Water Aerobics: Definition, Exercises & More

What is Water Aerobics?

Water aerobics refers to a form of aquatic exercise performed in waist to chest-deep water, involving a blend of cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and stretching. It encompasses a variety of water-based workouts done in a vertical body position with the feet on the pool floor, designed to provide a low-impact training option that utilizes the natural resistance and buoyancy of water.

As an exercise format, water aerobics aims to:

  • Improve cardiovascular endurance
  • Increase muscular strength & endurance
  • Enhance flexibility & range of motion
  • Burn calories and body fat
  • Rehabilitate injuries
  • Reduce impact on joints

It relies on dynamic movements performed rhythmically to music through the drag and density of water. Classes generally involve 45-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, including a warm up, cardiovascular routines, resistance training, and a cool down stretch.

History of Water Aerobics

The practice of exercising in water dates back centuries for rehabilitation and physical conditioning. But the formal programming of water aerobics routines began in the 1970s. Key events in the history of water aerobics include:

  • 1970s – Structured hydrofitness classes emerged at health resorts and rehab centers.
  • 1980s – Water exercise expanded into community pools and gyms for general fitness.
  • 1990s – Aquatic programs diversified into deep and shallow water options.
  • 2000s – Classes evolved to include strength training tools and interval training.
  • 2010s – Specialty programs like prenatal water aerobics gained popularity.

Today water aerobics remains a popular low-impact training choice for all ages and fitness levels seeking a challenging cardio and strength workout that is joint-friendly.

Benefits of Water Aerobics

Water aerobics offers numerous benefits that make it an excellent cross-training addition to any fitness regimen. Key benefits include:


The water’s buoyancy supports up to 90% of the body’s weight. This significantly reduces stress on the joints, muscles, and bones compared to land-based workouts. The water’s cushioning effect helps prevent injuries.

Cardiovascular Conditioning

The water resistance challenges the cardiovascular system. A water aerobics class often sustains heart rates of 120-150 bpm to build cardio endurance.

Muscle Toning

Drag resistance tones all major muscle groups while enhancing strength and definition. Targeted movements isolate trouble spots.

Calorie Burn

A 60-minute water aerobics class can burn 300-500+ calories through a mix of cardio and muscle-sculpting.


The aquatic environment aids recovery from injuries or mobility limitations. It allows safe rehab and range of motion restoration.

Stress Relief

The relaxing immersion in warm water melts away tension. Rhythmic breathing and movement promote mental calmness.

Fun Social Outlet

Group fitness camaraderie adds accountability and motivation. Classes provide a judgement-free space for individuals of all skill levels.

Types of Water Aerobics

Water aerobics encompasses various class formats and intensity levels to accommodate different fitness goals and participants. Popular types of water aerobics include:

Shallow Water Aerobics

Performed in waist to chest-deep water using dynamic movements that travel vertically and horizontally. Offers a balance of cardio conditioning and resistance training. Approachable for beginners.

Deep Water Aerobics

Done in water depth over the head requiring a floatation belt. Relies on suspended movements that isolate core and stabilizer muscles. Advanced cardio challenge.

Aquatic Kickboxing

Combines classic kickboxing moves like jabs and uppercuts with water resistance intervals. Fun way to burn calories and learn techniques.

Water Zumba

Adds a pool-friendly Latin dance flair to water aerobics for interval style calorie burn. Upbeat music and easy steps.

Aqua Toning Classes

Focuses on sculpting muscles using drag resistance, hand buoys, and aquatic equipment like noodles or dumbbells. Improves strength and definition.

Aqua Arthritis Classes

Modified shallow water exercises to improve mobility for those with arthritis, fibromyalgia, injuries, or limited mobility. Gentle paced with less impact.

Prenatal Water Aerobics

Safe water exercises tailored for pregnant women needing low-impact training. Relieves strain on the back and joints.

Seniors Water Aerobics

Designed for older adults seeking to maintain fitness, flexibility, balance, and joint health. Simple cardio routines with stretch focus.

Common Water Aerobics Equipment

Instructors often incorporate equipment into water aerobics routines to enhance resistive training, add variety, and increase intensity. Typical equipment used includes:

  • Aquatic Dumbbells – Foam or finned bars gripped in hand for upper body resistance training.
  • Kickboards – Held vertically against chest to increase leg kick resistance for cardio.
  • Pool Noodles – Foam tubes for flotation assistance or stretching props.
  • Hand Buoys – Foam cylinders gripped between arms to intensify arm resistance.
  • Ankle Bands – Stretchy bands worn around ankles for drag resistance.
  • Aquatic Belts – Inflatable belts with arm straps used in Deep Water classes for flotation.
  • Webbed Gloves – Increase surface area of hands for added drag and grip work.

