Chiropractor Chandler AZ

Water Exercise

Water exercise is a joint-sparing way to get a full-body workout, be it swimming, deep water running or water aerobics classes. Whether you aspire to be a water polo player, competitive swimmer or simply are looking for a fun way to get in shape, there’s a water exercise program perfect for you.

Performing water exercise doesn’t require access to an Olympic size pool: for many activities such as deep water running and water aerobics, a smaller community or backyard pool works just fine. Nor do you necessarily need a high baseline level of fitness, since many types of water exercise can be adjusted for a variety of fitness levels.

Because water suppresses heart rate, persons with pre-existing cardiac conditions can exercise at moderate intensity in water without exceeding their safe range. In addition, the massaging action of water on the body has a diuretic effect that can help persons with edema to control swelling without relying on medication.

While you don’t need a lot of equipment to exercise in the water, we recommend investing in a pool running vest (Aqua Jogger) if you plan to do deep water walking or running. If you plan to exercise in shallow water (with your feet touching the bottom of the pool), a pair of water shoes will protect the bottoms of your feet and give you better traction.

If you are interested in aqua aerobics, we recommend beginning with a class taught by a certified instructor. There are water aerobics classes designed for all ages and abilities (SilverSneakers Splash is an aqua aerobics program designed for older adults). Certified aqua instructors are not only experts in exercise program design, but they also have to pass water safety testing.

kid playing in pool

Deep Water Running

Deep water running is a simple, safe form of water exercise that can be tailored for any level of fitness, ranging from beginners to elite athletes. If you are a distance runner nursing an overuse injury, deep water running is the best way to maintain your running fitness while giving the injury an opportunity to heal. The same principle applies to walkers and hikers who may be experiencing knee or hip problems.

Since most people don’t move much when they run in deep water, this form of water exercise works fine in small backyard pools. The only requirement is a section deep enough that your feet don’t touch the bottom of the pool (5-6 feet).

Styles of deep water running vary from person to person. Some athletes prefer to run without a floatation vest. While this provides a great upper body workout, it can be harder to maintain good form, and recovery intervals require more effort since you still have to stay afloat. Using an Aqua Jogger vest makes it easier to maintain something closer to a normal walking or running form. Since the recovery intervals take less effort, you can work harder at the aerobic intervals that make up the body of the workout.

Given that, your walking or running form will still be quite different than it is on land. Being in water makes it easier to increase your stride length and drive with your knees, which may help you with walking and running on land. Some people like to keep their legs as straight as possible while running in water to maximize water resistance to movement (and build leg strength). Ideally, you want to take advantage of water resistance while still maintaining a relatively quick cadence.

Because water suppresses your heart rate, you need to work harder (and have greater perceived effort) when running in the water to get the equivalent benefit to land. The best way to do this is with intervals: bursts of higher effort with easy recovery running in between. In addition to providing a greater aerobic challenge, intervals are less monotonous than steady-state running in an environment where you don’t have the benefit of changing scenery to distract you.

Pete Pfitzinger, an elite runner and coach from New Zealand who is a strong proponent of deep water running, put together an intervals program that works well for athletes at all levels of ability. If you are a distance runner familiar with running intervals on the track, Pfitzinger’s program works via similar principles. I have used workouts from this program when recovering from stress fractures and tendon tears, and maintained running fitness for up to three months.

The workouts listed below are based upon Pfitzinger’s deep water running program. Before beginning a workout, warm up by jogging in the pool at an easy intensity for about five minutes. At the end of the workout, perform a five-minute cooldown in the same fashion.

Interval Workouts

  1. This first workout mimics short (200-400 meter) intervals on the track with short (100-200 meter) recoveries. The focus here is on speed and power. After warming up, run hard for 90 seconds, followed by a 30-second easy recovery. Repeat this sequence 7 times. Take a two minute active recovery of easy pool running. Then perform 7 more 90 second hard intervals with 30-second recoveries and finish with a five-minute active cooldown (easy water running).

  2. The second workout is longer hard intervals with short recoveries. The focus here is on stamina, which is speed plus strength. After a five-minute warmup, run seven 3-minute hard intervals with one minute of easy recovery in between. You will find this to be a very challenging 30-minute workout. Finish with five minutes of easy water running.

