Water aerobics is a type of fitness program that’s done in the water. As you work through a series of exercises your heart rate is elevated, giving you a cardio workout without putting stress on the joints and muscles. Water aerobics is typically done in water that is waist to chest high, with the water acting as resistance so that you’re also doing some strength training.
The concept of water aerobics was first heard of in the early 1900s, when Dr. Charles Lowman used water therapy to treat patients with cerebral palsy. Water aerobics were again used in 1950 by Jack Lalanne, an American fitness and nutrition expert who believed that working out in the water could build muscles without harming the joints. Despite its early introduction to physical therapists it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that water aerobics started to become popular.1
At first water aerobics were aimed towards people who were recovering from injuries and surgery as well as for the elderly. These days, as we’ve learned more about the benefits of working out in the water, people of all ages and fitness levels are doing water aerobics to get in shape and stay fit. 2
In this article we’ll take a closer look at what water aerobics exercises are, the benefits, and whether you need water aerobic shoes or other equipment.
Water Aerobics Exercises
Water aerobics workouts are low-impact that focus on cardio and strength training, helping to build up your fitness endurance. Whether you’re taking a beginner, intermediate, or advanced class, most classes are one hour in length. This accounts for a warmup, cardio and strength training exercises, followed by a cool down.
Working out in water is just as intense as in the gym due to the resistance of the water. Depending on your fitness level it’s easy to increase the intensity of workouts so that you challenge and use muscles that are harder for you to work out on land. You’ll also be able move with a wider range of motion in the water, which can help to improve your flexibility.
When you take a water aerobic class, you’ll be led through an aerobic routine by the instructor. The routine will vary, but here are some common water aerobic exercises:
1. Flutter kicks – Flutter kicks are a good cardio exercise that are low-impact so they’re gentle on your joints. Using a kickboard, hold the board in front of you. Flutter kick with your legs to move you forward from one end of the pool and back again. Continue for up to 10 minutes or until you feel too tired to continue. You can perform flutter kicks without a kickboard. Floating in the water, hold onto the side of the pool and kick, keeping up a steady rhythm so that you elevate your heart rate without tiring out too quickly.
2. Leg lifts – Leg lifts work the muscles in your legs, using the resistance of the water for strength training. They also help to improve your balance and strengthen your core. Hold onto the side of the pool for balance if you need to. Lift one leg out to the side and slowly back down again. Repeat for 10 to 20 reps, or until your legs start to feel tired. Repeat on the other side.
3. Aqua jogging – Jogging in the water is a good low-impact cardio exercise. The exercise gets your heart rate up and is easy to modify depending on your fitness level. Jog through the water from one end of the pool to the other. Or slow down to a walk if you’re at a lower fitness level. Continue jogging for up to 10 minutes until you’re too tired to continue.
4. Arm curls with weights – Use water weights for this exercise for added resistance. Arm curls work the muscles in your arms, giving you a good strength training exercise. Hold the water weights out in front of you with your palms facing up. Curl the weight up in a bicep curl and slowly back down again. Continue for 10 to 20 reps until tired.
5. Push-ups – Water push-ups work your shoulders, chest, and arms without a lot of pressure on your joints. Stand at the side of the pool, holding on to the edge with your hands a little wider than shoulder width. Slowly bend your arms at the elbows and lower down to the edge. Then push up again. Repeat slowly until your arms are tired.
Do I Need Water Aerobic Shoes?
While not a necessity, consider purchasing water aerobic shoes to make your workout easier. They provide better traction on the pool floor to prevent slipping. Water shoes can also keep your feet safe from scrapes and blisters that come from the repeated pushing of your feet against the floor of the pool. Water shoes can also provide a bit of drag as you move your legs through the water, providing more strength training.
Look for water shoes that have foam padding for comfort, rubber soles for good traction on the pool floor, and good ventilation so they drain and dry quickly. Inexpensive water shoes come in one size – invest in a good pair that comes in your exact shoe size for a proper fit. You can buy water aerobic shoes in sporting good stores, some departments stores, or online.
Common Water Aerobics Equipment
You don’t need any equipment to do water aerobics, however there are some pieces of equipment and weights that can make your workout more intense and challenging. Many beginner classes only use the kickboard, with intermediate and advanced classes adding intensity by using additional equipment. Here are some items to consider for your water workout:
• Bathing suit – You can wear any type of bathing suit into the pool, but some suits offer more functionality than others. Look for a bathing suit that’s going to be comfortable as you get in and out of the pool. You’ll want one that stays in place and doesn’t expose any parts of your body as you move through the water. Tankinis, racing swimsuits, and swim jammers are good options.
