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Aquatics Exercise- You Don’t Have to be a Swimmer to Workout in the Water

Updated on July 10, 2018
rmcrayne profile image

Rose Mary has been an Occupational Therapist since 1987. She has treated children and adults with a wide array of conditions.

The less and less young you get, the more and more you need to consider exercising in the water. You can get a good aerobic workout in a swimming pool, without pounding or stressing the hips, knees, ankles or spine. You don’t have to know how to swim to get a workout.

Aqua Aerobics Class
Aqua Aerobics Class | Source

Arthritis Foundation Aquatics Class

I’ve taught classes three times a week in a heated pool for clients with arthritis. We performed head to toe range of motion exercises together as a group. The water minimized the effects of gravity, allowing a weightless type of environment. Clients could get greater range of motion, such as at the hips, even if those muscles were very weak. Most clients would come a little early, or stay after, and walk laps in the pool for their cardio conditioning.

Demo for Hip and Knee Exercises for Arthritis

Example of Aqua Aerobics Leg Moves

I’ve attended “aqua aerobics” classes at the YMCA and on (my military) base. Most classes utilized very little equipment, meaning the majority of the workout is just you and the water. We did moves like jogging in place, cross country skiing (alternating arm and opposite leg forward), slalom skiing (both feet together, jumping side to side (this one is a little more stressful on the knees), side stepping, and walking forward and back. If you’ve never tried aquatics exercise, you may be surprised at how you can get your heart rate up, and without the sweating.

Aqua Aerobics Class

Ideally, participants would be chest deep in the water. You would position yourself within the group according to your height, or comfort level in the water. Some arm movements are more ideal when the arms are mostly under water, like butterflies. This can easily be accomplished by adjusting your stance, such as bending more at the knees, crouching slightly, or spreading feet apart.

Hand Held Paddles

Some classes utilize a variety of hand held tools, made especially for providing resistance against the water. Many are like foam dumbbells, or small paddles. While these may be good for arm toning, they also help get the heart rate up.

Many movements with hand held resistance tools also require a lot of abdominal strength and core stabilization in order to keep from popping up out of the water. Movements may be like a butterfly movement, curls, or push downs.

Foam Dumbbells

My friend Cindy and me in my clinic's heated pool
My friend Cindy and me in my clinic's heated pool

You can use swim noodles or kick boards to give you extra buoyancy to “swim” laps as an alternative to the structured class format. I prefer the swim jog belt, and big movements of my arms and legs like a breast stroke. I also like to do a “bicycle” movement or jogging in the deep end.

I find that if I do straight leg kicks, my knees get achy. I’m not a strong or experienced swimmer. If I don’t use the belt, I have to work a little harder, which also tends to give me knee pain. I also like the belt because my face and eyes are really sensitive to the chlorine.

Aqua Jogging

Most “heated” pools are heated so that it is possible to use them year round. They don't feel "deliciously warm", as that would be too warm for most lap swimmers. Warm pools are harder to come by, and are usually at rehabilitation facilities. In the San Antonio area, one of the Warm Springs Rehab facilities had a warm pool for use for therapy. People from the community could sign up for a program to use the pool for exercise at mid-day four days a week.

News Spot on Therapeutic Use of Water

© 2010 rmcrayne


Submit a Comment
  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    Lyria I don't think I've seen the webbed gloves. Sounds interesting.

    THanks for your insightful comments brethodge.

  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    Thanks everyone for taking the time to read and comment. I’m so sorry I am so late in acknowledging your comments. I was really consumed by the Healthy Hubs contest.

    Thanks Sandy.

    Jen I so hope you’ll be back in the pool in no time. Although you can overwork your muscles and be sore, I think you’re less at risk to get overheated and overexerted in the pool.

    Paradise it is much more fun, and relaxing too! I really miss access to the pool at work since I retired.

  • brethodge profile image


    11 years ago from USA

    Hugely enjoyable hub!!!!

    I love the water sports at its peak. Water aerobics is enormously useful exercise. In this case our all the parts of body gets involved and we are hugely benefited. As mentioned in the article the water minimizes the effects of gravity, allowing a weightless type of environment. This provides tremendous joy and relaxation. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful peace of text

  • Lyria profile image


    11 years ago

    Water aerobics is so much fun. I have some webbed gloves that I use to work out in the pool. Thanks for the videos, good ideas.

  • Paradise7 profile image


    11 years ago from Upstate New York

    This looks like a LOT more fun than dry-land work outs, doesn't it?

  • Jen's Solitude profile image

    Jen's Solitude 

    11 years ago from Delaware

    I love exercising in the pool. The MS causes me to tilt to one side which is weird to experience and watch, but at least with the proper aides I can avoid that and concentrate on exercises. I am most hopeful that I will be able to get back in the pool in the near future.

    Great info and videos, thanks!

  • Sandyspider profile image

    Sandy Mertens 

    11 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

    Another great hub.

  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    KCC, my brother and I took a class at the YMCA for a while, but enjoyed our time with our swim noodles doing laps and yapping after class. Don't let the class scheduel limit you!

  • rmcrayne profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from San Antonio Texas

    Thanks for the visit Pamela and pretty. I was very fortunate at my last OT position before I retired from the Air Force. Our PT/OT department had a heated pool, and multiple class offerings for our clients.

  • prettydarkhorse profile image


    11 years ago from US

    I love love love water RM, I grew up in an island hehe,but I love the last video -- workout for people who cant exercise == very helful! Maita

  • KCC Big Country profile image


    11 years ago from Central Texas

    I tried this once on a guest membership when my aunt was attending a class. It was fantastic. You're really making me want to try it again. We joined the local YMCA in January and they have a heated pool that offers the classes. Now, it's just finding one to fit my schedule. Thanks for the nudge. :)

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    11 years ago from Sunny Florida

    Swimming is a great way to exercise. This is a great hub for those that have physical limitations. Great hub.


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