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Water Exercises

At A Glance


Water exercises have become one of the most popular activities for good reason. Working in a low-gravity environment allows exercise of muscles and joints while they are relaxed and not supporting the body. This promotes normal range of motion, increased circulation, strengthening, stretching, traction, and endurance all at the same time.

Water exercising will never cause injury as long as the participant is careful in the water and getting in and out. Aquatic exercise can be performed by people of all ages, physical conditions, and functional ability.

Water exercises can take place in heated swimming pools, lap pools, lazy rivers, and on underwater treadmills. Many physical therapy centers focus on aquatic or water therapy. Community recreation centers such as the YMCA offer classes, including specially tailored sessions for individuals with arthritis, osteoporosis and de-conditioning.

Water yoga and water Pilates programs can also be healthful but should be undertaken in heated pools. Equipment such as water dumbbells and ankle weights use the resistance of the water to strengthen muscles and enhance the workout.

Elements of a highly beneficial, hour-long routine that can be performed every day, by almost everyone, include:

  • Start by floating with a life vest, flotation belt, or hanging on a life buoy for 15 minutes in the deep end with the feet not touching the bottom. This essentially provides stretching of the muscles and traction therapy similar to spinal decompression machines.
  • Use water dumbbells and ankle weights to move the water around while in this hanging traction position for another 15 minutes. The resistance of the water provides necessary resistance to gain the exercise benefit to muscles in the extremities and core spinal muscle groups.
  • Move to a shallower area so the water is about chest high, and walk, jog or run – forward, backwards, sideways, or bouncing for 30 minutes.


For sports injuries or post-surgical rehabilitation, working with a physical therapist is strongly advisable. For some patients with certain spine conditions that may require surgery, the pool is a good predictor of the outcome of surgery. If pain or symptoms subsides preoperatively with the above pool program, it is a good indicator that pain will vanish with surgery – and with an ongoing rehabilitation program afterwards.


Frequently asked Questions

What is the difference between normal exercise and water exercise therapy?
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