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Julie See


Aquatics Endurance Alternatives

A Complete Guide

By: Julie See


Learn basic movement patterns for musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary training in shallow water. Muscle involvement, intensity alteration and impact adjustment will be reviewed for each movement to meet a variety of needs and functional levels. Verbal commands and visual demonstrations for safety, motivation and movement transitions will also be covered. A written, pre-planned program with several training options is included so that therapists can select exercises appropriate for their patients.

Course Objectives:
  1. Compare recommendations for musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary endurance training.
  2. Discuss options for endurance training activities in shallow water considering water temperature, water depth and equipment options.
  3. Review methods to adjust muscle focus, intensity and impact to accommodate a variety of special needs.
  4. Practice movement patterns and targeted muscle exercises to better understand how to make adjustments for special considerations.
  5. Understand how verbal commands and non-verbal demonstration can effectively be implemented into a shallow water exercise session.

Aquatics Endurance

I. Comparison Of Recommendations

There are numerous sources to turn to for guidelines when designing fitness programs and your optimal source will ultimately depend on the individual or population, the nature of the program and the specifics of your training environment. Below is a comparison of guidelines from three organizations - ACSM, USDA/HSS, and AEA - that can provide the aquatic professional with a wealth of information when developing endurance-training programs.

ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription 2005/2006 [1]

Cardiorepiratory Exercise - Summary of Guidelines

  • Intensity of 40% / 50% to 85% of oxygen uptake reserve or heart rate reserve (HRR), or 64% / 70% to 94% of maximum heart rate.
  • Training below a minimal threshold (20% HRR or 50% HRmax) may be sufficient for those individuals with a low VO2max.
  • For most individuals, intensities between 60% and 80% HRR or 77% and 90% HRmax are adequate to provide improvements in cardiorespiratory training when following appropriate duration and frequency within the training program.
    • 20-60 minutes of continuous or intermittent activity
    • 3-5 days per week (2 may be adequate for deconditioned)
  • Athletes may train at higher intensities, in excess of 90% HRR.
  • HRR method is recommended for determining the training intensity (rather than the HRmax method) as it more accurately relates intensity relative to oxygen consumption.
  • Progression increments of no more than 20% each week until able to exercise continuously at a moderate to vigorous intensity for 20-30 minutes. Typically increase frequency and/or duration prior to increasing intensity.
  • Exercise energy expenditure (physical activity and/or exercise) should be within 150-400 kcal per day or a minimum of 1,000 kcal per week. Energy expenditure in excess of 2,000 kcal per week successful for weight control.

Resistance Exercise - Summary of Guidelines

  • Mode of exercise selected should be comfortable throughout the full pain free range of motion.
  • 8-10 exercise choices to target major muscles of the body. Training sessions longer than one hour decrease retention levels.
  • One set per exercise (with good form) to the point of volitional fatigue for healthy individuals.
    • Maintain specific training techniques.
    • Allow adequate time between exercises to maintain form.
    • Individuals with high CV risk or chronic disease, stop each exercise when the concentric phase becomes difficult while maintaining good form.
    • Maintain control throughout the exercise.
    • Maintain normal breathing throughout the exercise.
    • Train with a partner when possible for feedback.
  • Choose a range of repetitions between 3 and 20 that can be properly performed at a moderate rate (3 seconds for both the eccentric and concentric phase). 8-12 repetitions is still appropriate in many situations.
  • Train muscles groups 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week' when possible perform different exercises for each muscle group every second or third session.

USDA/HSS Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005 [2]

Physical Activity - Summary of Key Recommendations for Adults

  • 30 minutes of cumulative moderate-intensity physical activity (in addition to usual activities) most days of the week to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • 60 minutes of cumulative moderate to vigorous levels of activity most days of the week help manage weight and prevent gradual increase in body fat.
  • 60-90 minutes of cumulative moderate-intensity activity daily to sustain weight loss.
  • Special Population Recommendations:
    • Children & Adolescents - 60 minutes physical activity daily
    • Prenatal - 30 minutes or more of moderate level appropriate activity most days of the week in the absence of medical/obstetric complications.
    • Older Adults - Include regular physical activity to reduce age-related declines in function and achieve associated benefits.

AEA Creating Cardio & Strength Training Programs, 2005 [3]


  • Cardiorespiratory: Training should be performed 3-5 days per week. Start beginners with 3 times and progress.
  • Strength/Endurance: Training should be performed a minimum of 2-3 times per week. Start beginners with 2 times per week and progress; advanced fitness levels can perform strength training up to 4-6 times per week.


