The Underdiscovered Benefits of Deep Water Training


In her most recent newsletter / blog entry, Cathe described several low-impact exercise formats, and had this to say about water workouts:

"Water Workouts
Some health care providers recommend that people with joint problems do water workouts to reduce the impact on their joints. However, water aerobics isn’t as challenging as land-based training, so it’s best if you want to work out in the water, alternate water workouts with more intense options such as spinning and circuit workouts. Plus, some studies show swimming and doing aerobics in cool water increases hunger. So, it may not be the best form of exercise for weight loss."

I was an ACE-certified aqua group fitness instructor from 1997-2007, and have continued to rely on the pool as an integral part of my fitness practice to the present day. I agree in part with Cathe's comments, especially the recommendation to alternate water workouts with land training. Unless there is an orthopedic reason, one should never rely exclusively on water training for their fitness practice, because weight-bearing activities are vital to bone density, and weighted muscle conditioning is vital to muscle strength building.

However, I have an alternate viewpoint, based on 23 years of experience in the water environment, about the intensity available in a water workout, especially water workouts performed in the deep end of the pool where your feet never hit the ground. You won't see that in commonplace aqua aerobics classes, which are typically geared to more deconditioned participants. But if my own experience is any example, developing deep water workouts that are equal in intensity to land workouts is possible and highly recommended for those who want to maintain aggressive land workouts without pummeling their bodies into the ground throughout their later years.

The only pieces of equipment you need for a productive deep water workout are a pair of resistance gloves (Speedo neoprene/lycra gloves are the best), and an Aquajogger or other float device that buckles around the torso, to keep your head above water. You may have seen runners aquajogging in the deep end of the pool, as cross-training for their running practice. Aquajogging, which is simply a high-knee run with arms pumping brought to the water environment, is in itself a great mid-intensity-range pool workout. You have to keep your core strong so that your torso is in a strict vertical position, avoiding hinging forward at the hips, and you have to keep your upper body joints in a fixed position so the muscles are driving the upper body running motion without the wrists and elbows getting all floppy. And you have to run HARD. Don't expect the water to do the work for you. You have to push, and your body will tell you when you are doing so.

However, there are scores of other drills that you can do while wearing an Aquajogger:
Long-leg / long arm "skis" in the water, keeping your limbs straight and joints firm (picture being on a cross-country ski machine)
Long-leg skis while performing a combination pec flye / rear delt flye with arms at the surface
Long-leg skis while performing a lateral delt raise / lower (putting equal force on the up-phase and down-phase of the movement)
High-knee runs while performing fast-paced biceps curls with your elbows anchored at your sides and your palms flat to increase the resistance
High-knee runs while performing fast-paces triceps extensions with your elbows moderately behind the torso, again keeping palms flat
Vertical flutter kicks performing any of the above upper body drills, or keeping the arms extended straight up overhead and the core braced and vertical
Alternating "butt kicks" with your body in a strict vertical position, again with the upper body movements mentioned above, OR with the arms out of the water
Long-leg skis with the arms out of the water

This is only a small sample of the drills you can do; they work all of the muscle groups, and what is great is that you can muscle conditioning for multiple upper AND lower body groups while at the same time getting an equally intense cardio component that is seldom true in land workouts; usually cardio and muscle conditioning have to switch emphases in land circuit training.

AND . . . after you've mastered these and other drills using your knowledge of specific muscles and their functions, and getting used to performing them against the constant, swirling resistance of the water environment, you can . . . TAKE THE AQUAJOGGER OFF AND DO YOUR DRILLS USING YOUR OWN EXERTION TO KEEP YOUR HEAD ABOVE WATER.

Trust me on this one - most certified aqua instructors and other professionals would shoot me if I said this to them. They believe you cannot perfect your movement form without the supportive float device, and your core stability will be compromised. Well . . . that's why I no longer instruct for pay. As a matter of fact, you CAN perform these deep water drills (and hundreds of others not written here, given the human body's limitless variety of human movement potential) without a supportive device, and it is a whole new ballgame, exertion-wise, when you do so.

In addition to the myriad drills you can do in the vertical position, there are also great leg-focused drills you can do with your hands anchored on the wall of the pool:
Prone long-leg kicks, keeping knees and ankles straight and strict, using equal force on the downward phase as the up-phase;
Prone flutter kicks, body flush at the waterline
Prone whip kicks, body flush at the waterline
Seated long-leg kicks with your arms placed fully on the wall and your body in a V-sit position
Supine bicycles, with your arms placed fully on the wall and the body flush at the waterline
Vertical long-leg kicks with one arm on the wall, paying attention to using equal force on the down phase and the up phase
Vertical alternating butt kicks, either with the thighs / knees together or legs / knees abducted
Prone alternating butt kicks, body flush at the waterline, keeping the making sure to break the surface of the water to max out its resistance
And so on.

What I've detailed above is not for the beginning exerciser. It is for already well-conditioned exercisers who have a baseline of strength in all muscle groups including / especially the core, and who have good cardio capacity. And, again, it is only a small sample of what you can do.

