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Class Spotlight: Aquatic Exercise

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UW Health Sports Medicine Fitness Center offers aquatic exercises good for all fitness levelsHundreds of you participate in aquatic exercise classes here at the UW Health Sports Medicine Fitness Center. Many more of you independently come to our pools to swim or perform your own personal exercise. Our pool users understand many of the benefits of aquatic exercise and now include it in their fitness routine.


We know that water exercise isn't for everybody. But it is an excellent option for many people. We'd like to review the benefits of exercising in the water and hopefully keep you open-minded about aquatic exercise possibilities. We're convinced that exercising in the water can complement anybody's existing exercise program. Read on to understand why.


Aquatic Exercise Defined

First of all, what do we mean by "aquatic exercise"?


Of course swimming comes to mind. But swimming laps only one of the many fitness opportunities available in the pool. In addition to swimming, "aquatic exercise" includes a wide variety of aerobic, strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination exercises that take place in both shallow and deep water.


Benefits of Aquatic Exercise

There are many benefits to aquatic exercise, including:



Cooling Effects

As long as the water temperature is below the body's, thermal conduction will occur. This simply means heat travels from a warmer environment or surface (your skin) to a cooler one (the water). This is an incredibly efficient means of regulating temperature. Individuals who are very sensitive to heat or have an inadequate sweating response will benefit greatly from the cooling capacity of water.


Warming Effects

Muscles and other tissues of the body are generally more pliable when warmed up. This supports our recommendation to stretch after a warm up and/or at the end of your workout. Similarly, stretching in the Warm Water Pool can take advantage of the 'warmed up' muscle. Try performing some of your favorite stretches in the warm water pool. You'll be pleasantly surprised with your range of motion when you're in the warm water.



Depending upon the depth of the water and your body density, you will 'weigh' anywhere from 50-90 percent less than what you weigh on land. This buoyancy may allow you to perform some activities (movement patterns, etc.) that you couldn't on land. Hopping, jumping, single leg work, and various movement patterns are all examples of such activities. Of course, various floatation devices can be used to even further increase your buoyancy if desired. Floating or buoyant equipment can add exercise variety as well as influence the workout intensity.


Buoyancy in the deep water (sometimes aided by a properly fitted buoyancy belt) will allow the participant to maintain proper vertical alignment. With proper flotation belts, participants can focus their energy and efforts on full range of motion movements that utilize all the major muscles in all planes of movement. In addition, floating hand-held equipment (dumbbells, barbells, etc.) can also assist in this manner.


Reduced Impact

The buoyancy effect makes nearly every movement low (or no) impact. This allows participants to use weight-bearing joints (such as hips and knees) in a controlled and safer environment. Many individuals who are recovering from an injury or who have arthritis, fibromyalgia use the water to manage their condition.



Water provides a natural resistance to any object moving through it. You will notice this resistance simply by walking through the water. We all know that we cannot run through the water as fast as we can run on land - simply because of the resistance water applies to our moving body. This resistance, however, can be a very desirable strength training stimulus. With the appropriate aquatic exercise, almost every skeletal muscle in the body can be strengthed. The faster an object moves through the water, the greater the resistance the water applies to it. You will find this to be a very useful principle in maintaining the desired intensity while performing your strength movements.


The hydrostatic pressure that you may be working against during your exercise also will work for you by assisting your body in maintaining proper postural alignment. The water supports you from all sides helping you achieve correct posture and maintain it throughout your exercise movement.


Removes the Fear of Falling

For many, the nicest benefit of exercising in the water is the freedom to 'fall' or lose your balance safely. Due to the buoyancy and resistance factors stated previously, the water is a great environment to challenge yourself. Without the fear of falling, movement patterns and exercises not possible on the 'land' are now possible. Working 'at the edge' of losing your balance is possible because actually losing your balance results in little more than getting wet.


We hope that some of you may consider venturing into the water as another option in your exercise routine. The fitness center or aquatic staff is happy to discuss ways that you could get started. Check out our complete list of aquatic exercise classes


We hope to see you in the pool!