Water aquafit exercises are conducted in a swimming pool led by a certified instructor. The instructor guides the class through various aerobic movements done to rhythmic music in the water. Sometimes aerobic movements are performed with the use of resistive and buoyancy equipment. According to Len Kravitz, Ph.D., and J.J. Mayo, Ph.D., the “advantage of aquatic exercise is that it can involve the upper and lower extremities through optimal ranges of motion while minimizing joint stress.” As a result, it’s an ideal form of exercise for pregnant women, seniors, overweight individuals and those recovering from an injury or surgery or suffering from arthritis and other chronic illnesses.
Buoyancy refers to the upward force from water as it is exerted against your body. Because water is buoyant, it naturally cushions and works to massage your joints and muscles—especially your spine, knees and hips that are more prone to injury from high-impact exercises. In chest-deep water, approximately 90 percent of your body weight is buoyant, meaning you’re only bearing about 10 percent of your actual body weight. On land, your body works only against gravity, but because water is thicker than air, it provides resistance that can make exercising in water more challenging. In fact, the amount of resistance from water can range from four to 44 times that of air. Exercising in water also provides multidirectional resistance, because water is exerted equally on all sides of your body—similar to working out with weights or weight machines on land.
Many benefits are associated with water aquafit exercise. The buoyancy and resistance of water allows less-used muscles in your body to get a workout, which helps improve overall muscle tone. Other health benefits include weight loss, lower blood sugar levels and lower blood pressure. Aquafit classes also improve cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and coordination, and muscular strength and endurance. The massaging effect water has on the body makes aquafit exercising very soothing and therapeutic, and the cool temperature of the water prevents you from sweating while you workout.
One common misconception about water aerobics is it’s relegated for only the elderly, injured or chronically ill. However, water’s resistance forces your body to work harder than if you were exercising on land. On average, you can burn up to 750 calories in a one-hour aquafit session. Also, don’t be fooled by your heart rate. According to the American Council on Exercise, your heart rate in the water decreases by 17 beats per minute in comparison to exercising on land. Pay attention to how you feel. Just because you’re not breaking a sweat and your heart rate seems low doesn’t mean you're not getting a strenuous workout.
A full-cut one-piece bathing suit made from polyester rather than spandex stands up better to chlorine. You’ll also want to invest in a pair of goggles and aqua shoes for water running. Aqua shoes enable you to maintain traction on the bottom of the pool. Buoyancy equipment, such as flotation belts and kick boards, can be purchased to provide you with additional stability while exercising in water. Kick boards come in different shapes, sizes and textures. Some are made of foam, and others have a slick feeling to them. Choose one that is appropriate to your size and that you can grip properly while exercising. Resistive equipment, such as foam dumbbells, ankle weights, webbed gloves and swim fins, can also be purchased to help increase the intensity of your workout in the water.
Exercise at a level in the water that is waist to chest deep. If you’re in too deep (up to your neck), your body's buoyancy increases, making it more difficult to move effectively. Exercising in too shallow water lessens the level of buoyancy and puts more stress on your joints. Also keep your limbs loose and flexible. It's much easier to execute movements in the water with flexed limbs rather than straightened limbs. Aim for scissorlike movements during which your arms and legs move in opposite directions. This type of movement naturally creates more resistance, thereby increasing the intensity of your workout.