My Ultimate Guide To Aqua Aerobics
This is a fun post to write (all 4,000 words of it) – sharing with all my readers about my wonderful experiences with aqua aerobics. I’ve already written several posts on aqua aerobics here and here, but I wanted to create an ultimate guide to encompass everything I have learned.
I first discovered water workouts several years ago, when I injured my knee on the running trail. One of the guys in my running group suggested that I try aqua aerobics while I let my knee heal. Anyone who knows me will appreciate that the first thing I did was research the topic. I found out amazing things about the water and exercise.
What is aqua aerobics? The key to water workouts is the aerobic component – it’s doing an exercise in the water that raises the heart rate, and works the muscles. I like to think of aqua aerobics as my gym in the water. I can do almost any exercise I would on land, and with some definite advantages. It’s better for the heart, has a lightness that makes working out fun, and it’s just a really positive experience. As long as you’re in the water, and you are moving, it’s a good aqua aerobics exercise.
Here are the sections of this guide, each with a link to its location in the post:
The Health Benefits of Water
Beneficial for the heart. Just being in the water has advantages for the heart. I read that when you’re in the water, the resting heart rate will be about 10 beats per minute slower, and the maximum rate will be 10 to 30 beats per minute slower. While it’s not clearly understood why that happens, it is thought to be related to the lower temperature of the water, and lower gravity in the water. But the result is phenomenal – the heart can pump oxygen to your system, while not having to work as hard. That’s a pretty significant benefit. A vigorous workout that works the heart less – I’ll take that any day.
Diminishes risk of heart disease. I read in an article that over a million people a year die from heart disease, and that really got my attention. The article also said that heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in America. That is a pretty harsh statement, but the facts back it up. Many heart disease problems are caused by the buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries – which restricts blood flow. When a blood clot gets trapped in the clogged arteries, it can cause a heart attack or a stroke. Working out in the water both builds the heart muscle, and does it with less effort on the heart, which makes it an excellent workout choice.
The Advantages of Working Out in the Water
The blessing of buoyancy. I remember how much fun it was to float around in the pool when I was a kid. That’s because of the buoyancy of the water. The body only has to support a fraction of its weight in the water, which translates to a lightness that makes water workouts easy on the body. When I do lunges in the gym, it just hurts sometimes – my knee creaks when my foot lands, and it is hard on my leg. When I did lunges in a water aerobics class, I could immediately feel the difference. I got the same exercise effect, but the landing of my foot was so gentle I was astonished. I do my lunges in the water now whenever I can.
Factor in resistance. When I was first trying out water exercise, I didn’t pay much attention to the element of resistance. It takes more effort to push yourself through the water, because it is a dense substance, which creates resistance against your effort. Since I was a runner, I tried aqua jogging early on, as a cross training element for my workout routines. I just went to the community pool when the lap lanes were open, and started moving briskly up and down one in a good jogging posture. I thought since I was running regularly, I could go a long way. Then resistance started having an effect – it was work to force myself up and down the lane, more work than I had anticipated. I had to lower my expectations for the distance I could go. I started to appreciate resistance.
Low impact is wonderful. The running trail is high impact – and it had taken a toll on my legs, my knees in particular. When I tried aqua aerobics to give my knees a break, the low impact component was heavenly. I could get in a long water workout and walk away from the gym with my knees feeling fine. I have heard runners who were injured say that they let their injury heal by working out in the water, and came back to the trail with no loss of conditioning. What they had when they returned was a new appreciation for low impact workouts. To be easy on the joints – knees especially – aqua aerobics provides a perfect solution.
Getting Started With Water Workouts
So how do you get started with aqua aerobics? If you haven’t exercised in a while, first check with your doctor, to make sure exercise is alright for you, and how much. The typical suggestion is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five or more days a week. If you’re just starting out, set that as a goal to strive for, not something you have to accomplish the first week. For a beginner, two to three days a week of exercise in the water for 15 to 30 minutes would be great. Be moderate in your expectations. If you’ve already been exercising for a while, but this is your first experience in the water, just continue at the level of your land workouts, and stop when you are tired.
