by Ben Greenfield
On a warm, summer day, water is nice for taking a cool dip with your inflatable alligator, hopping in a boat for a spin around the lake, or floating down a lazy river with a raft and a cooler full of your choice beverage.
But water is also a great tool for fitness and for giving your body a fabulous calorie burn with very low joint impact. In this article, you’re going to learn why water fitness works, how to exercise in the water, the crucial water exercise equipment you needs, and my favorite high-calorie burning water exercise routines.
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Why Water Exercise Works
Water, like air, is made up of a bunch of random molecules floating around. It just so happens that in water, these molecules are more closely packed together and form a more dense environment--an environment that makes it pretty tough to swing your arms and legs around, especially when compared to air.
In exercise, we like to sound smart by breaking exercise into three types of movement: isotonic, isometric and isokinetic.
Isotonic: In an isotonic exercise, you move your muscles at varying speeds, such as during a biceps curl.
Isometric: In an isometric exercise, your muscles don’t move, such as when you push against a car that just won’t budge no matter how hard you try.
Isokinetic: And in an isokinetic exercise, your muscles move at a constant speed. In an isokinetic exercise, no matter how hard you work, whichever force you’re pushing against pushes back against you just as hard.
When you move in water, you’re exercising isokinetically--if you try to swing your arms and legs quickly, the water pushes back, and you can only move your body at a controlled, constant speed.
Because of these isokinetic properties, it’s tough for you to move spastically and get out of control when exercising in the water, so there is less impact on your body. Because your appendages aren’t moving as fast, your joints don’t have to work as hard to slow your arms and legs down, so water exercise is easier on the joints. This is especially advantageous if you need a good workout, but struggle with obesity, arthritis, or a sprained or strained muscle.
What Do You Need to Exercise in the Water?
Water is a wonderful way to exercise without joint impact.
If you’ve ever attempted to go for a swim in a pair of baggy surf shorts, an oversized t-shirt with loose-fitting bottoms, or a very small piece of fabric designed for sunbathing, then you’re already aware that body parts can pop out and rub in uncomfortable ways--all of which can lead to embarrassment or unpleasantness while water exercising. So here is your quick and dirty tip for water exercise clothing: if you’re a guy, and a speedo just isn’t your thing, try wearing a jammer, which looks like bicycle shorts for the water. If you’re a girl, choose a one-piece suit designed for aquatic fitness.
Most indoor pools with offer free access to floating kickboards and pull buoys, but there are other pieces of equipment you should consider when preparing for water exercise:
Aquatic Shoes: These shoes are specially designed with fins and fabric for increasing the resistance of the water against your foot, burning more calories, and making it more comfortable to run across the bottom of a shallow pool.
Fins and paddles: Fins increase the surface area of your foot, making it harder to kick against the water, whereas paddles increase the surface area of your hands, making it harder to pull your hand against the water. Both options mean more calorie-burning and strength-building for your arms and legs if you’re swimming.
Flotation Belt: If you’re taking a water aerobics class, a belt will probably be provided. But you can also use these belts for aqua jogging, or for doing water aerobics by yourself. If you don’t have a flotation belt for these activities, you will resemble a flailing clown in the water, and may scare small children.
Underwater mp3 Player: Though an mp3 player may seem like an unnecessary luxury, if you spend more than 30 minutes staring at white pool tiles or a blank wall, you may find yourself far less motivated to water exercise. Trust me, there aren’t any plasma screen TV’s at the bottom of the pool.
Quick and dirty tips for water exercise equipment: Choose a mesh bag or backpack to carry your water exercise gear so that you can keep it all in one place. When you finish exercising, put your equipment in the bathtub to dry--and to keep those nasty earwigs from infesting your belongings!
Types of Water Workouts
At your local gym or health club, you will likely be able to find a water aerobics class. In this type of class, you typically stand in waist-deep water, and you don’t need to know how to swim to participate. Special foam dumbbells and ankle devices can be used to offer more resistance to the arms and legs, and you will find yourself engaged in jumping, hopping, lifting, and dancing activities very similar to a dry aerobics class.
Quick and dirty water aerobics class tip: Remember that the water will only push against you as hard as you push against it, so if you move slowly and lightly in water aerobics, you won’t burn many calories or see good results.
In addition to water aerobics, swimming and aqua jogging are two very good forms of low-impact, high-calorie burning exercises.
Learn How to Swim
Because your comfort while swimming is highly dependent on an elementary knowledge of how to swim properly, I highly recommended you take swim lessons, or use a resource like the Internet to see swim videos and drills if you want to exercise in the water. Two of my favorite websites for learning how to swim properly are Goswim.TV, which has great videos, and SwimSmooth.com, which offers articles and instruction for all levels.
Quick and dirty swimming tip: Print out your swim workout and bring it with you to the pool in a large Ziploc bag, so you can read it while in the water.
Aqua jogging is very similar to running out of the water, but without the joint impact. You’ll find aqua jogging to be most effective when you are
in water that is too deep to touch bottom;
wearing a flotation belt; and
wearing aquatics shoes.
Begin running by vigorously swinging your arms and legs while leaning slightly forward.
Quick and dirty aqua jogging tip: You don’t just have to run--you can also do high knees drills, heel to butt kicks and Frankenstein style walking with straight arms and legs.
A Sample Water Exercise Routine
Finally, I know I promised to give you my favorite high calorie-burning water exercise routine, so here it is (a lap is down to the end of the pool and back).
Swim 3 laps, using whichever stroke you’d like (freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly, or doggy paddle).
Aqua jog 1 lap, running as fast as you can with good form.
Get out of the pool and do 10 pushups
Get back in the pool and aqua jog another lap.
Finish by swimming 3 more laps.
That’s 1 round! Go for 3-5 rounds.
Once you’re done with your water exercise routine, give yourself a pat on the back and, if you haven’t managed to drink your fair share of the pool, re-hydrate. Water is certainly a wonderful way to exercise without joint impact, and if you want to know more about how to take care of your joints, and why you might be getting joint pain, then check out the House Call Doctor ‘s article on What Is Osteoarthritis?and Nutrition Diva’s article Do Glucosamine Supplements Work?