If you have never tried them before, you may be surprised at how effective and enjoyable water-based workouts are. Such workouts are gaining popularity as more people realize the intrinsic benefits of exercising in water. Water significantly decreases pressure on bones, joints and soft tissues by reducing the effects of gravity. Water‘s viscosity also creates natural resistance, which can be intensified with the use of dumbbells or paddles. In fact, IDEA Health and Fitness Association refers to the pool as “a liquid athletic training ground”. The American Council on Exercise states that water exercises are one of the best low impact programs.
Deep Water Aerobics
The Mayo Clinic reports that a 160-pound person burns an average of 400 calories per hour participating in water aerobics, which is more than cycling, walking and low impact aerobics. Water aerobics burns almost as many calories as hiking, and with an indoor pool, may be enjoyed year round, regardless of the weather. Deep water exercise programs with submersion to neck level eliminate 90 percent of your body weight; this is the only place you can lose that much weight, even if just for an hour!
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Running in the water provides an efficient cardiovascular workout. Using dumbbells while running increases its cardiovascular component, and it provides additional strength gains for the upper body and lower body. You can run in any depth of water with your feet on the floor or run with a flotation device in deep water. Jumping jacks and jumping “rope” with a pool noodle are other options for cardio training in the water.
Upper Body Exercises
Land-based exercises for the upper body can easily be recreated in water with dumbbells. Biceps curls, lateral raises, rowing and chest flys look the same in the water. Paddling, as if swimming or rowing a boat, offers another effective exercise as does mimicking arm pumps while running with your dumbbells in hand.
Lower Body Exercises
Squats, lunges, calf raises and any body-weight exercises translate well to the aquatic environment, and they use the same body mechanics and positioning. You can also perform exercises with dumbbells between your ankles for added resistance. To focus on your quads, rest your back against the pool wall with your hips and knees flexed to 90 degrees. Place a dumbbell between your ankles. Straighten and bend your knees. To increase focus on your hamstrings, face the wall of the pool. Use a flotation belt or place your arms on the pool wall to support you. With a dumbbell between your ankles, bend your knees without moving your thighs away from the wall. Return to starting position and repeat.
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The goal behind increasing strength and endurance is to do it safely. It is important to listen to your body to help you devise the most effective program. Eight to ten repetitions is common for weight training, but you should be working your muscles to fatigue. If you complete ten repetitions and your muscles do not feel tired, you need to increase resistance or repetitions to get maximum benefit. Remember to stay hydrated. Bring a plastic or stainless steel water bottle with you and leave it within reach if possible.
Mary Tolley Rhodes has been a practicing physical therapist since 2000, working in various settings across the southeastern United States. She serves as the chairwoman of the West Virginia Physical Therapy Association's Education Committee. Rhodes holds a master's degree in physical therapy from West Virginia University.