While water fitness was once the domain of older adults, now participants of all ages and ability levels are benefiting from aquatic workouts. Shirley Archer, JD, MA, water fitness specialist and health and wellness blogger, examines what’s new in aquatic training research and looks at different types of programs.

Research Update

Here are some of the newer findings related to aquatic training:

Aquatic training improves ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL). Older women who participated in 60-minute shallow-water exercise classes 3 days a week for 12 weeks performed better in land-based ADL, but did not improve balance (Sanders et al. 2016). The Golden Waves® program, used in this and other studies, has proved effective in all variables except for balance, which has had inconsistent results. Sanders notes that, for balance improvement, water depth is critical, and shallower is better.

People of all ages and ability levels can improve strength, endurance and body composition through effective aquatic training. For example, fit young men who did a periodized strength training program 3 times a week for 12 weeks significantly improved muscular strength and power and increased lean body mass (Colado et al. 2009). Healthy, untrained older women who did 60 minutes of shallow-water exercise (including 20 minutes of upper- and lower-body resistance training with equipment) 3 days a week for 24 weeks increased lean body mass by 3.4% and significantly improved muscular strength (Tsourlou et al. 2006).

Water properties lead to less muscle soreness and damage. A study comparing high-intensity land- and water-based plyometrics programs found that training in water produced less inflammation and muscle soreness (Robinson et al. 2004).

Water fitness lowers blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. A recent study of 35 people with type 2 diabetes compared land-based training with aquatic exercise. All participants trained for 45 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Participants in both groups experienced a significant reduction in A1C levels—a measure of glucose control (Delevatti et al. 2016).

Types of Programs

As water fitness continues to grow, innovative programs are emerging. Here’s a sampling:

  • shallow- and deep-water training, in­cluding deep-water running for endurance athletes
  • aquatic boot camp, HIIT, cycling and boxing
  • aquatic yoga, Pilates, dance, barre and pole dancing
  • core training, yoga and Pilates on un­stable floating mats or paddleboards
  • aqua mermaid and merman workouts
  • combination land and water programs
  • athletic coaching/personal training

Water Exercise Helps Athletes

More collegiate and professional athletic coaches are seeing value in aquatic cross-training as a regular off- and on-season method. Here are the benefits:

  • It reduces overuse injuries.
  • It supplements land training.
  • It adds variety and helps overcome training plateaus.
  • It increases muscle strength (because cardiovascular and muscle endurance training can occur concurrently in the water).
  • It supplements speed and sports training.
  • It facilitates postworkout recovery.
  • Work with a water exercise specialist to develop an effective program for your needs.


Colado, J., et al. 2009. Effects of a short-term aquatic resistance program on strength and body composition in fit young men. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23 (2), 549–59.
Delevatti, R., et al. 2016. Glucose control can be similarly improved after aquatic or dry-land aerobic training in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 19 (8), 688–93.
Robinson, L., et al. 2004. The effects of land vs. aquatic plyometrics on power, torque, velocity, and muscle soreness in women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18 (1), 84–91.
Sanders, M., et al. 2016. Aquatic exercise for better living on land: Impact of shallow-water exercise on older women for performance of activities of daily living (ADL). International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10 (1), 1–19.
Tsourlou, T., et al. 2006. The effects of a twenty-four-week aquatic training program on muscular strength performance in healthy elderly women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20 (4), 811–18.

IDEA Authors

Leave a Comment

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.