Water Training: More Than Swimming “Upstream” for Fitness
by Diane Voyatzis Norwood, MS, RD, CDE
If you think of swimming only as a leisure activity, then you are sorely mistaken. Water training has become a legitimate form of cross training for many people, from those who just want to be fit to serious athletes.
You can do more than swim in a pool. Water training may 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 aerobics, tennis, or line dancing. 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:
Benefits of Water Exercise
There are many physical benefits that also apply to working out in the water, including:
There are also social benefits of water training, especially if you 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
Other Creative Water Exercises
Adjusting Workout Intensity
Because water offers so much resistance, increasing 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:
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
So, whether you think you’re able to dive right in or would rather ease into the water, talk with your doctor about whether water training is right for you.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
United States Water Fitness Association, Inc.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
Information regarding water exercise. United States Water Fitness Association, Inc. website. Available at:
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Accessed January 21, 2016.
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.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/6/2014
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