:386-389.
Takeshima N, Rogers ME, Watanabe E, et al. Water-based exercise improves health-related aspects of fitness in older women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2002;33:544-551.
United States Water Fitness Association, Inc. website. Available at: http://www.uswfa.com. Accessed April 2, 2010.
Last reviewed April 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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