Water aerobics are an increasingly popular method of exercise as more people see that they are an often more effective, and safer alternative to the machines at your local gym. In December of 2013, J Sports Sci Med. published a study on the benefits of water aerobics that broke down their now widespread S.W.E.A.T. method. In this article, we’ll further break down that method, and explain some of the health benefits of water aerobics. Of course, the general advice provided here is a good guideline, but it is always recommended that you consult with an orthopedic professional before deciding whether water aerobics are the best choice for you.
The S.W.E.A.T. Method
It would be nearly impossible to list all of the health benefits of water aerobics. Water aerobics are so fundamentally different from more traditional methods of exercise that explaining those differences would require a breakdown of the core philosophy of exercise. In the interest of brevity, we’ll start from the origin point of all these benefits: the S.W.E.A.T. method.
As written by Mary E. Sanders, the S.W.E.A.T. method is as follows:
S = Changes in Surface area and S
W = Changes in impact by using the Working positions of rebound (jumping), neutral (chest submerged, feet touch lightly), suspended (buoyant work performed without feet touching bottom), and extended (standing tall, feet grounded on the bottom).
E = Enlarge the movement (extending to fuller range of motion).
A = Work Around the body or joint by changing planes (sagittal, transverse and multiplanar).
T = Traveling through water forward, backwards and on diagonal.
These five variables can be changed to provide the best possible workout while putting less stress on the body, specifically the joints. The S.W.E.A.T. method can be applied to workouts one would do outside of the water to add resistance and decrease the amount of wear on one particular part of the body.
Changes in surface area and speed are used primarily to control how much resistance the exerciser is being met with, as well as how much work they are doing. For water aerobics this is especially important because this will help get the heart working.
Changes in impact and working positions allow workouts to become more intense and to be spread out. In the example provided by the aforementioned study, the W of the S.W.E.A.T. method is used to get participants working several different areas of the body.
Changes in the size of movement (the E in S.W.E.A.T.) also increase resistance, making the body parts work harder. Again, this is used to control the intensity of the workout and to keep participants hearts working.
Working around the body engages different muscle groups, providing a bit of rest to the participants in the provided example. This avoids fatigue in any particular body part, while not allowing the participants heart to rest. This piece is crucial to increasing cardiovascular endurance.
Finally, travelling through the water allows the body to transition smoothly into rest. The example exercise in the study notes that, during the travel period, participants were also instructed (randomly) to freeze, or stand on one leg, which helped improve balance.
The abstract for the study notes it’s success:
“Assessments for participants included ADL functional field tests. In comparison to the C group, WEX participants improved (p < 0.05) flexibility (8%), sit- to-stand (31%), walking speed (16%) and stride length (10%), agility (20%), stair climb (22%), arm curl (39%), and static (42-48%) balance, but not dynamic balance. Results indicate that the S.W.E.A.T.™ method applied to this water exercise program provides a well-rounded, safe, and effective exercise program where older women can improve functional ADL and static balance.”
With an understanding of the S.W.E.A.T. Method, we can boil down the health benefits of water aerobics into three major areas: pain and fatigue, cardiovascular fitness, and ADL.
Because the natural resistance provided by water, the buoyancy, is different than on air, the effects of gravity on your workout is lessened. While the changes this makes may not be readily apparent, they do add up. The biggest change can be seen in intense workouts, like jumping. The resistance provided will cause less stress to the joints in your knees, providing a more pleasant experience. This also comes into play in smaller ways, like during arm curls. Where a traditional arm curl puts all of the weight on the bicep, the same workout spreads the stress to the tricep in the water. In this way, water aerobics help to avoid muscle and joint pain during and after exercise.
Water aerobics are also great for your heart. The increased resistance and interval training helps to provide a pleasant but incredibly effective cardio workout. It’s common knowledge that swimming is an excellent cardio exercise, so it should come as no surprise that water aerobics are as well.
ADL improvements are the primary benefit of water aerobics, however. Nowhere outside of the pool will you find exercises that are so effective in improving daily life while putting the exerciser at such little risk. This combination makes water aerobics the perfect choice for most people between 35 and 65.
The decreased fatigue and effectiveness of water aerobics provide a workout experience like no other. Of course, being in cool water doesn’t hurt during the summer months, either. If you’re looking for a pleasant and potent workout, water aerobics might be for you but, again, talk to an orthopedic professional if you have any concerns about getting in the water.