Why the bad rap?
I am definitely not knocking land-based activity here, as all forms of exercise have their pro/con lists, but can we just give aqua cardio credit where it's due? You can have a kick-ass workout without the added pain, soreness, and injury!
My very first job as a lifeguard led me to expand my profession in various forms of aquatic exercise. After 10 years in the aquatic scene, I learned one main underlying thing about aqua cardio: people don't take it seriously! Usually, people want to "feel the burn" and have the sweaty evidence of exercise soaking their clothes. A sweaty shirt is like a trophy! Look how hard I worked out! I am sweating BUCKETS over here! It's totally understandable. Hence the obsession with running. I am an avid non-runner (maybe 2 miles tops) because I despise the way running longer distances makes me feel. There are a dozen other forms of cardio to choose from (water aerobics included!) that have their own list of benefits that deserve exploration.
Myth: Water exercise isn't for serious athletes
Close your eyes and think about "water aerobics." I can guess what you pictured in your mind by doing a simple Google Image search of the phrase. The majority of photos that appear are of a group of senior citizens waving pool noodles in the air. Yes, aquatic exercise is extremely beneficial to seniors, but that doesn't mean it's any less beneficial to young, strong, athletes.
The folks who typically participate in water aerobics are 1) female, and 2) senior citizens. Why is that? Mainly it's because people don't take aquatic exercise seriously. It's seen as a weaker form of activity. Sure, people come to the pool to swim a few laps if they're training for a triathlon, but outside of joining a swim team, there just isn't much interest in water exercise, especially among young-adult males.
Water exercise is unique in that you sweat without realizing it. I mean, c'mon, you're swimming in a giant pool of liquid, so naturally you attribute the wetness to the water instead of your sweat. Not only that, but the physical evidence of having performed rigorous exercise isn't directly apparent, either. When an extremely difficult exercise routine is performed on land, we're able to feel it in our intense muscle soreness, joint aches, and increased heart rate. When in water, though, the pressure of the water itself acts as a source of full-body compression that prevents those tell-tale signs of a difficult workout.
Myth: Water limits your workout routine
Unfortunately, humans kind of need to breathe oxygen from time to time. That simple fact limits what can be done safely in the water environment. For the most part, though, many high-intensity routines exist for the purpose of burning extra calories, toning muscles, and increasing cardiac health. Simple modifications can be made to a land-base activity that makes it appropriate for the aquatic setting.
Fact: Water exercise is a valuable form of exercise that offers a plethora of benefits!
You know that land-based muscle soreness that prevents you from climbing the stairs for 2 days post-workout? Yeah, fagettaboudit. You won't have to worry about DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) with aqua cardio!
You know those joint aches that occur during/after a long run and one day will take the ultimate toll on your knees, hips, ankles, and lower back? Water aerobics prevents joint damage since it's non-weight-bearing. The buoyancy of your body in the water (up to 90% weight reduction) makes it easier on your joints than, say, running. While weight-bearing exercises have their benefits (like increasing bone density), the negative effects of joint pain and arthritis are reduced in a water environment.
When you don your compression socks before a run, the pressure of the sock around the calf muscle helps the circulation of blood against gravity which helps reduce swelling, muscle cramps, and lactic acid build-up (leading to DOMS). In the water, the pressure of the water that surrounds your body acts as a compression sleeve. You are less likely to have muscle soreness from water-based exercise than you would experience on land.
You know that feeling of your heart beating out of your chest and the inability to catch your breath as you perform intense cardio activity on land? Okay, that might still happen as you get started with water cardio, but it's less extreme than what you would experience on land. On land, you have to remain vertical for most cardio exercise. The effects of gravity require a higher heart rate to push the blood up-stream from your feet back to your heart. In water, though, you can stay in a horizontal position for the entire workout if you want to! Add the effects of the water-pressure compression-sleeve and find that your heart can do the same amount of work with less effort. That means you can workout for longer periods of time without feeling as winded!
Water causes resistance, specifically 12 times the resistance of air, so water exercise makes your muscles work harder with each movement. You can use this added resistance to your advantage by working on speed and agility drills in the water, for example, running and jumping. Your muscles will be accustomed to working at a certain resistance, meaning when you take those same drills back to a land-based activity, they will be faster and easier to perform in the air.
Next time you think about water aerobics being for the faint of heart, try a HIIT routine at the pool. You just might like it!