Maximize Time Efficiency with Water Workouts

How Water Workouts can be used to Maximize Time Efficiency

woman performing Water WorkoutsBy Rochelle Ramirez, Certified Water Instructor APA-I, NSCA-CPT


If there’s one thing everyone is looking for in a workout besides effectiveness, it’s a workout that is time efficient. When it comes to fitting our workouts into our busy lifestyles, we want to get right to it so we can move on to our other commitments especially during the busiest times in our lives, and when the holidays are upon us. This becomes even more important if you leave home to do your workouts. Well, there’s a way you can maximize your time efficiency, get a great full body workout that increases cardiovascular fitness, burns fat and calories, builds lean muscle (which keeps your metabolism high), builds muscular strength and endurance, and it’s something you might not have considered before.

Many fitness centers have a pool and are beginning to offer more water fitness classes. You’ve probably already heard that water workouts are great for taking most of the impact off of your joints and are a great way to get back into your workouts if you’re recovering from an injury. However, what you may not know is how extremely time efficient water workouts can be for everyone. This is because of the unique properties of water. In the pool we have resistance all around us; our every movement is resisted by water. With the right type of equipment, and with an instructor who knows how to get the most for you out of every movement, water workouts can be extremely effective and time efficient. Let me explain why this is so.

Water’s Unique Properties

There are several special properties of water that cause aqua workouts to train the body in a completely different way than land based workouts; buoyancy, resistance, and viscosity are a few. On land, our resistance is gravity pulling our movements downward. Buoyancy counters gravity; it’s the upward thrust of an object in the water. It’s the reason we feel so much lighter in water and why water workouts have less impact on joints. Because of buoyancy, there is no lowering effect or eccentric muscle lengthening, like what we feel on land in the downward motion of a squat or when we’re lowering a dumbbell. Creating some eccentric muscle contractions can only be done in the pool with specific types of equipment for certain muscle groups. All movements without equipment in water create only concentric, muscle shortening contractions.

Water = Resistance

Water causes our every move to be resisted equally in every direction in the pool.  Water resistance is difficult to work against because of viscosity, the thickness of water. Water has more viscosity than air, so more muscle strength is needed to move through water. The resistance is increased more when you move something with a larger surface area through the water, and create more of a drag effect. The harder we push or pull against it, the harder it seems to push and pull back. Because water resistance is all around us in the pool, the most efficient way to work the body in the water is to work opposing muscle groups, both sides of a joint with the same exercise movement. Instead of working the front and then the back of the body, particularly like we do on land,  getting both sides done with the same exercise will allow for more time efficiency so you can get your workout done and move on to other commitments.

Maximize Drag to Maximize Work

The type of equipment used has to be very specific to work the front and back of a joint at the same time. Though buoy type dumbbells, and water noodles, are a great option for other types of pool workouts, and can create some eccentric work, these types of equipment will not work the front and back of the body with the same exercise repetition. Only equipment that increases the drag resistance effect of water will allow you to get this time efficient workout done; these include aqua gloves and other “neutral” equipment that work like a paddle, and simply maximize the drag effect because of the viscosity or thickness of water. Also, workouts without equipment can work both front and back of a joint, and can create an effect similar to drag maximizing equipment.  The position of the palms as they move through water, making larger movements, arms and legs fully extended, and speed of movement can help get the most benefit from water resistance. The use of gloves and other neutral equipment just increases the surface area and drag resistance, making it more of a challenge for your muscles to overcome the resistance, and builds more muscular endurance.

Biceps / Triceps Example

Let’s say you want to focus on the biceps and the triceps in a maximum time efficient, full body, water workout. First, straighten your arms, keeping your upper arms tight and stationary to your sides and at their furthest point back. With palms facing forward, bend at the elbow joint bringing the palm, glove or neutral equipment only up to just below the surface of the water, while the upper arms remain tight at your sides. You’re working the biceps as you pull forward against the water. Next, still keeping the upper arms in tight by your sides and at their furthest point back, push your lower arms back until your arm is fully straightened again. You’re now working the triceps as you push your lower arm back against the water resistance in basically the same exercise. Add effective lower body movements along with this and other upper body exercises, always hold your core tight and your spine in neutral alignment, and you’ve got an extremely effective, time efficient workout that’s hard to beat!

Importance of Technique and Trainer

There are two very important points about aqua workouts, specifically those that focus on aqua strength training.  First, just like in a strength training workout on land, using correct form and technique is just as important in the pool to get the work done. Using proper form in every exercise will help to activate the targeted muscles, and will help you to get the most out of every movement. Second, land based exercises don’t transfer to effective water exercises. For example, squats just don’t work in the pool because there is no eccentric lowering motion in water due to the upward push of buoyancy. Strength training exercises will have a completely different effect on the body because of buoyancy, water resistance, and the use of different types of equipment, even if the joint actions are the same. Because of this, it is important to have a certified water instructor who is also a personal trainer, and understands how water’s special properties work on the body, how and why land based exercises must be adapted to the water environment, and also understands strength training, for the maximum effectiveness of every movement.

Final Thoughts

Water workouts are not only for lessening the impact on the joints, they can also be designed in a very time efficient way to build cardiovascular fitness, burn fat, and build lean muscle in a full body workout. Though there are all types of water workouts and equipment that can get you to your goals, the most effective and time efficient workouts make the most of water resistance, and work both sides of a joint with the same exercise. Adding effective lower body movements to make it a full body workout will maximize your caloric burn and help you get done in half the time! Challenging your body in different ways is a must in a thorough exercise program, so add an aqua workout to your training schedule that will give you both time efficiency and effectiveness.

See Also:

Cited Sources:

Aquatic Exercise Association:  2012 AKWA Research Reviews , Reviewed by Kimberly Huff: Effect of Resistance Exercise on Muscle Damage in Water and on Land. Pantoja D. Patricia, Alverton L. Cristine, Pilla Carmen, Vendrusculo P. Alescandra, Kruel F.M. Luiz, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(3): 1051-1054, 2009.

Holcomb, C., Jacobsmeyer, R., Hetherington, P., Hoppens, D. (2006). Aquatic & Fitness Professional      Association International Presents: Aquatic CORE Certification : Aquatic Professional with Distinction 3rd     ed. Longmont, CO: Aquatic & Fitness Professional Association – International, Inc.

Author Profile: Rochelle Ramirez

Author's WebsiteRochelle Ramirez is an enthusiastic personal trainer and wellness speaker. She holds personal trainer certifications from the NSCA and ACE, is a certified group instructor through AFAA, a certified Aqua Fitness instructor through APAI, and is a Battling Ropes Level 1 Coach.Rochelle’s specialty is in designing highly effective, low impact workouts that focus on the needs of Older Adults and Senior Population. She also holds a BA in Liberal Studies with a minor in English from Cal Poly Pomona, and graduated from CNI College with a certificate in Personal Training / Exercise Science.Rochelle’s philosophy is simple; she believes that the human body is the greatest work of art, and that it’s our responsibility to move it correctly and feed it healthfully for a lifetime.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.
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