Most people know that swimming is a fantastic form of exercise, providing a workout without strain. But did you know that there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the water and get fit at the same time? From a splash in the bath to a full-on coastal adventure, here are some ideas.
From a scientific point of view, both water and air are defined as fluids. They both provide resistance when we try to move through them, although unless we are flying or carrying a large flat object on a windy day, we don’t tend to notice air resistance. Water is twelve times as dense as air and so is more difficult to move through, so we need to make more effort. This makes water an excellent medium for getting more value out of a workout.
However water also supports us, so exercise in water has a much lower risk of joint damage or strain. Those who are overweight can feel trapped in the vicious circle of ‘too fat to exercise’ – but water allows an escape by providing support so that the swimmer can exercise without damage.
Swimming is the water exercise that most of us know the best. It is accessible for all ages – even if you missed out on the lessons at school, there are always adult beginner sessions available so anyone can join in the fun. Swimming a variety of strokes provides a good cardio workout. Combined with walking or running to add weight-bearing exercise (essential for strong bones) it is an excellent basis for health. All you need is the pool admission fee, a simple costume, a pair of goggles and perhaps a swimming hat.
What if you need more motivation than doing all those lengths? Aqua aerobics makes the most of the properties of water, and despite a slight image problem is really a wonderful workout. It isn’t even necessary to be able to swim – the workout can be done in shallow water or with flotation aids. It is even possible to add weights by using aqua aerobics floats. The effort is used to push them under the water rather than trying to lift them up, and it is much more difficult than it seems. The session will be led by an instructor on the poolside so that you can see the movements. Remember that it will be impossible to do the moves as easily or as quickly in the water.
There are now many more water-based workouts taking place at gyms with swimming pools, moving beyond simple aqua-aerobics. Adding buoyant ankle cuffs increases the intensity of the workout, as the lower body has to work to counteract their buoyancy. They also add extra resistance to the movements, again increasing intensity. Water workouts are now also available in deep water, with participants wearing a flotation belt so that they do not need to tread water. This allows for a wider range of movements, usually based on running or skiing.
Aqua aerobics even spawned the short-lived craze for bathrobics, a gentle workout to be carried out in the bath at home – complete with waterproof instruction book! While any exercise is better than none, this workout is probably too gentle to make much difference. However it is extremely relaxing and may make some improvements to flexibility.
As a total contrast for those who enjoy their team games, Octopush (underwater hockey) can be a lot of fast and furious fun. The game is played with a weighted puck on the pool floor, pushed along with small sticks. Players wear diving masks but have to hold their breath underwater, so it is a game for good swimmers and divers. It is very intensive, with each half of the game lasting only fifteen minutes.
At the moment it is not a good time for coastal or river water sports – but despite the recent rain, it will be spring soon and we hope that conditions will improve. One interesting warmer season concept is that of coasteering, for which the rocky British coast provides an ideal venue. The sport mixes time on dry land with time in water. Participants wear wetsuits, buoyancy aids, helmets, aqua shoes and gloves for protection. An experienced leader takes the group on a route that involves climbs over rocks, jumps into rock pools and floats through water races. Most companies that run these expeditions have planned routes that offer options, so no-one has to jump or go into rough water if they don’t want to do so. A coasteering session usually lasts for a half day and is suitable for anyone aged eight or upwards. While basic swimming ability is useful, the safety measures and correct choice of route means that it is not essential.
For those who enjoy outdoor swimming but like things a little more gentle, the UK still has many outdoor pools and lidos. Some of these are open year-round, although winter swimming can be restricted to club members for liability reasons.
So wild or calming, indoors or outdoors, winter or summer, there is a water workout for all of us.