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What is Water Walking?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Water walking is a form of hydroaerobics in which individuals walk through water. The low-impact exercise combines the benefits of walking with the added buoyancy of water. As water walking provides a greater level of resistance than walking on land, it works to reduce stress on the joints while strengthening and building muscle. The push-pull of water also works to improve flexibility and aid in balance.

Classes for walking in water are springing up as individuals of all ages and physical fitness levels search for an effective cardiovascular workout. Water walking classes are especially popular among seniors, overweight individuals, arthritis sufferers, and those with mobility issues. Pregnant women and those with lower back pain are also often advocates of the exercise. Even serious athletes are picking up on the benefits. For elite athletes, water-based exercises can be used as a form of active recovery between intense land workouts, sharpening form and speed.

Water walking can be done in a pond, lake, or even the ocean. Most often, however, water exercises are done in indoor pools, allowing individuals to work out in hot, cold, or inclement weather. Knowing how to swim is not a requirement of walking in water. Flotation devices can be used to help non-swimmers stay afloat in the water.

Structured classes are not a necessity for water walking. Those new to the exercise may still want to consider a class lead by a qualified instructor to help in learning the basic steps and ensure safety. Classes can usually be found at local gyms, health clubs, and senior fitness centers.

Walking in water exercises can be done in either the shallow or deep end of the pool. For beginners, the shallow end is often used since deeper water provides a more strenuous workout. The basic movement of water walking involves walking forward just like walking on land. Participants stand in waist-deep water and stride forward, focusing on planting the whole foot on the bottom of the pool with each step. The core muscles are engaged with each movement, and the arms move front to back to give a full body workout.

For greater variety, water aerobics can incorporate walking in reverse or to the side. Additional resistance and intensity levels can be achieved with water barbells, kickboards, ankle weights, and additional aquatic equipment. Water walking shoes can also be used to provide increased traction and grip for walking across the pool floor.

Regardless of the reasons for deciding to try water walking, the exercise can be used to improve overall physical fitness without causing joint pain. Even water exercising is not without possible consequences, however. Pregnant women and those with preexisting conditions including diabetes and heart disease should consult with a doctor before trying any type of hydroaerobics.

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Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Jul 11, 2014

@irontoenail - My father was a sports coach a couple of decades ago and my mother told me once that some men approached him with one of those water walking harnesses in the hope that he would recommend it to his athletes.

My dad thought it was hilarious and something that no one would ever use and refused to work with them. Of course, now everyone uses it for rehabilitation and the elderly, and even just an alternative type of fitness.

My mother liked to tease him about how wrong he was in his prediction, but my dad takes it graciously and even uses those harnesses himself now.

By irontoenail — On Jul 11, 2014

@umbra21 - My pool has a special section for water walking, which is deep and has a bunch of flotation harnesses available for anyone to use. It would be wonderful if it weren't for the fact that there are groups of people who tend to take over the entire section without any thought for others.

It really annoys me, because they spread out in a way that means that no one else can use that area and there's no need for them to do that. They could move in smaller bunches and fit more people in.

I kind of wish that the exercise wasn't so popular, because if you want to do it without stepping on the ground you really do need to be in the deep end of the pool. And there's no choice but to wait if someone is taking more than their fair share of space.

By umbra21 — On Jul 11, 2014

I do this in the mornings with my mother. She's had a few health issues lately and this is an exercise that doesn't put too much stress on her joints. I think she would be embarrassed to do water walking by herself, since not many people at our local pool seem to do it, but we have a great time together, gossiping up and down the slow lane. We try to stay out of the way of swimmers, which is fine if we time our visit to avoid the rush hour.

It doesn't really feel like exercise to me, honestly, but I think it's done my mother the world of good.

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