In Water Workouts

When you think of aquatic fitness, do you picture a dozen women in shower caps armed with foam noodles? Or maybe an athlete relegated to jogging around in the pool to rehab a nagging injury? Sure, water exercises provide a low-to-no-impact workout for those who can’t tolerate pounding on their joints. But no matter how fit you are, working out in the water can be a fun, challenging, high-intensity way to rev up your conditioning, as well as keep your training routine from drowning in boredom.

These six water exercises will improve your strength and flexibility, boost your balance, and keep your heart rate in triple digits while also giving your joints a break from gravity.

Aerobic/anaerobic exercises designed to improve cardiovascular endurance and core strength. Wear a flotation belt and tether when performing these.

Deep-water running
Run in an upright position using the same good form you use on land, head and chest erect, shoulders relaxed, and eyes focused straight ahead. Lift your knee to 90 degrees and then push your foot straight down and back behind you. Don’t lean too far back or you’ll kick forward in a bicycling motion. And don’t lean too far forward into a dog paddle, either. Keep your elbows bent the entire time so you don’t punch forward into a straight arm, causing your shoulders to rotate. Keep your shoulders and hips square, one elbow pulling back and then the other.

Deep-water walking
Start in an upright position with no forward or backward lean. Begin an exaggerated walking motion, keeping both your arms and legs straight, with the opposite arm and leg working together. If your shoulders wobble, you’re using the same arm and leg together, so start over. Find opposition and begin again. Keep your knees straight as you swing your arms and legs forward and backward in a smooth, flowing motion.

Running/Walking Interval Workout
1. Warm up with two minutes of running, then two minutes of walking, moving comfortably while you focus on correct form.
2. Run for one minute at moderate speed, then for one minute at high speed.
3. Walk for one minute at moderate effort, and walk one minute at high-intensity effort (speed may not change).
4. Rest one minute with easy running, if needed.
5. Run 30 seconds moderate speed, 30 seconds faster, and then 30 seconds at an all-out sprint.
6. Walk 30 seconds easy effort (using this time as a stretch for the hamstrings), walk 30 seconds moderate effort, and then walk 30 seconds high-intensity effort.
7. Rest one minute with easy running, if needed. If not, repeat steps five and six.
Mix up 30-second intervals with one- and two-minute intervals as your fitness level demands.

Strengthens abdominals, hips, thighs, buttocks and legs. Wear a flotation for these exercises, but no tether required.

Wearing your flotation belt and facing away from the pool wall, stretch out your arms and rest them on the side of the pool. Your body will float outward slightly, away from the wall. Bend your knees and begin kicking as if peddling a bicycle. Do 50 to 100 rotations. Lift your feet and knees high out of the water on each kick to boost the intensity. To increase hamstring strength, focus on pulling your heels toward your butt with each cycle.

With your belt on and facing away from the pool wall, rest your arms on the side of the pool. Your legs will float slightly forward. Extend your legs wide to the sides pushing against the resistance of the water, then cross one leg over the other with a scissors motion. Continue opening and crossing your legs alternating the top legs. Keep your legs straight, with knees pointing upward, not outward. Do 20 to 50 repetitions. Push with equal force against the water when opening and closing your legs, equally strengthening both the hip abductors (hip muscle) and adductors (inner thigh muscle).

Strengthens hips, quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, arms and shoulders. Perform these in water shallow enough to stand in.

Step into a lunge with your right knee forward and bent and your left leg straight and behind you. Your left arm should be slightly bent and forward for counterbalance. Your front foot should be flat on the bottom of the pool, but only your toes should be touching the bottom on your rear foot. Jump up and switch arm and leg positions so that the left leg and right arm are forward. Keep jumping and switching until you’ve completed 20 to 40 lunges.

Frog jumps
Stand on the pool bottom with your arms out to your sides about chest level under the water. Jump off both feet and lift both knees toward your chest. Sweep your arms forward so your hands meet in front of your knees. Push your hands back to their starting position as your feet return to the pool bottom. Do 20 to 50 jumps.

Side Bar

What You’ll Need
Flotation belt
You’ll need to wear a flotation belt because running and walking in deep water without one cause extraneous stay-afloat  movements that wreak havoc on your form and make the exercises less effective. Find a belt appropriate for your height, weight, and body fat composition. The wrong size belt won’t hold you high enough in the water, and will press on your ribs and pelvis uncomfortably. If you have a short midsection, you may want a belt with a narrower front, like the Wet Sweat, AquaJogger or Wave. Leaner people tend to need higher buoyancy belts, such as Hydro-tone. Real sinkers usually athletes with dense muscles and little body fat, may have to wear a two-belt combo.

A tether holds you in place, providing stability and significantly improving your posture in deep-water running and walking. One end straps around your waist and the other attaches to a ladder, railing or a heavy chair at the side of the pool. Without a tether, you’ll find yourself leaning forward and racing toward the end of the pool. Held in place, you’ll be able to focus on your intensity and the correct positioning of your arms and legs as they push hard against the water.

Learn more about floatation belts and tethers by visiting or by calling (800) 909-0300.

Lynda Huey pioneered the use of water workouts for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team from 1983-1989. She owns and operates CompletePT Pool & Land Physical Therapy in Los Angeles and Van Nuys. For more information,

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