It’s wonderful to get into the water to do a workout - less pressure on your joints, ease of motion, and a great way to build strength and improve circulation - but aqua aerobics classes aren’t for everyone. The music can be off-putting, so can all the other people splashing around you and a class lacks the serenity of exercising on your own.
But worry not, because you can do a great aqua aerobics workout on your own, you just need to know which moves work your muscles. We do recommend, however, that you write down these moves with waterproof pen (most permanent markers are but pencil is also good) on a small plastic card or similar, so you can review as you go through the moves.
Before you start, though, remember that a pool-based workout is not only for beginners or people who aren’t able to do a strenuous gym workout – how far you push yourself depends on how far you want to push yourself, the same as when working out at the gym or park.
Compared to air, water is obviously a lot denser and so every move you make requires more energy and strength. Be aware of this when you’re doing your first few aqua aerobics exercises.
For this, you will ‘power walk’ from one side of the pool to the other (where you can stand). Move your arms as though you’re holding some walking or ski poles and using them to propel yourself forward, and use your legs as though you’re trying to walk at speed. You’ll feel like you’re running in slow motion – that’s the water slowing you down.
But don’t be fooled - as you’re moving in slow motion, all your muscles are working even harder making this a great cardio workout without risk of injury on your joints.
Do two minutes at a comfortable speed, then three minutes as fast as you can, then another two minutes at comfortable speed. Repeat this three times during your entire workout, doing some of the other moves, below, in between. That way, you won’t get overly tired and will be able to give it your all each time.
To prevent backache and enjoy a slimmer more toned midriff, you need to target your core muscles, those in your abdomen and lower back. You can do this with some in-water crunches, or a version of them.
For this your body is held straight in the water, so you can either stand, hold on to the bar on the side of the pool or, if you’re strong enough, use your arms as you would when treading water to keep yourself afloat. Move your legs forward, then bring your knees to your chest. Now extend your legs out to the sides, then bring your knees back to your chest. Repeat this 10-12 times (one set), doing each set three times.
Arms, core and legs
To work those upper arms as well as your buttocks and your abdominal muscles, you need to do a water-based version of a sideways kick. So in water where you can stand but your upper body is underwater, kick your right leg out to the side as high as you can comfortably (don’t aim too high at first as this can strain a muscle) and at the same time, punch with your right arm through the water; repeat the same on the left side. Alternate with two kicks and two punches on one side, then the other.
Do 12 repetitions (so completing six of one punch and kick, then two punches and kicks and so on), doing each set three times.
Related: Your home muscle-strengthening programme
Arm or leg strength
Swimming is a good way to increase strength but when swimming normally it’s easy to rely on your legs if they’re strong and your arms and shoulder muscles miss out on growing stronger. Similarly if your arms are particularly strong you may not be using your legs fully. So for this part you’ll either put a pool noodle in between your legs (or some other flotation device) and only use your arms, or hold a noodle and only use your legs.
Legs: With your arms hooked over your noodle, kick your legs as though doing front crawl and complete one length of the pool. This will give you a good aerobic workout. Take a break. Now complete one length of the pool doing breaststroke legs rather than front crawl. This will give your leg muscles a good workout. If you can’t do a length, swim the width of the pool instead. And if a length doesn’t push you hard enough, simply do two instead.
Arms: With the noodle tucked between your legs or held between your knees, use your arms to keep your head out of the water and yourself moving forward. This is a lot harder than swimming without your arms, so start by aiming for the width of the pool. When you can do that confidently, try a length. This is a wonderful workout for your upper arms and shoulders.
Make it harder
If you want to up the ante on your aqua aerobics workout you can add weights in the form of water dumb-bells. You can also time yourself swimming lengths with just your arms and legs, and continually try to improve on your time.
Related: Swimming for fitness