Get a Great Workout in the Water

Maybe you've got achy joints and muscle pain courtesy of too much time pounding the pavement or training for that upcoming triathlon. Or perhaps your workout routine is getting boring and you just want to switch things up. If the water is calling to you, dive in. Pool exercise is a terrific complement to high-impact cardio and something practically anyone can do.

Swimming is easy on the joints. Anyone involved in high-impact training can appreciate the buoyancy water offers, says Shirley Archer, a Florida-based fitness expert and former Fitness Instructor of the Year for the IDEA Health & Fitness Association. "This limits stress on joints and is particularly beneficial for older adults, people who are in post-rehab and recovering from injuries or surgeries, pregnant and postpartum women, people with a lot of weight, and athletes—like runners or soccer players—who are looking to add more training without additional wear and tear on the body," she says. "It's also excellent for people with arthritis and especially appealing to kids or teens who enjoy splashing around."

Swimming laps offer up a good cardio workout. Spending time in the lap lane definitely works your heart, but it isn't always easy to tell how hard you're working. That's because your heart rate is lower by as many as 17 beats a minute when you're in the pool. Plus, you won't notice any sweat so it's difficult to gauge how hard you're working. Treading water vigorously burns 11 calories per minute—the equivalent of running six miles in an hour! Since sweat can't be your guide, experts urge swimmers to pay close attention to how their bodies feel.

Water is great for resistance training. Say goodbye to the weight room and let the pool add definition to your muscles. When you lift weights, you're working against gravity. But since the water's buoyancy lifts things up, pushing downward against it works against the buoyancy. "Cross training in water adds a different resistance challenge to your muscle's movements and addresses muscle imbalances in a way no other workout can," says Archer.

Pools can be more flexible. Swimming is a year-round option and especially attractive during the humid months when running outside is extra tough. You can swim outdoors in hot weather or indoors during the winter. For improved flexibility, try your stretching exercises in—or under—the water. It's tougher than stretching on land thanks to the reduced effects of gravity.

One caveat before taking the plunge: If you never learned to swim, be sure there's a lifeguard on duty before entering the water, even if you're only planning to stay in the shallow end.

Shirley Archer reviewed this article.




Shirley Archer, IDEA spokesperson; ACE Fitness. "Make a Splash With Water Fitness."