The 20-Minute Water Workout

If you're thinking about increasing your physical activity, but want to take it easy on your joints, a water exercise program might be just what you're looking for.

“Water exercises allow everyone from highly toned, competitive athletes to seniors with debilitating arthritis to have a meaningful and enjoyable aerobic, full-body workout,” says fitness trainer and certified arthritis instructor Linda Lavalle.

“The natural resistance and buoyancy of water evens the playing field, which means everyone benefits,” she says.

The advantages of regular water workouts over land-based exercise include:

  • Less impact on joints, muscles and bones because of the water’s natural buoyancy
  • Cardiovascular fitness, balance and range of motion
  • Soothed pain, especially in pools that are heated between 82 to 88 degrees
  • Ability to exercise for longer periods of time

More Than Just Laps

Athletes who want to improve their stamina, train for an event or recover from injuries should do more in water than swim laps, Ms. Lavalle says.

“Water jogging is particularly good for runners because the repeated impact of running on a hard surface puts a strain on the ankles, knees, hips and back," she says. "There is no muscle or joint soreness after a water workout.”

Along with greater freedom of movement, water exercises are easy to perform.

“Depending on a person's physical and ability levels, I can adapt any exercise, like jumping jacks, to meet their needs and not cause pain or muscle strain,” Lavalle says. “Once my class enters the pool, we do a simple jogging-in-place exercise to get ready for a workout that might also include noodles, buoys, kickboards and paddles.”

Within just a few weeks, Lavalle says she’s seen people improve their agility, range of motion, mobility and balance.

“Even if you lose your balance while exercising in the pool, you’ll splash gently into liquid, rather than falling to the floor,” she says.

3 Water Exercises

To get started, Lavalle recommends trying these simple water exercises.

  1. Jumping jacks --  With legs together, arms to side, throw legs and arms wide, allowing feet to turn out, then bring them back together. The advanced version is done suspended in water, wearing a flotation device.
  2. Cross-country skiing --Starting with feet on the bottom of the pool and water shoulder high, alternate arms and legs as if cross-country skiing (right arm out and left leg out, then switch). Repeat and extend arms far behind body and in front of body for the maximum workout. Perform for up to 10 minutes.
  3. Poolside raises -- Standing in water, place palms flat on pool edge or grab gutter. Do a little hop and raise yourself up as high as you can by straightening arms. Hold position for a few seconds. Lean front of body against pool wall, grasping edge for support. Raise legs so they’re parallel to pool bottom, then spread legs as wide as possible.

For more advanced exercises, she recommends online sites, such as IDEA.com’s "H2O Bootcamp."

Linda Lavalle is a certified arthritis instructor and ISSA certified fitness trainer at the Fitness Center at University Hospitals Avon Health Center. You can request an appointment with Lavalle or any University Hospitals health care provider online.

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