There is a general misconception that water aerobics is suitable for only pregnant women and the elderly. But, in reality, water aerobics, or water exercise as I am more inclined to call it, done right, can prove to be a very intense workout for all ages, both genders and all fitness levels. In fact, this mode of exercise provides not just intensity, but many other important physical fitness benefits. Some of which are shared with the more traditional land based fitness outcomes and some of which are in a class of their own.
Not long ago, I invited eight friends, all fire fighters from the local fire station, to take my deep-water boot camp class. I told them I was convinced this would be one of the more challenging workouts they’ve experienced. Of course, they laughed. They teased about coming with flowered swim caps and wearing a floatation belt. I assured them that the swim caps were not necessary and that each of them would be grateful they were wearing floatation.
My friends arrived on a sunny afternoon. I fit them each in a black foam floatation belt, turned on some music at 128 BPM and started the warm-up. The class was 50 minutes long, 40 of which encouraged cardiovascular intensity.
By the end, my friends were no longer laughing at this mode of exercise and they were all grateful for the floatation. A few groaned as they exited the pool and others made comments like, “Wow, I had no idea.” And, “That was way more intense than I thought it would be.”
Here are six physical fitness benefits my firefighter friends experienced by participating in Water Exercise:
- Increased Heart Rate
It is well understood that during exercise of any sort the heart rate increases. The heart is a muscle that needs exercise and it responds to a workout by increasing the number of contractions or beats it performs each minute. As the number of contractions increase, the heart, working in conjunction with the lungs, pumps a greater volume of oxygenated blood throughout the body to service the exercising muscles. The more consistently the heart exercises, the more efficient it becomes. Efficiency of the heart is measured by the number of beats per minute when it is at rest.
Water exercise, when performed with a strong intensity, by incorporating intensity elements such travel, inertia, acceleration, and long levers, can effectively elevate a participant’s heart rate, improve their heart rate response and give them an accomplished feeling of exercising hard.
The American Council of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends adults get a minimum of 150 minutes moderately-intense exercise per week for sustained health. It is important to note that as the participant builds consistent exercise into his or her routine and enjoys improved fitness, the amount of time spent and the intensity level can and should be increased.
- Improved Muscle Strength
Water is fluid. It is in constant motion. When a participant gets in the pool, the water moves in multiple directions simultaneously and presses against the body. Water is also dense. It is denser then air by a long shot and much more difficult to maneuver through. The physical properties of water make exercising in the water a unique experience. These water elements help to create a challenging fitness and strength workout.
Inertia is just one of those physical properties. It is a constant element in water-based exercises that must continually be overcome. Three ways inertia works to improve muscle strength in a water workout are:
- Total body inertia, or the energy it takes to start and stop movement. The further submerged the body is, the more energy and strength it takes to change directions and movements.
- Water inertia, or the constant resistance and continual movement of the water as the participant exercises. When the body changes direction for example, the participant must use strength to overcome the opposing forces of the moving water.
- Limb inertia, or the effort it takes to move the arms and legs through the water. Every time there is a push or pull, a flexion or extension, a lift or a drop of any lever in any plane, inertia and muscle strength plays a roll.
Creating a water exercise workout and keeping inertia as the guiding force is a powerful way to enhance muscle strength in the body and give the muscles a bolstering workout.
- Increased Endurance
Endurance is a natural byproduct of exercising in the water. Water continually presses against the submerged surface area of the body. It surrounds the participant during the entire exercise routine making resistance three-dimensional, 360-degrees, and constant. Every move made requires exerting effort to shift against the waters opposition. Depending on the velocity of movement, the force exerted, and the surface area presented, the amount of resistance obtained and the endurance required adjusts and adds to the challenge of the workout.
A more traditional land workout with weights, requires the body to push and pull against mass plus gravity to gain strength and endurance. Whereas water exercise provides a more natural resistance requiring the body movements to wrestle through the water rather than against it. These movements generate an environment of overall physical endurance.
Providing a water exercise program with a resistance focus at its core will naturally increase the participants endurance.
- Increased Flexibility
There is little argument that water exercise enhances flexibility. The waters supportive buoyant properties facilitate improved range of motion in the joints and range of movement overall with less stress. It allows the body to move through the kinetic chain and hold some positions that cannot be easily duplicated on land.
Because water is so naturally supportive, flexibility can be incorporated into a water workout instantaneously, during all ranges of intensity, simply by incorporating movement in various directions while adjusting to the push and pull of the water.
If flexibility is the primary desired outcome, warm water offers additional advantages. Warmer water promotes relaxation which decreases muscle spasms and tightness. It is important to note however, that water is a better heat conductor than air. If the water is warm, exercise intensity needs to be adjusted appropriately.
- Lower Impact
The low impact benefit of water-based exercise is most likely where water aerobics got the tainted reputation of being exercise for only pregnant women and the elderly. Although it is true that water is an ideal environment for those two populations, do not forget that boot camp, in the deep water, with eight firefighters, was an enormous challenge to their fitness levels. And deep water has arguably no impact at all!
The intrinsic properties of water make it an ideal environment for aerobic exercises without forceful impact to the joints. Consider the jolting action of running on land to the knees and hips. This action is greatly reduced when running in the water. Buoyancy and density work in unison to buffer the impact and create an ideal environment for fitness, cross training or injury recovery.
Exercise intensity can always be increased by adding inertia, acceleration, or action and reaction to the movements. Don’t be fooled, water-based exercises, even with their low impact value, can be challenging to the most fit populations.
- Caloric Expenditure
Exercise burns calories. We all know that. How many calories during which type of exercise always seems to come up in discussion. Caloric expenditure is simple and complicated. It is simple in that it is always happening. The body burns calories when asleep and awake. All the time. It is complicated because it is biology and there are a lot of factors at play. The number of calories burned at any given time depends on things like the weight of the individual, their metabolism, their activity level, and the FITT principle. FITT is a measure of exercise. The acronym stands for, Frequency of exercise, Intensity of exercise, Type of exercise, and the amount of Time spent on the exercise.
Incorporating water-based exercises into the caloric expenditure equation is a good idea. Water adds elements to a workout that can assist in burning calories. For greater accuracy however, understanding and using the FITT acronym when discussing calorie burn and developing exercise programs can more correctly match caloric expenditure goals with fitness and activity levels.
There are also numerous online calculators, apps, fitness devices to wear, etc., available to assist with the multiple considerations involved in tracking caloric expenditure.
Water exercise is a great all-over workout and brings many more benefits then listed here. It is a mode of fitness that all populations can participate in. Some no doubt experience water-based exercises as therapeutic, calming, and healing. Some are elderly. Some are pregnant. And some do wear a flowered swim cap.
My firefighter friends however, on that beautiful sunny afternoon, had a fun, dynamic, intense, cross-training experience that challenged their fitness levels and added all these benefits and more to their physical wellness. They left the pool with a refined understanding of how exercise in water can be intense enough and simultaneously kind enough, to the body, to make it a regular part of any fitness routine.
Karen Creasey is a Speaker, Author, Personal Trainer and Aquatic Training Specialist. She is passionate about motivating, inspiring and educating people to improve their health, wellness and overall life performance. Karen is the cheerleader everyone needs! Find her on www.karencreasey.com