Walking into many local pools, you may be greeted by an unusual sight: heads bobbing in the water, close together, maybe conversing. One head will be speaking at a slightly higher volume. That head belongs to the instructor of an aquatic exercise class.
Aquatic exercise does not involve swimming, and is not just for people with conditions that prevent them from doing other kinds of exercise, (although aquatic exercise is beneficial for people with a wide variety of physical conditions that limit other options). Everyone can work hard, improve his or her cardiovascular fitness, and become stronger with aquatic exercise, regardless of level of fitness or experience.
It provides many unique benefits without carrying the risks of many other kinds of exercise.
You can go at your own pace, and it’s easy to jump in without any knowledge or experience with group fitness or swimming. If you have stayed away from group fitness classes in the past because you’ve had a hard time following along or keeping up the pace, this is the class for you. Many instructors give participants a basic movement or set of movements to work with, and then let them go at their own paces for a minute or even more. Even in more structured classes, if you lose your place, it is very easy to keep moving on your own and jump back into the routine when you’re ready. The movements are simple and easy to learn.
Working in the water, you can get just as effective a cardiovascular workout without raising your heart rate to the same number as on land. It’s a different feeling, but it is just as challenging to your body. Sometimes participants report not feeling like they’re working hard during the class. Later on, though, they’ll experience the same level of fatigue as any other workout.
There is little to no impact. In shallow water classes, your feet are touching the floor. There is still some impact to your body, but it is minimized by the water, in which your body is buoyant. Impact is what can damage your body over time in other land exercises that include running, jumping, or any other movement where at least one foot leaves the floor temporarily. In deep water classes, you work with the support of a flotation device. There is no floor to make contact with, so there is no impact at all. Imagine getting all of the benefits of running or cardio boxing without any of the risk to your bones, joints, or ligaments!
The buoyancy of the water forces your muscles to work the opposite way they do on land.
Your body wants to float; it’s harder to push down than up. The water is always providing multidirectional resistance, and many muscles are engaged in each movement. This makes aquatic exercise very efficient. You’re using more muscles than on land to complete simple movements, and you’re using them in different ways than you can on land. Every movement, for instance, works your core muscles, even a bicep curl. This results in excellent cross training for your muscles, and also in great muscle definition.
The environment of the water provides many people with an overall sense of fun and well being. Immersion in water also takes away that hot, sweaty feeling that comes with land exercise.
So let’s review: go at your own pace, get an effective cardio workout, little to no impact, efficient strength training, fun…it’s time to suit up!
For Further Reading: Adami, Mimi Rodriguez. Aqua Exercise. NY: DK Publishing, 2002.
At the time of this writing, Heidi Stevenson was a certified group fitness instructor, teaching yoga, Pilates, and aquatics for the HPER Department and Recreational Sports program at Northern Michigan University. She taught a wide variety of group fitness classes in Michigan and Pennsylvania over the prior 13 years.
Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2009. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.