  • Cardiorespiratory: Continuous, rhythmical movements of the large muscle groups. Jogging, jumping jacks, cross country skis, and rocking horse movements are good examples of aerobic type activities in the water.
  • Strength/Endurance: 8 to 10 exercises to isolate all major muscle groups in a balanced and efficient format. Although the muscle pairs can work in balanced opposition more effectively in the water (when the principle of drag is employed), it is also recommended to isolate muscles with specific movements to promote individual growth and strength. This will also encourage better body alignment, muscle balance and kinesthetic awareness. For example, although performing elbow flexion and extension utilizes both the biceps and triceps against the water's resistance, it may be beneficial to also include specific training that emphasizes flexion and supination to focus on the biceps. Isolation allows the participant to concentrate on alignment, body position and full range of movement as well as "feel" the muscle involvement.


  • Cardiorespiratory: 20-60 minutes of continuous activity; start beginners as little as 12 minutes and gradually progress to the recommended range.
  • Strength/Endurance: Land-based principles cannot always be transferred directly to the pool. Speed is directly related to resistance loads with some types of aquatic equipment, drag equipment in particular, making very slow movements less effective. It may be possible to work to voluntary fatigue with 15 or less reps in the water with high resistance, moderate to high velocity and full range of motion. However, this is not always feasible, as one must consider the population as well as the choice of equipment. Utilizing at least one set of 16 to 32 repetitions for each exercise, although focusing more on endurance and less on absolute strength, may prove to be more effective for aquatic resistance training. Working in multiple sets is helpful for some individuals by encouraging maximum effort followed by a short rest period.


  • Cardiorespiratory: Moderate to somewhat hard intensity level is recommended relating to 12-16 on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale.
  • Strength/Endurance: Moderate. The program design is dependent upon fitness levels. Moderate intensity is best for most fitness levels, however an advanced participant may choose to work at a higher level. Everyone needs to listen to his or her body; safety and effectiveness should never be compromised by intensity.

II. II. Endurance Options For Shallow Water

Safe, effective and enjoyable shallow water endurance activities - both muscular and cardiopulmonary/cardiorespiratory in nature - will depend upon program design that considers water temperature, water depth and equipment options.

Water Temperature

AEA makes the following recommendations regarding water temperature for shallow water exercise program geared to the healthy adult population: "Water temperatures varying from 83-86 degrees Fahrenheit (28-30 degrees Celsius) is the most comfortable temperature for typical water fitness classes. This allows the body to react and respond normally to the onset of exercise and the accompanying increase in body temperature. Cooling benefits are still felt and there is little risk of overheating." [4]

However, once must always consider the clientele and the programming format as well as the difference between "water fitness classes" and therapeutic or rehabilitative programs. For example the MS Society recommends water as providing the "optimal exercise conditions" for persons with Multiple Sclerosis, but suggest cooler water temperatures, 80-84 degrees F, to prevent overheating that may result in temporary worsening of MS symptoms. [5] Below are suggestions for populations and/or programs that may require specific water temperatures. [4, 6]

population/program temperature variables
arthritis [arthritis foundation 82 - 88 f / 28 - 31 c (minimum temp. range)
arthritis [atri] 86 - 80 f / 28 - 31 c (low level class, atri)
cardiovascular disease 83 - 86 f / 28 - 30 c (moderate to high intensity)
cardiovascular disease 86 - 88 f / 30 - 31 c (lower intensity)
children, fitness 83 - 86 f / 28 - 30 c  
children, swim lessons 82+ f / 27.5+ c (varies w/ age, class length)
fibromyalgia 86 - 96 f / 30 - 35. 5 c  
multiple sclerosis 80 - 84 f / 26.5 - 29 c  
metabolic disease 83 - 86 f / 28 - 30 c (moderate to high intensity)
metabolic disease 86 - 88 f / 30 - 31 c (lower intensity)
" musculoskeletal disease 83 - 86 f / 28 - 30 c (moderate to high intensity)
musculoskeletal disease 86 - 88 f / 30 - 31 c (lower intensity)
obese 80 - 86 f / 26.5 - 30 c  
older adults 83 - 86 f / 28 - 30 c (moderate to high intensity)
older adults 86 - 88 F / 30 - 31 C (lower intensity)
Prenatal 78 - 84 F / 25.5 - 29 C (avoid pools 85 or higher*)
Pulmonary Disease 83 - 86 F / 28 - 30 C (moderate to high intensity)
Pulmonary Disease 86 - 88 F / 30 - 31 C (lower intensity)
Resistance Training 83 - 86 F / 28 - 30 C (minimum temp. range)
Therapy and Rehab 91- -95 F / 33 - 35 C  

*For moderate to high intensity exercise

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