Regarding water workouts promoting hunger: it is true to a point that the water environment, which usually is cooler and has a cooling effect, promotes the appetite. However, if you do a targeted muscle-focused workout with the collateral cardio component as I've described, you will absolutely build up heat in the muscles, and that can offset the cooling effect of the water and the appetite stimulation. But yes, I will acknowledge that I'm less hungry after a hot, sweaty-mess land workout than a cool, splashy water workout.

There are many YouTube clips you can search for using "deep water workouts" as your keyword search, to get ideas on what you can do when you "go off the deep end". I've relied on this mode as at least 40% of my time spent working out for over 12 years now, and it absolutely enables me to stay fit while giving my joints a needed break; I am able to do extreme high-intensity and high-impact land workouts because of this, and have maintained a very, very healthy body composition ratio as I push (or splash) toward age 59.

Anyway. I hope this has been of some value to some of you. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Hi Annette,

I just wanted to jump on here and say Hi to a dear friend and I hope you are doing well.

This post made me think about your class I took many many years ago.

Hi Annette,

I just wanted to jump on here and say Hi to a dear friend and I hope you are doing well.

This post made me think about your class I took many many years ago.


Hey, my beloved Jo-Jo! So good to connect with you again! I am doing very well, all things considered; my husband and I moved to Florida 3.5 years ago, and just moved to Tampa last August. We love it here. I hope you and yours are doing well, and STAY SAFE AND WELL, MY FRIEND!
Amazing insights, @Aquajock. Thank you!!! Longevity in fitness is my number 1 goal. Time to incorporate water based fitness once I can access a pool again.

Hi, Lisa, and thanks for your comments. Yes, having a pool is handy. Thankfully, I now live in a home with its own backyard pool, and my community association has two, albeit closed during the COVID-19 precautions. Stay well and safe, honey!
Thank you for posting your knowledge and personal experience as an aqua fitness instructor and avid advanced exerciser.
I have a pool now too and found all of your information valuable and exciting, I will be trying the exercises and drills and hope to get some of the equipment you mentioned.
Brigitte :)
I can attest to the water workouts in the deep end without a flotation device being effective. Like Aquajock, I have been doing water workouts for quite some time. I do appreciate some of the moves she stated in her post and once I can get back in the pool will work them into my workout!

Just curious, Aquajock, do you count your reps or just go as long as you feel like. I'm a counter.

I can attest to the water workouts in the deep end without a flotation device being effective. Like Aquajock, I have been doing water workouts for quite some time. I do appreciate some of the moves she stated in her post and once I can get back in the pool will work them into my workout!

Just curious, Aquajock, do you count your reps or just go as long as you feel like. I'm a counter.


Hi, Beth, and thanks for your response and question. YES, I count my reps; like you, I'm a counter. In fact, I have dozens of printed formats that have organized lists of drills to make sure I hit all of the muscle groups in varying ranges and planes of motion, and I always do a 24-rep set for each drill. (Not only am I a counter, I'm an 8-beat counter from my years of instructing aqua on the beat to music specially produced for group fitness classes). Each 2-page printed format thus makes for about a 60-minute workout; I call it The Hour of Power. Different training focuses (slower drills with higher-power movements; faster drills with more of an endurance / cardio focus).

If you'd like, you can PM me your email address and I could email you some of my more productive formats in Word; what I like to do is print a double-sided 2-page format and laminate it, so I can take it poolside in a little plastic stand and can just follow along. I find having pre-designed formats keeps me honest, and I don't have to think about what to do next; I can just move to the next printed drill. Lemme know!

Thanks again - great to connect with another Deep Water Baby! Stay well and stay smart and strong!

Also, if you aren't already doing this, I highly recommend getting a set of double-disc hand buoys for shallow-water stationary upper body work (including core and arms/shoulders). In fact, I tricked up my set of hand-buoys with el cheapo dish towels wrapped around each of the discs (tied to the discs with shoestrings) (VERY el cheapo on my part) to add cloth drag resistance to the buoys. Just a thought.


Thank your for your offer! While I would love to print something and take it to the pool, I also know I would probably never do it. I will look on youtube to see some moves that might give me some more ideas.

I do a lot of vertical moves and have been incorporating kickbox moves in the deep end-upper and lower body just to change things up. I do intervals of running in the water. I count to 50 or 100 with each move. I don't do anything along the wall or in the shallow end. For me 30 minutes is enough...I am fully stretched out, breathing hard, and feel like all my muscles were worked with resistance. Then I get to go in the hot tub (after a 32 oz water to cool down).

I can't wait to get back to the pool! Thanks, again,

Beth, isn't that the cool of the pool?! We can make the environment our own, each and every time! And yes, like you, after a workout I am totally limbered up AND pumped! We understand each other!

In hopes you can return to the pool soon -

Just wanted to chime in...another water workout addict ! I haven't been to the pool for some time and
miss it terribly. I love shallow water workouts....deep water workouts with my aquajogger belt, etc.
I am still, after all these years, addicted to aqua step! I took classes years (and I mean years ago)
and fell in love with it. I have my Speedo aquatic step and made up my own routines and off to the
pool I went...hauling my step, my waterproof Ipod shuffle and had a great time ! :) I still have alot
of my water equipment. It's a great way to workout.....

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