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

Updated on July 10, 2018
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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


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