  3. The third workout is a ladder, where you start and finish performing short intervals but move up to much longer intervals in the middle. Ladder workouts teach you pacing and mental toughness. If you start out too fast, you will have a very hard time hanging on in the middle of the workout on longer intervals. Since intervals get progressively shorter in the second half of the workout, you can use up any left-over energy by working a little harder towards the end. After your five-minute warmup, begin the workout with a one-minute hard interval and one minute easy recovery, followed by two-minutes hard, one-minute easy, three-minutes hard, one-minute easy, four-minutes hard, one-minute easy (perform this interval twice), three-minutes hard, one-minute easy, two-minutes hard, one-minute easy and one-minute hard, one-minute easy. Finish with five minutes of easy running.

  4. This workout is based on a track workout by coach Jack Daniels called 200-200-400s. In this case, hard intervals and recovery intervals are the same length of time, so the workout is intended to build power in your legs. The longer recoveries are also a nice change of pace from the short recoveries and longer intervals in workouts 2 and 3. The workout is simple: following a five-minute warmup perform 4-5 repeats of the following sequence: one-minute hard, one-minute easy, one-minute hard, one-minute easy, two-minutes hard, one-minute easy. Finish with a five-minute easy cooldown.

  5. The final workout is long intervals to boost endurance. Following a five-minute warm-up, run four-five minute hard intervals with one minute of easy running in between. This is a very challenging workout mentally because the intervals are very long and the recoveries short. Think about listening to music or inviting a friend to perform this workout with you.

There are no hard and fast rules for pool-running workouts. Go at your own pace. Since most people don’t move much when they pool run, runners (and walkers) at different fitness levels can easily work out together. As you become more experienced and build-up endurance, you can increase the length and challenge of any of the above-listed workouts by adding intervals.

One additional word of advice: if you live in a climate with hot summers, pool running can make you break a sweat in the pool, so bring along a water bottle and keep it close by.

woman swimming in pool


Of all the endurance sports, swimming is arguably the one that requires the most skill. If you are an experienced swimmer, swimming offers the advantage of working both upper and lower extremities more so than either running or cycling.

As with walking, running and cycling, swimming well involves a combination of strength and efficiency. Form is extremely important. If you are not an experienced swimmer, taking some lessons can help you to develop an efficient form, and also help you to swim more safely.

No matter what your level of proficiency, avoid swimming alone. Know what your level of ability is and stay within it.

Following are a few tips about gear and form for beginning swimmers:

  1. Wear goggles: You need to be able to see, and you can’t see if you keep closing your eyes because of chlorine irritation.

  2. Wear a swim cap: It will keep your hair out of your eyes (and the pool drain) and make you more aerodynamic in the water.

  3. Use a snorkel. This is a good way to practice the crawl stroke without having to worry about breathing. Once you become more efficient, you can add in the breathing motion.

  4. Practice bits of form using a kickboard. For example, you can hold the board between your arms to practice flutter, scissor or frog kicks, or keep the board between your legs while practicing stroking.

  5. Stroke efficiently. A common beginner mistake is to slap the water. Good swimmers don’t windmill. They bend their arms slightly out of the water, and as they enter the water the hands and arms straighten out. Power comes from pulling the water under your body, not flailing your arms in the air. In addition, be careful not to cross your arm across your body as you pull through the water. Think about an imaginary line down the center of your body and keep your arms to each side as you stroke through the water.

  6. Practice breathing. For some strokes (breaststroke, backstroke and sidestroke), breathing is easy. It’s much harder with freestyle (crawl stroke). Common beginner mistakes include:

  • Over-rolling. Don’t roll onto your back to take a breath. When you roll you want to keep one cheek and one ear in the water.

  • Lifting the head too high. When you swim, your body will create a channel next to you that allows you to breathe. Roll slightly to the side and look back while you are taking in air to avoid getting water in your mouth.

  • Exhale through your nose, not your mouth.

  • Don’t hold your breath. You will swim much better if your body takes in oxygen.

The other big challenge for many beginners is to learn to trust the water’s buoyancy. The best way to do this is to learn how to properly float on your back. If you try to float while lifting your head out of the water, you will have to use up a lot more energy to keep yourself afloat. Lean back and relax to float with minimal effort.

pug on water raft float in pool

Whether you use a pool at the gym, the local YMCA or in your backyard, water exercise is a great way to stay fit year-round, and perhaps meet some new exercise partners in the process. Be safe, stay within your limits, and have fun.