Updated 07 August 2015

Supercool water workouts

Don't feel like sweating it out in the gym? Use our variety of water workouts to help you get fitter, slim down, tone up and cool off. Take the plunge and reap the body benefits.


Get slim and strong with our guide to aqua-fitness.
Suzanne Schlosberg writes for Shape.

Don't feel like sweating it out in the gym? Use our variety of water workouts to help you get fitter, slim down, tone up and cool off. Take the plunge and reap the body benefits!

Why water workouts?
Aquatic exercise isn’t just a relief from the heat; it’s a respite from the stress on joints caused by many other kinds of workouts, such as running and kickboxing. The viscosity and weight of the water provide an impact-free way to intensify your workout for big benefits, says aquatic exercise researcher Mary Sanders.

  • They blast serious kilojoules. Running all-out in waist-deep water ranks as one of the most intense forms of exercise; doing short sprints, a 65-kg woman can burn an estimated 70kJ per minute — as much as running at a five-minute-per kilometre pace on land! Endurance-running in deep water with a buoyancy belt, feet off the bottom, can burn about 50kJ per minute, similar to a ten-minute-per-kilometre pace on land.
  • They buff you up. You can also use the pool to strengthen and tone your muscles, especially your all-important core (including the muscles of the entire torso), which is constantly being stimulated as you work against the water’s resistance. The balance and agility you gain will have you leaping above your opponents at beach-volleyball matches, aceing your game on the tennis court and more. “Think of the pool as a liquid weights room,” says Sanders.

Pool programmes
Regardless of the depth of the water, the tools you use or your specific fitness goals (from building endurance to losing weight), the key to noticeable results in the water is interval training (alternating bursts of intense activity with recovery periods).

Know your resting heart rate and work from there (to calculate yours, minus your age from 180). It is at this point that benefits begin to accrue.

“During the course of your exercise routine,” says swimming instructor Brian Button, “increase the intensity for short periods, of about 5 minutes, so that you move into an anaerobic phase (about 20—30 beats per minute above the aerobic threshold) and then return to a more moderate pace. You’ll feel a greater sense of wellbeing, and will improve your level of fitness.”

Here are five workouts that include intervals, and will do as much for your body as any exercise on terra firma.

Deep-water endurance running
Wearing a buoyancy belt, run barefoot for 20—45 mins in deep water (your feet shouldn’t touch the bottom). Pick up the pace for 2—3 mins, then slow down to a moderate pace for 2—3 mins to recover; repeat 5—10 times in total.

Remember that you’re running, rather than “bicycling” in the water. Keep your torso centred and posture tall, and mimic the heel-toe foot strike of running on land, even though you’re not actually touching the ground. If you want to pump up your programme with music, consider getting a waterproof MP3 player.

Cardio resistance
Get a cardio blast while toning your upper body muscles: wearing webbed gloves or using hand buoys/fitness barbells, as well as wearing water shoes for good grip, do resistance exercises such as biceps curls and lateral raises while jogging backwards in water that’s waist- to mid-chest-deep, while your feet touch the bottom. Do 2 sets of 12—15 reps, jogging for 10—15 secs between reps. Practise the strength moves and backward running separately, before combining them.

Shallow-water running
Run in water that’s waist- to mid-chest deep, slicing your hands through the water as if you’re running on land (but avoid making a swimming motion with your arms, which is not as effective). For a serious challenge, try this: run for 2 mins at a moderate intensity, rest for 30 secs (or do an easy jog to stay warm), then repeat to do 5 times in total. Next, run for 1 min at a high intensity, rest for 30 secs, and repeat for 8 times in total. Finally, repeat the 2-min moderate intensity intervals and 30-sec rest periods 5 more times. Wear cross trainers (dark soled running shoes will scuff up the pool) or water shoes.

Core training with stability ball
Let some air out of a small (30cm) stability ball and do a variety of balance exercises in water that’s mid-chest-deep. For instance, while jogging backward, submerge the ball deeply in front of you, then release it. Watch the ball pop up, then quickly catch it in the air.

Power –agility-cardio combo
Alternate “wall bounders” with shallow water running, while wearing water shoes in water that’s waist- to mid-chest-deep, so your feet feel grounded on the bottom and you have good traction for developing speed while running.

Stand 0,5m from the pool wall and run towards it. Then, in quick succession, kick up both feet and push off the wall so you move backward, fighting the currents you created as you ran. Do 5 reps, then turn around and run in a zigzag pattern toward the opposite wall of the pool. When you reach it, do another 5 wall bounders. Repeat the entire sequence as many times as you can, in 30 mins. For more intensity, add 2 lengths of straight-ahead running at the end of each sequence of 10 wall bounders/zigzag runs.

A total body workout
Swimming offers a different dimension to regular exercise. “Water is a fantastic medium in which to exercise, as there are not only gravitational forces working against the body in one direction, but also hydrostatic forces working in all directions,” says Brent Walsh, advanced aqua instructor and biokineticist at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).

Read more:
No time to work out?
The lazy girl’s guide to exercise
Feel like a pro

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