Don’t overdo it when you begin. A while back I ran into my friend Becky at the grocery store. She was walking like an old woman, and looked in real pain. I asked her what was going on. She groaned and said she had tried a Crossfit class. They had her try a number of exercises she wasn’t ready for, and she injured herself. I’ve seen that happen a lot – people who start a new workout routine, overextend themselves, get injured. They usually don’t go back to that workout, or get discouraged and stop trying. When I first got into aqua aerobics I had to remind myself to take it easy at first – I was using muscles in ways that might not be the same as when I was running. Working out in the water is a gentle form of exercise, but you can overdo it just like you would in a kick boxing class, so start out slow.
What Do You Want To Do in the Water?
What do you want from aqua aerobics? Just like with anything else, you have to decide what you want to accomplish. When I first went to a water workout class, the instructor asked me “What do you want to get out of aqua aerobics?” I just stood there looking at her with a puzzled look on my face. She laughed and said “There are a lot of choices for water workouts, so it really depends on what you want to do.” I told her I was there to give my knees a break from the running trail, and she nodded. But she had brought up an essential question – what was I there for? Having that in mind, I can better tailor my workouts. As you’ll see in a moment, it’s a good question because there are so many things you can do in the water.
What is a group water class like? When I go to the gym, one of the things I’m not too fond of is the isolation. It’s like everyone is in their own little world. To speak to someone, they usually have to pull off their earphones. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a water workout class is a whole different experience. I think it’s because being in the water is just so much fun, but everyone was laughing and joking before class, and that continued as the workout began. The class would roll their eyes and laugh when the instructor called out a particular exercise, and they were great about explaining the exercises for me. It didn’t take me long to adjust from the isolating effect of the gym, and start laughing and enjoying myself. I learned how to properly do a lot of different exercises in the water. The hour passed quickly, and by the end, I knew I had gotten in a solid workout.
Give different choices a try. If I go to a new restaurant with an unfamiliar cuisine, try one thing and don’t like it, I haven’t given that type of food a fair shake. It’s the same with aqua aerobics. There are plenty of options for class or individual exercise, so it’s a great idea to try different kinds of workouts, until you find one that works for you. In my case, I have found a lot of ways to work out in the water, and I like them all, depending on my mood on a particular day. That’s why aqua aerobics is so appealing to me – there are a lot of options available. See below for more details on the different classes and types of water workouts.
Different Types of Water Aerobics
Water workouts have come a long way in recent years – there are a lot of choices. Here’s a representative sampling:
- Aqua walking. This is a simple exercise, and very pleasant. Just go to the community pool when the lap lanes are open, and begin walking up and down a lane with your normal walking motion. Particularly during the summer, when it is too hot to exercise outside, this can be a pleasant and refreshing alternative. You will perspire in the water, but not realize it as clearly as on land, so be sure to put a water bottle at the end of the lane, and stay well hydrated. If you want to pick up the pace, just accelerate your motion into aqua jogging.
- Zumba. On land – no way I was going to try those sexy hip swinging moves. I watched the class one night at the gym, and it was just something I wasn’t ready to try. Then I realized – in the water, most of my body is underwater. So I went to an aqua Zumba class, and it was so much fun! We got in a great cardio workout, I followed the teacher as best I could with all those fancy moves, and really enjoyed myself. If you’re ready for a vigorous workout which includes some spice – try Zumba.
- Kick boxing. I had done kick boxing classes at my gym, and loved them. It’s like a fast paced boxing workout, only with kicks added in. So I thought I’d be ready for doing this in the water. Once again, I learned a new appreciation for the element of resistance. In the water, to punch or kick, you really have to push your arm or leg through the water. It made for a very satisfying and demanding workout.
- Aqua Yoga. Some days vigorous is not what I need – I could use some calm down. That’s when I go to an aqua yoga class. I did all the same moves as a yoga class on land would provide, but in the soothing and calming atmosphere of the water. The slow, graceful stretch poses were particularly helpful – being a runner for years has left me with tight hamstrings, so anything that will help me loosen up is great.
- Tai Chi. I love this exercise. Tai chi is based on an old Chinese martial art, and the moves have elements of boxing and fighting, but done at a gentle and very slow pace. The point is to get the move right, not to do it super fast. So teachers take a lot of time to make sure you move correctly. In the water, it’s like flowing through a graceful ballet in slow motion, and is very soothing. For a day when I really need to relax – aqua tai chi is my choice.
