The ultimate water workout

Exercise in the water to get all the benefits of a hard workout without any impact on your joints

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woman swimming

The benefits of a water workout

Exercising in water keeps you from overheating, and the water provides natural resistance so you get some excellent strength training. According to Charlene Kopansky, founder and president of the Canadian Aquafitness Leaders Alliance Inc., the bene­fits include zero impact on your joints and improved cardiovascular fitness, just to name a couple. “The multidirectional resistance of the water also helps to reduce post-workout soreness,” she says.

And it gets better: According to new research from the Montreal Heart Institute, water workouts are just as effective as land workouts, and “may even be more efficient from a cardio-respiratory standpoint,” says study author Mathieu Gayda, a clinical exercise physiologist. While the study involved use of an immersible ergocycle (basically an exercise bike in a pool), there are other ways to get active in water. We asked Kopansky to recommend some exercises. All are for deep water so you’ll need a buoyancy belt (Try: AquaJogger Women’s Fitness System buoyancy belt, $95).


During your workout, you can expect your heart rate to be 10 to 15 beats slower per minute than if you were doing a typical land workout. But this doesn’t mean you aren’t working hard, says Kopansky. It’s all gain and no pain.

After warming up for five to 15 minutes by swimming laps or treading water, try these moves to get fit in the water:

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water exercise ski


Start with straight legs and arms. With one arm reaching in front, and one arm reaching behind, alternate arms and legs from in front to behind you (as if you’re cross-country skiing).

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jogging water

Knee Lift

This move is similar to marching or jogging in the water. With right leg straight underneath you, bring your left leg up so your knee is parallel to your hip. Switch back and forth in a marching motion. With elbows bent, arms should move back and forth in opposition to your knee lift.

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Flamingo Swivel

Flamingo Swivel

With your body in a long, tall position, lift right leg up and place the foot against the inside of your left calf below the knee. With arms out front and elbows slightly bent, move your arms in a figure-eight motion (pretend you have a kayak paddle in your hands and are paddling side to side). After 30 seconds, switch feet.

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Begin with your body in a “T” shape: Arms straight out from the shoulder and legs squeezing together and pointing down. Switch so that your legs open into an upside down “V” shape, while simultaneously bringing your arms in front of your thighs and clapping your hands together. Repeat.

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hamstring curl

Hamstring Curl

Start with straight legs and arms by your side. As your left heel lifts towards you left gluteal (buttock), simultaneously lift your hands towards your armpits to form bicep curls. Switch, and as you straighten your left leg, bend the right leg and repeat arm movements.

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quad kick

Quad Kick

In a sitting position, start with a Hamstring Curl, and then kick the water forward with your shin. As you straighten your leg, straighten both arms behind your body.  Elbows should be bent when you lift your heel to your gluteal, and arms should straighten when the lower leg kicks forward. 

Cool down for three to five minutes and then stretch.

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