• Water noodle – Water noodles are flexible and lightweight. You can use water noodles for water jogging or to hold onto for flutter kicks when you don’t have a kickboard.
• Kickboard – Use the kickboard for flutter kicks as you move from one end of the pool to the other.
• Aqua dumbbells – Made from plastic and foam, water dumbbells can add to your strength training exercises in the water as you work out your arms and shoulders. They can also up the cardio aspect of water workouts.
• Weight cuffs – A weighted cuff around your wrists or ankles adds a bit more resistance and challenge to your water workout. If you have joint problems in your knees you can choose to wear the weights on your arms only.
• Water gloves – Water gloves help add more resistance as you move your arms through the water. This can help to strengthen your arms and shoulders.
• Water jogging belts – Jogging belts are made of foam that fit around your waist. They help you stay buoyant when you’re jogging or performing water exercises.
Benefits of Water Aerobics
There are a number of benefits to working out in the water. Here are the top benefits of water aerobics:
• Builds endurance
Your body is building up endurance as it uses the natural resistance of water to work against rather than using weights in the gym. As your body moves and pushes through the water, it builds up endurance.
• Strength training
Water resistance is greater than air resistance on land. This means that your muscles get a good workout from multiple directions. Research shows that water aerobics helps participants gain flexibility, agility, and strength. This can be particularly helpful for people who benefit from gentle strength training, such as the elderly or people who are recovering from an injury. 2,3
• Improve flexibility
Water aerobics requires that your body move in different directions as it adjusts to the resistance of the water. This can help to increase the range of motion in your joints.
• Improve and maintain cardiorespiratory fitness
Studies show that working out in water is an effective alternative to high-impact land exercises for improving and maintaining your cardio fitness. 4
• Eases joint pressure
For people suffering from joint problems such as arthritis and osteoarthritis water aerobics may help to reduce pressure on the joints, allowing for reduction in pain. 5
• Reduce stress, anxiety, and lower blood pressure
Water aerobics can help to reduce your stress and anxiety. Studies show that working out in water may also help to lower blood pressure. 6
Calories Burned during Water Aerobics
If you’re looking for a fitness program that’s easy on your joints while giving you a good workout, water aerobics is a good option. Water aerobics uses a combination of cardio and strength training exercises while using water for resistance. This means that your body is getting a full workout that is similar to cardio and strength training on land but without the high-impact of many of these workouts.
The number of calories you burn during an aerobic workout will vary depending on a few factors such as your weight and the intensity of your workout as well as what you eat and if you take any supplements (pre workouts, testosterone boosters, etc.) On average you can expect to burn between 200 to 450 calories. Working out in the water for an hour doing low-impact exercises is equivalent to about 30 minutes on the treadmill.
- 1Technique of Underwater Gymnastics: A Study in Practical Application.1937;109(15):1226. Retrieved online at doi:10.1001/jama.1937.02780410064036
- 2Neiva, HP. & Fail, LB. (2018).The effect of 12 weeks of water-aerobics on health status and physical fitness. PLos One. 13(5): e0198319. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5978883/
- 3Leiros-Rodriguez, R. & Soto-Rodriguez, A. (2018). Comparisons of the Health Benefits of Strength Training, Aqua-Fitness, and Aerobic Exercise for the Elderly. Rehabil Res Pract. 2018: 5230971. Retrieved on February 11, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6029484/
- 4Nikolai, AL. & Novotny, BA. (2009). Cardiovascular and metabolic responses to water aerobics exercise in middle-age and older adults. J Phys Act Health. 6(3): 333-8. Retrieved on February 11, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19564662
- 5Lu, M. & Su, Y. (2015). Effectiveness of aquatic exercise for treatment of knee osteoarthritis: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Z Rheumatol. 74(6): 543-52. Retrieved on February 11, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25691109
- 6Farahani, AV. & Mansournia, MA. (2010). The Effects of a 10-Week Water Aerobic Exercise on the Resting Blood Pressure in Patients with Essential Hypertension. Asian J Sports Med. 1(3): 159-167. Retrieved on February 11, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289176/