- Aerobic dance class. This is a fun one. An instructor blends dance moves and exercise components into a choreographed routine. Some styles they use are ballet, jazz, disco, country line dances, hip-hop and salsa. What could be better than dancing while you work out, all while in the comfortable setting of the pool?
- Weight work. For a good weight workout in the water, just take water weights and do exercises similar to those you would do on land. A good bicep curl with the element of water resistance added is like doing the exercise on land with twice the weight. I went to a class to figure out how to do all the weight moves I wanted, and I felt a burn as good as I did with weights in the gym.
- Aqua cycling. If you are like me, right now you’re saying “Aqua cycling? What?” I just read about this one, but I haven’t seen it yet. Apparently they have developed spin bicycles that they can lower into the water, and have a spin class just like on land. I can’t wait to tell my sister – she loves spinning. To be able to get in an hour on a cycle, while in the water, sounds like a solid workout.
The Enjoyable Element of Aqua Aerobics
Water workouts are so much fun! This is one of the biggest pluses for me about water workouts – it’s just fun being in the water. I mentioned how much fun the people had in a water aerobics class. They did that while getting in a very substantial workout. It’s fun to try things that might be harder on land. I did a yoga balance in one class, standing on one leg, with my other leg propped against my knee. I felt very balanced, and held the pose for a long time. But there was a lot of giggling and laughing in the group as first one and then the other of us lost our balance. No one was laughing at – we were all laughing with. It built a sense of community that I never felt in the gym, and everyone was very supportive and pleasant. It was just an enjoyable experience.
An enjoyable workout means you keep doing it. Let’s face it, if my workout is not a fun experience – there’s a good chance I won’t continue with it. That’s probably why so many New Year’s resolutions are left by the side of the road. Like my friend Becky, who tried Crossfit, had a bad experience, and hurt herself, if someone gets a negative feeling about a workout, they won’t keep doing it. The water is very forgiving in that way. Because of the low impact element, it is very gentle on the body, and that lessens the risk of injury. For me, a big part of water workouts is the soothing feeling I get from just being in the water. Think of this – grunting and grinding in the weight room, or doing a substantial but gentle workout in the water – which sounds more enjoyable? I’ll keep coming back to the water exercises because I have such a positive feeling about them.
A Well Rounded Set of Water Exercises – Arms, Legs, Core and Cardio
There are a lot of different exercises you can do in the water. This is just a representative set that are some of my favorites, and which give me a well rounded workout. There are some choices – in case one doesn’t appeal, try another.
The spiderman exercise. This exercise is great for my legs, arms and shoulders. Why spiderman, you say? Because you get to climb the walls, and not over the kids. It’s also the only one I’ve ever gotten my kids to do with me. They love it too, and we all have a fun time doing it together at our family pool. Here’s what I do – I stand in chest deep water next to the side of the pool. I begin to tread water with my arms and legs, and walk my legs up the side of the pool and back down. Each time, I alternate the leg I start with. I do 10 to 15 repetitions, and that makes up a set. I take a short break, then do 2 more sets. It’s just so much fun!
Lunges are always great for the legs. I love doing lunges in the water. In waist deep water, I start out standing upright, then step out with one foot, making sure I land on the bottom with my knee at a 90 degree angle. The other leg will straighten out behind me. I return to the starting position, then repeat with the opposite leg. That’s one repetition. I do 10 reps to make one set, and then rest a bit. I usually do 3 sets, but see how many work for you. I love the way my knees don’t creak while I’m doing this exercise – the low impact of water is really my friend with this exercise.
Do the plank in the water. This is a wonderful core exercise. Almost every group gym exercise class I’ve been in has included the plank – it’s a standard. You get in a pushup position, then sink down to elbows and forearms. While you keep the back straight, you just hold that position for as long as possible. In the water – no, you don’t sink down to the bottom and try to hold your breath while you balance on your elbows. What a funny visual! Instead, I use a thing called a foam noodle – it’s a sturdy tube of foam about 3 feet long. In chest deep water, I put my hands on it about shoulder width apart. I let myself sink into the water, and yes, my head stays out of the water. I keep my back straight, and hold the pose for as long as possible. For better burn, I do it in shallower water.
