01/10/2012 08:33 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2012

How to Work Out in Water

Water, like air, is made up of molecules floating around. But in water, these molecules are closely packed together and form a more dense environment, which makes it pretty tough to swing your arms and legs through, especially when compared to air. 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.

For this reason, water workouts are a wonderful way to give your body a fitness boost and burn calories with very low joint impact. Not only are water workouts good if you struggle with obesity, arthritis or sprained or strained muscles, but they're also a great way for a fit individual to introduce some variety into an exercise routine.

What You Need For a Water Workout

If you've ever tried to swim in a pair of baggy surf shorts, an oversized t-shirt or a very small piece of fabric designed for sunbathing, then you're already aware that body parts can pop out or rub in uncomfortable ways.

To avoid any embarrassment or unpleasantness, wear the right 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, sport a one-piece suit designed for aquatic fitness.

And what about actual gear? Most indoor pools offer free access to floating kickboards and pull buoys, but there are other pieces of gear you may want for water workouts, including:

Aquatic Shoes: These shoes are specially designed with fins and fabric for increasing the resistance of the water against your foot, which allows you to burn more calories and makes it more comfortable and less slippery to run across the bottom of a pool.

Fins and Paddles: Fins increase the surface area of your foot, making it harder to kick against the water, while paddles increase the surface area of your hands, making it harder to push your hand against the water. This means more calorie-burning and strength-building for your arms and legs.

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. That's why I load up my underwater MP3 player with techno tunes or rock n' roll.

Now that you're outfitted with your gear, here are some water workout options:

Water Aerobics

If your local gym or health club has a pool, they likely offer a water aerobics class. This type of class is typically done 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 jumping, hopping, lifting and doing dancing activities very similar to a non-water aerobics class.

It's important to 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.


If you need to learn how to swim, I highly recommend you take swim lessons, or check out these websites for learning how to swim properly: Goswim.TV has great videos and offers articles and instruction for all levels.

When possible, try to use a combination of swimming styles, like freestyle, breastroke or backstroke, since this will help you burn the most calories and have the biggest fitness response. You can easily print your swim workout and bring it with you to the pool in a Ziploc bag, so you can read it while in the water.

Aqua Jogging

Aqua jogging is very similar to running on dry land, 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
  • wearing aquatics shoes

Begin running by vigorously swinging your arms and legs while leaning slightly forward. But 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.

Sample Water Workout

  • Swim three laps (a lap is down to the end of the pool and back), using whichever stroke you'd like (freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly or doggy paddle).
  • Aqua jog one 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.
  • Get out of the pool and do 10 body weight squats.
  • Finish by swimming three more laps.

That's one round! For this workout, aim for three to five rounds.

Finally, remember that water workouts may leave your skin dry and chlorinated, so be sure to rinse well and use a chlorine-removing shampoo or body wash when you finish, followed by a good moisturizing lotion.

Now what are you waiting for? Go hop in the pool!

For more by Ben Greenfield, click here.

For more on fitness, click here.

Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His book, "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body - A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape," will be published by St. Martin's Press in May 2012.

Flickr photo by Hector Alejandro