This equipment elevates heart rates, maximizes calorie burn, and sculpts muscle tone by using water’s natural density and resistance.

Common Water Aerobics Exercises

Water aerobics integrates simple, low-impact exercises adaptable for all levels. Routines mix cardio, strength training, and stretching.

Cardio Exercises

  • Jogging – Run in place lifting knees high to engage quads.
  • Double Time Jog – Quick jog with knees alternating kicking front and back.
  • Ski Jumps – Jump side-to-side pushing off pool bottom to raise heart rate.
  • Cross-Country Skiing – Standing shuffle or skate sideways crossing front and back.
  • Grapevine – Step side-to-side crossing front foot over back foot.
  • Water Jumping Jacks – Jump feet out and in while swinging arms out to sides.
  • Vertical Jumps – Explosively jump up, reaching arms overhead to engage full body.

Upper Body Exercises

  • Front Punches – Quick jabs forward engaging chest, shoulders, arms.
  • Reverse Punches – Punch back instead of forward targeting upper back.
  • Bicep Curls – Raise forearms up and down working biceps.
  • Tricep Kickbacks – Bend elbows, extend arms back squeezing triceps.
  • Shoulder Presses – Raise arms up and lower down to tone shoulders.
  • Lateral Raises – Hold arms straight out to sides lifting up and lowering.

Lower Body Exercises

  • High Knees – Rapidly lift knees up towards chest engaging abs and quads.
  • Hamstring Curls – Kick feet back squeezing hamstrings, keep legs straight.
  • Inner Thigh Lifts – Raise inner thighs out to the sides working adductors.
  • Outer Thigh Lifts – Open legs wide, pulse feet apart working outer thighs.
  • Calf Raises – Lift up on tiptoes, lower heels to stretch calves.
  • Squats – Bend knees lowering down into a squat. Engages glutes and quads.

Core Exercises

  • Torso Twists – Twist upper body side-to-side turning from waist.
  • Side Bends – Lean torso left and right without moving feet.
  • Front Kicks – Lift knee, kick foot forward engaging abs.
  • Flutter Kicks – Rapidly kick legs up and down using core strength.
  • Scissor Kicks – Crisscross legs open and closed working lower abs.

Balance Exercises

  • Weight Shifts – Transfer weight side-to-side gradually.
  • Heel Raises – Lift heels up, balance on toes.
  • Single Leg Lifts – Balance standing on one leg, lift other knee up.
  • Crossover Knee Lifts – Bring knee up across body to opposite elbow.

Flexibility Exercises

  • Shoulder Circles – Rotate shoulders forward and backward expanding range of motion.
  • Hip Circles – Sway hips around in a circular motion opening up joints.
  • Knee Hugs – Pull one knee into chest then switch sides stretching quads.
  • Hamstring Stretches – Hinge forward at waist with legs straight to feel stretch down back of thighs.
  • Inner Thigh Stretch – Open legs wide with toes turned out stretching adductors.
  • Calf Stretch – Step one foot forward, press heel down stretching calf muscle.

These sample exercises provide a full-body water aerobic workout engaging all muscle groups and increasing range of motion.

Water Aerobics Intensity Levels

Water aerobics allows customization across various intensity levels to meet individual fitness abilities and needs. Factors determining intensity include:

  • Impact Level – Low, medium, or high impact movements.
  • Tempo – Speed of exercises performed.
  • Duration – Length of time doing each exercise.
  • Sets – Number of repetitions for each set.
  • Rest Periods – How long between sets.
  • Equipment – Use of drag-inducing equipment.
  • Travel – Distance movements reach across the pool.

Instructors progress intensity by increasing tempo, reducing rest periods, adding resistance tools, and travelling farther. Shallow classes allow more high impact options like jumping jacks versus deep water relying on resistance tools. Pool sprints and intervals add intensity.

Low Intensity

  • Mostly low impact moves
  • Slow to moderate exercise tempo
  • 30-60 seconds per exercise
  • 1-2 sets per exercise
  • Full body recovery between sets
  • No equipment used
  • Minimal horizontal travel

Medium Intensity

  • Mix of low and medium impact moves
  • Moderate tempo
  • 45-90 seconds per exercise
  • 2-3 sets per exercise
  • 30-60 seconds rest between sets
  • Some use of drag equipment
  • Moderate horizontal patterns

High Intensity

  • Incorporates high impact movements
  • Fast tempo with maximal exertion
  • 60-120 seconds per exercise
  • 3-5 sets per exercise
  • 15-30 seconds rest between sets
  • Regular use of drag equipment
  • Large horizontal travel across pool

The right intensity challenges individuals to progress over time while preventing overexertion or strain. Mixing intervals of high and low impact exercises provides variation.

