Aqua aerobics was one of those events that I both loved and loathed as a lifeguard. I loved it because my presence on the lifeguard tower was entirely precautionary, much as it was for when I was lifeguarding during organized swim lessons and team practices. All of those scenarios caused me less angst than when I had to frequently grab a megaphone and beg grade-school kids not to powerbomb one another off of the pool deck during general swimming hours.
I loathed aqua aerobics, though, because nearly everyone involved in the classes was well over the age of 60, so I always had a pervasive (unfounded?) fear that someone would have a heart attack or stroke on my watch. In fact, it wasn’t until decades later, when I was regularly training at a YMCA, that I ever recall someone under the age of 30 participating in an aqua aerobics class, let alone frequently attending one.
I found this youngster’s preferred choice of cardio to be brave, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there were more productive ways they could have been spending their time. Then again, I spent an entire year clumsily training on my breaststroke while the members of the local swim club laughed at me. So if I felt no shame about my chosen form of working out, why should the lone under sixtysomething in the aqua aerobics class have felt any shame about theirs?
What does aqua aerobics do for you?
No surprise here, aqua aerobics is primarily what its name implies — an aerobic routine performed in an aquatic environment.
If you’re comparing aqua aerobics to typical aerobics in terms of its energy expenditure, the metabolic equivalent task score assigned to aqua aerobics is between 5.3 and 5.5, while ordinary aerobics has a score of 7.3. To make those scores a little bit more relatable, aqua aerobics is roughly equivalent to pedaling an elliptical with moderate effort, while standard aerobics ranks closer to the moderate effort of piloting a bicycle through the countryside.
This isn’t to suggest that every element of aqua aerobics becomes simplified by the presence of water. Because water is 830 times denser than air, it distributes far greater resistance to every movement that’s made within it, which can be amplified by the positioning of the hands and fingers as they’re moving through it. However, there’s a trade-off as the density of the water tremendously decelerates the movement of limbs and severely reduces the total quantity of movement that can be made.
So should I consider doing aqua aerobics?
Allow me to answer that question with a few questions of my own: Why are you opting to do water aerobics? Do you have an injury or some other malady that prevents you from supporting your own bodyweight during other forms of exercise? In that case, water aerobics might be a suitable option.
However, my first follow-up question is, “Can you swim?” Very slow lap swimming represents an exertion on a similar level to aqua aerobics, and if you actually put some effort into your swimming, you can rapidly escalate to a level of exertion that exceeds even that of an ordinary aerobics class.
Along those lines, you’d be better off engaging in virtually any other form of cardiovascular exercise enabled by your gym than aqua aerobics. A dedicated weight routine against authentic gravity will engage your muscles more optimally, and most forms of cardio — including running indoors or on a treadmill, rowing, biking and ellipticalling — will more readily enable you to boost your pace and effort level to reliably fatigue yourself.
That said, there’s no shame in doing aqua aerobics. It at least gets you moving, and something is always better than nothing in terms of exercise. So if you’re thinking about getting back to working out, aqua aerobic waters are as good as any to dip your toe into.