Pool crunches. I take a towel, and fold it over lengthwise along the side of the pool. I make sure the water is about chest deep. I face the pool, stretch my arms out along the towel, with my legs dangling in the water. Then I begin to pull my legs up to my chest and lower them back down. For more of a core burn, I will keep my legs straight and bring them up to waist level. I try for at least 10 to 15 repetitions per set, and then after a break, do 2 more sets.
Tread water for cardio. I usually try to include a lot of cardio in my workouts. One time I mentioned that to the trainer at a water workout class. She suggested I not think about treading water. I looked at her funny, because I hadn’t done that since swim lessons when I was a kid. I went to the deep end, and just began to tread water. I quickly felt my arms and legs, and my breathing picked up. I was surprised – after all, I was just treading water. I kept it up as long as I could, and when I got out, my legs were a little rubbery, and my arms felt like I had just been doing pushups. The trainer just smiled and nodded.
Punching water. When I need to bleed off a little stress – like when the kids won’t clean their rooms – I punch water. I get in the pool in water that’s about neck deep. I stand with my legs about shoulder width apart, legs bent just a little, so I have a firm base. Then I begin a short punching motion, left, right, left, right. I try to go for around 30 seconds, then rest – this punching exercise will tire me out quickly. After about 3 sets, I’m breathing hard, but it sure feels like I’ve let go of some stress. I won’t tell you who I pretend to punch, but it helps to focus on someone you find irritating.
Water bicep curls. Get some small water weights – 3 to 5 pounds will be plenty. Now go to your back yard pool, get in chest deep water, and begin to do curls just like you would at the gym. Keep your arms tucked against your side, so the effort falls on your biceps. Raise your arms from waist level up against your chest, then return to the original position. Try for 10 curls per set, and 3 sets. Feel the extra work the water provides while you’re pulling those weights up.
Vigorous, Stress Reducing and Motivating!
For all ages and fitness levels. I’ve mentioned water aerobics to a couple of people, who said they’ve seen the classes – the groups of seniors in the water waving their arms and laughing. Yes, some classes are like that, but the water can offer so much more, and can be for people of all ages. I know young guys who are training for marathons, who use aqua jogging as part of their cross training. Long distance runners who get injured regularly use water workouts as they get back in shape. A long session of aqua jogging provides an intense cardio workout, while giving sore muscles and joints a break from the running trail. The water can provide exercise that will leave you very clear that you’ve gotten in a good workout.
Excellent as a stress reducer. Our bodies are made up of 60 percent water, so being in the water just feels natural and good to us. Maybe that’s why we had so much fun in the water as kids – it just felt right. In the water while I work out, there’s a soothing element from the sound of the water, there is a rhythm to the exercise, and as all of that happens, it’s providing a solid workout that just feels good. If I go to the pool stressed, after I exercise in the water, I have trouble remembering what was causing all the stress at work.
Get motivated with your workouts! I’ve talked to a lot of people who say, “You know, I’m just burned out on my workout routine. I just do the same thing every time I go to the gym, and it’s getting old.” I’ve suggested water workouts to a couple of people who actually tried it, and I couldn’t believe the energy they had for exercise the next time I saw them. They were enthusiastic, had found a water workout that suited them (whether it was tai chi or kick boxing, it doesn’t really matter), and they were motivated again. When I began doing aqua aerobics, I felt renewed and excited about exercise. Several times I have gone back to the workout class where I started – just to visit with the people and enjoy the positive energy. If I’m energized, I’ll keep doing it, and aqua aerobics has brought back that motivation.
It won’t work if you don’t do it. We all hear the people who say “yes, I’ll get started on an exercise program – next week.” We know what typically happens. Nothing. I’ve shared a lot of great information, and it may have inspired you to start aqua aerobics. But if you’re sitting in your living room reading this on a tablet, that’s not getting you in the water. Make the commitment today to start. You don’t have to begin with a huge workout – like I’ve said, just be moderate, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your goals will change and expand.
When someone asks me about aqua aerobics, my typical answer is “Just try it once – I think you’ll see why I love it so much!”
About the Author
Kaitlin Gardner currently lives in Pennsylvania and is married to her best friend. In her spare time, she loves to go hiking , hand with her family and friend and enjoy nature.