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Water Walking for Faster Fitness

Walking in WaterThere's good reason why walking is one the most recommended forms of exercise: It's an easy, safe and effective way to increase aerobic fitness, endurance and muscle strength, one that requires no equipment and can be done almost anywhere…including the backyard pool.

In fact, walking in the water may be more effective than a similar trek on land. All factors being equal, walking one mile in the water provides a workout similar to walking two miles on land, burning up to twice the calories in the same amount of time. And the body's buoyancy in water reduces impact on joints and provides a lower risk of injury.

Also, because water's density creates resistance against your body, it forces muscles to work harder -- so underwater exercise is almost like working out with weights. No matter how you move, you always have that resistance; the harder you work against it, the harder it pushes back. This helps develop muscle endurance and strength. The comfort level offered is also an advantage: Water cools the body quickly, so when you sweat in the water, you hardly notice it.

The following water-walking routine provides a total-body workout and is an excellent start for beginners about to take the plunge to a healthier life, as well as a complementary regimen for those who already engage in other types of exercise:

The Water March
Walk forward and backward with long strides, swinging arms at your sides through the water. For more resistance, lead with the palms rather than slicing hands through the water. Swing arm, palm forward, then turn hand over and push water back. Walk for 1 - 2 minutes, then switch the movement. Maintain a tall, upright posture.

Benefit: This move targets your entire body, including your core muscles, the abdominals and lower back muscles.

Hint: To make the movement easier, slice the hands through the water.

The Side Step
Travel sideways across the pool, taking large steps. Arms can be used for balance, or they can follow the legs by lifting out to sides with each wide step. Walk for 1 - 2 minutes, then switch to another movement.

Benefit: This move focuses on the inner and outer thigh muscles, in addition to the shoulders and upper back.

Hint: Keep arms and hands below the water surface to prevent unwanted stress to the shoulders.

The Drag Walk (or Run)
Move forward through the water while dragging arms behind you, palms down or facing forward. Do this 1 minute, then switch to the Down Run (described below); repeat this sequence 3 - 5 times.

Benefit: Dragging adds more resistance as you travel and helps to stretch those tight chest muscles that contribute to slouching.

Hint: Take big steps through the water, covering as much distance as possible, to increase the intensity. Try drag running for a more intense workout.

The Down Run
Drop low in the water, almost as if seated in a chair. Run backward with small, quick steps while keeping your back rounded (like an angry cat). Let the arms relax and trail in the water in front of you. Do this 1 minute, then switch to the Drag Walk or Run; repeat this sequence 3 - 5 times.

Benefit: This one should feel relaxing, and it will also stretch muscles in your back and shoulders.

Hint: Look over your shoulder to prevent a collision with the side of the pool or your training partner.

The Lunge
Take giant steps forward through the water. Bend at the knees, allowing your body to drop deeper into the water with each step. Use the arms for balance, positioning them as needed, to maintain a tall, upright posture of your spine. Walk for 1 - 2 minutes, then switch direction.

Benefit: A great total-body conditioning exercise that develops leg strength and core stability, and enhances posture.

Hint: Imagine the finesse of walking with a book balanced on your head.

When you are ready to pick up the pace, add more vigorous movements, such as Jumping Jacks, Kicks (to the front, side and back) and Raised-Heel Jogging (on the spot or across the pool).

Remember: Before beginning this or any other new exercise program, always check with your physician. If given the go-ahead, start with short workouts to familiarize yourself with the training, then gradually add time until you can walk at a moderate intensity -- with an elevated breathing rate -- for at least 30 minutes, not including your warm-up or cool-down stretches. When water-walking or engaging in other pool exercise regimens, consider wearing aqua shoes, which add cushioning and provide traction, giving you a better workout.

Article originally written by Julie See for Pool & Spa Living magazine.