What to Wear for Water Aerobics

Choosing attire designed for water aerobics enhances comfort, functionality, and modesty during water workouts.

Swimsuit Features

  • Durable fabrics – Withstands chlorine, sunscreen, and frequent use while retaining shape.
  • Close fit – Prevents exposure while allowing full range of motion.
  • Full seat coverage – Provides ample coverage during jumping and kicking.
  • Quick drying – Minimal water retention after exiting pool.
  • Sun protection – Tightly woven fabrics or UV protective fabrics.
  • Chlorine resistant – Maintains elasticity and prevents fading.

Supportive Top Styles

  • Athletic swim tops – Molded cup sport tops offer bounce control during activity.
  • Soft cup tops – Comfortable light padding for larger busts.
  • Underwire tops – Reinforced structure prevents shifting and slipping.
  • Halter styles – Secure fit around neck ideal for deep water.
  • High neck tops – Extra coverage and chest support.

Flattering Bottom Options

  • Boyshorts – Modest hipster cut with full seat and thigh coverage.
  • Skirted bottoms – Short attached skirts provide stylish coverage.
  • Swim shorts – Athletic loose fitting shorts dry quickly.
  • Modest tankinis – Tummy control tanks with built-in bottoms.

Prioritize comfort and security during active water movements. Darker solid colors help conceal transparency when wet. Bring a coverup, sandals, and towel.

Is Water Aerobics Swimwear Better Than Regular Swimwear?

Yes, swimwear designed for water aerobics is better than regular swimwear for participating in aquatic exercises. They are specifically engineered to meet the demands of high-intensity activities in the water. The specialized fabrics, UV protection, coverage, support, and fast drying capabilities make water aerobics swimwear the superior choice over regular swimsuits for optimized functionality, performance and modesty during challenging pool fitness classes. Investing in swimwear designed for water aerobics enhances comfort and confidence in the pool.

Safety Tips for Water Aerobics

Water aerobics offers a lower risk exercise environment than land workouts, but taking precautions helps ensure safe and effective classes.

  • Start with low intensity until you adapt to the water resistance.
  • Maintain proper alignment and posture during movements.
  • Hydrate before, during and after class to prevent dehydration.
  • Use equipment properly to avoid strain or injury.
  • Wear water shoes for pool traction and protect feet.
  • Allow time after eating before vigorous water exercise.
  • Notify instructor of any health conditions or restrictions.
  • Stop activity if you feel pain, dizziness, or discomfort.

Let the instructor know if you are new to water aerobics so they can offer modifications. Don’t push beyond your limits. Build up duration and intensity gradually over time.

Who Can Benefit from Water Aerobics

Water aerobics appeals to a wide range of individuals seeking a low-impact exercise option. It benefits:

  • Beginners – Easy to learn moves and work at your own pace.
  • Seniors – Lowers risk of falls or joint pain during cardio activity.
  • Injured Exercisers – Allows training while recovering from injury.
  • Arthritis Sufferers – Minimizes pain during exercise.
  • Pregnant Women – Provides low-impact prenatal exercise.
  • Overweight Individuals – Burn calories with less strain on joints.
  • Limited Mobility – Enhances mobility and balance.

Water aerobics is versatile for all ages and fitness levels seeking the therapeutic benefits of aquatic training.

How Often to Do Water Aerobics

Experts recommend water aerobics 2-5 times per week for optimal results. Benefits include:

  • 2 times per week – Maintains cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone.
  • 3 times per week – Improves cardiovascular endurance and strength.
  • 4-5 times per week – Boosts substantial fitness gains and fat loss.

Attending 45-60 minute classes allows you to sustain intensity for maximum calorie burn and muscle training. Increase weekly frequency to ramp up fitness results over time. Balance with rest days to allow muscles to recover and strengthen.

Those new to water aerobics may start with 1-2 classes per week and gradually increase. Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. Consistency with the workouts is key to experiencing changes in endurance, strength, flexibility and appearance.

When Katie was 10 years old, she won her first writing prize in an essay contest. That experience sparked her love and interest in writing. Throughout her life, she’s had various opportunities to expand her skill set. She wrote extensively about her experiences traveling the world and doing charity work. Currently, she is busy writing and taking care of her two step-sons and newborn daughter. She loves being a mother and makes time every day to fulfill her passion for writing & fashion.

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