Cool, Refreshing, and Challenging

Pool workouts have undergone an extreme make-over in the past few years. While working out in the water will always have a joint-friendly benefit, a variety of higher-intensity and unique classes are making a splash with people of all ages and all fitness levels. Almost anything you can do on land, you can do in the water—boxing, high-intensity interval training, and boot camp classes in shallow or deep water. Because of the natural resistance of the water, a lot of these new and novel classes can be more challenging than their land-based counterparts.

“A unique advantage of exercising in water is that it offers resistance in all directions, compared to land exercises where you work only against gravity,” explains physical therapist Leena Uranwala, UCLA Department of Rehabilitation Services. “The viscosity of the water allows for increased resistance, which can be many times greater than moving through air. Think of how much more effort it would take for you to walk or run the length of the pool wading through waist-deep water versus out on the deck.”

Go for a Spin

Bicycles in the water? Yes. Bicycles underwater (and treadmills, too) have been used for some time in rehab centers for physical therapy. And now they’ve gone mainstream. Dubbed as aqua spinning, hydro rider, or hydro spinning, participants can expect some of the usual experiences that a spin class offers such as motivating instructor, rhythmic music, positions of riding that include standing, sitting, jumping and increasing and decreasing effort. Typically, participants are submerged at least to the waist. There’s no knob to turn to increase intensity, instead, riders simply move their legs faster or slower and the water supplies the added resistance. Arm work is added to many classes, which also requires coordination and balance, as does pedaling backward.


Create your own water workout class by combining stretches, fast movements, and positions that work your core and balance.

➢ Tread water

➢ Run in shallow water

➢ Do jumping jacks

➢ Work balance by standing or sitting on a foam pool noodle

Aqua Zumba

Yes, this “it’s-not-a-workout-it’s-a-party” fitness dance craze has a water version. Certified Aqua Zumba instructors are taught to teach with the same upbeat style of the land version. The dance fitness pool party features the signature Latin-inspired and world music beats, but because you can’t move as fast in the water, special choreography has been created for the new environment. Zumba on land can be tough on the joints, but the water enables you to jump to your heart’s content.

Gear Up for the Water

Props such as paddles, noodles, webbed gloves, and foam dumbbells intensify the resistance of the water. But you don’t have to buy them all.

“You can be creative and use flip flips for paddles, empty water bottles or arm floaties for resistance,” suggests Uranwala. “Even water shoes can add resistance, and they are beneficial to have if you will be doing any jumping, running, jogging, or impact activities in the shallow end.”

For a lot of people, music is a powerful motivator. Waterproof headphones and MP3 players have come of age. Look for headphones that offer multiple options for ear pieces. The added bonus is that the headphones act as ear plugs.

As for hair and chlorine, swim caps make a great addition and can help keep water out of your ears. There are many colorful cap options, and ladies’ retro caps (with flowers and designs) have become widely available. You can also protect your hair by wetting it pre-swim. Saturating hair follicles with fresh, clean water leaves less room for chlorine or saltwater to set in.

If you’re going to a lap-swim, fog-resistant, full UV protectant lenses will help protect your eyes and help you see better, too. They may cost a bit more, but there’s nothing like foggy, leaking lenses to ruin the experience.

Water Workouts Feel Wonderful

If you haven’t exercised in a while, a pool is great place to start. Ditto if you’re rehabbing from an injury. The buoyancy aids in mobility and range of motion. Warm water (86-88 degrees) helps reduce pain by relaxing tight muscles, reducing muscle spasms, and increasing blood flow.

The natural pressure of water also helps to reduce swelling and facilitates healing. “It is like a full-body compression garment that provides support, increases circulation, and proprioceptive awareness,” she explains. “Many of our patients immediately feel decreased pain, enhanced mood and a sense of well-being in the water.”

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