How to Exercise in the Water

Learn about water fitness and water exercise, water exercise equipment, water aerobics, water jogging, and a water exercise routine.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #13

On a warm, summer day, water is nice for taking a cool dip with your inflatable alligator, hopping in a boat for a spin around the lake, or floating down a lazy river with a raft and a cooler full of your choice beverage.

But water is also a great tool for fitness and for giving your body a fabulous calorie burn with very low joint impact. In this article, you’re going to learn why water fitness works, how to exercise in the water, the crucial water exercise equipment you needs, and my favorite high-calorie burning water exercise routines.

Why Water Exercise Works

Water, like air, is made up of a bunch of random molecules floating around. It just so happens that in water, these molecules are more closely packed together and form a more dense environment--an environment that makes it pretty tough to swing your arms and legs around, especially when compared to air.

In exercise, we like to sound smart by breaking exercise into three types of movement: isotonic, isometric and isokinetic.

  • Isotonic: In an isotonic exercise, you move your muscles at varying speeds, such as during a biceps curl.

  • Isometric: In an isometric exercise, your muscles don’t move, such as when you push against a car that just won’t budge no matter how hard you try.

  • Isokinetic: And in an isokinetic exercise, your muscles move at a constant speed. In an isokinetic exercise, no matter how hard you work, whichever force you’re pushing against pushes back against you just as hard.

When you move in water, you’re exercising isokinetically--if you try to swing your arms and legs quickly, the water pushes back, and you can only move your body at a controlled, constant speed.

Because of these isokinetic properties, it’s tough for you to move spastically and get out of control when exercising in the water, so there is less impact on your body. Because your appendages aren’t moving as fast, your joints don’t have to work as hard to slow your arms and legs down, so water exercise is easier on the joints. This is especially advantageous if you need a good workout, but struggle with obesity, arthritis, or a sprained or strained muscle.

What Do You Need to Exercise in the Water?

Water is a wonderful way to exercise without joint impact.

If you’ve ever attempted to go for a swim in a pair of baggy surf shorts, an oversized t-shirt with loose-fitting bottoms, or a very small piece of fabric designed for sunbathing, then you’re already aware that body parts can pop out and rub in uncomfortable ways--all of which can lead to embarrassment or unpleasantness while water exercising. So here is your quick and dirty tip for water exercise clothing: if you’re a guy, and a speedo just isn’t your thing, try wearing a jammer, which looks like bicycle shorts for the water. If you’re a girl, choose a one-piece suit designed for aquatic fitness.

Most indoor pools with offer free access to floating kickboards and pull buoys, but there are other pieces of equipment you should consider when preparing for water exercise:


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.