The Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) is a nonprofit organization committed to the advancement of aquatic fitness, health and wellness worldwide.
Aquatic Fitness is defined as activities performed in the water that promote and enhance physical and mental fitness. Aquatic Fitness is typically performed in a vertical position in shallow and/or deep water. There are numerous applications to appeal to a wide variety of participants. How is water exercise different than land-based programs? The following provides a quick summary of aquatic fitness benefits.
In the water your body is buoyant and the impact to the joints during exercise is significantly less than on land. Depending upon the water depth, your body “weight” is reduced in the pool due to lessened gravitational forces.
- A body immersed to the neck bears approximately 10% of its body weight.
- A body immersed to the chest bears approximately 25-35% of its body weight.
- A body immersed to the waist bears approximately 50% of its body weight.
A properly designed program in the water provides a highly effective workout in a safe and gentle environment due to the principle of buoyancy. Shallow water programs are generally best performed in water that is about mid-chest depth for maximum comfort, control of movement and optimum toning benefits for the upper body.
Muscles must work against resistance to become developed and toned. Water provides substantially more resistance than air, because water is more viscous than air, making each movement in the pool more challenging to the muscles. Also, muscles typically work in pairs; i.e. biceps & triceps or quadriceps & hamstrings. When you move your body, or your limbs, through the water you are always encountering resistance. This helps to provide a more balanced workout as opposing muscles are involved, unlike on land where you typically need to reposition the body, or select a separate exercise, to provide adequate stimulation to both muscles of the pair. NOTE: If you incorporate weighted, buoyant or rubberized equipment, these muscle actions will change and it once again becomes necessary to target both muscles of a pair with separate exercises!
Water will cool the body more efficiently than air, so when exercising in the water the body is able to eliminate excess heat more effectively. This is not to say that you will not sweat during a workout in the pool, but water helps prevent overheating and washes away the perspiration as you exercise. Because of this cooling factor, make sure to begin every workout with a “thermal warm up” designed to elevate the body’s core temperature, warm the muscles and prepare the joints for the increased workload to come. Even at the recommended temperature of 83-86 degrees Fahrenheit (28-30 degrees Celsius), a proper warm up is necessary to prevent injury and provide comfort. NOTE: Special populations and specialty training may require deviations from this recommended range.
Heart rate responses differ when exercising in the water than when exercising on land. Typically, aquatic exercisers experience a reduced heart rates response (i.e. lowered pulse rate), but the water should not be considered less effective. Studies have shown that oxygen consumption (the true measure of the cardiovascular benefits) is comparable to a similar program on land, although the heart rate response is lower. Several factors, some of which have been previously mentioned, influence the exercising heart rate when submerged in the water to mid-chest:
- Lessened gravity allows a more efficient return of blood to the heart from the extremities.
- The cooling affect of water reduces the workload on the heart. (One function of the heart is to keep the body cool during sustained exercise.)
- Hydrostatic pressure, the pressure that the water exerts on the body while submerged, assists in blood flow and improves the exchange of oxygen into the blood.
How does water exercise compare to land exercise in regards to calorie burning? As on land, there are several variables that affect caloric consumption during vertical water exercise. Variables include:
- Water depth in which the person is exercising.
- Speed of movement through the water.
- Amount of force applied (how “hard” you work) to movements.
- Length of the person’s limbs.
- Environmental factors such as water temperature, air temperature, humidity, etc.
On land, weight bearing is a primary factor for increasing calorie consumption, but in the water it appears that using the water’s resistance is more of a factor. Based upon the finding of a study that compared energy expenditure (calories burned) for upper and lower body exercises performed in the water and out of the water (Cassedy 1992), one can estimate that combining upper and lower body movements in the pool would expend somewhere between 400 and 500 calories in a one hour class. This is comparable to running or walking at 10-11 minutes per mile.
Don’t forget the fun factor. The water offers many opportunities for functional training and fitness gains all with an element of fun. Join your friends at the pool for a safe, effective and enjoyable workout!