What Are the Different Aquatic Therapy Exercises?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 26 February 2020
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Aquatic therapy exercises are aerobic, muscle and strength-building exercises performed in water. These types of exercises involve moving arms and legs through the water in various motions and can be performed standing in shallow or deep water. The benefits of aquatic therapy exercises are similar to exercising on land, but the impact on the bones and joints is much less, making this a wonderful exercise program for people with osteoporosis, muscle or ligament tears, arthritis, and the elderly.

These exercises can be done without equipment, but most organized classes use at least some sort of equipment, typically provided by the instructor. An aqua jogger is a belt which holds a person upright in deep water and allows the arms and legs to move freely. Foam noodles and foam barbells can be held in the hands to keep the person afloat during leg exercises or moved through the water for added resistance. Aqua weights for the wrist and ankles are used to increase resistance and build muscle. Pool bottoms can either be slippery or rough, so most participants purchase a pair of rubber soled water shoes or sneakers.


Most aquatic therapy exercise classes begin and end with muscle stretches conducted in shallow water at the edge of the pool for balance support. The classes typically stay in shallow water for aerobic or dance type exercises, during which wrist and ankle weights can be added to increase the fitness difficulty and better tailor the workout to the participants' abilities. Some of the typical moves are to walk forwards and backward, run, squat and stand, jumping jacks, and jump ups. Coordinating arm movements are often demonstrated by the instructor for added difficulty and to increase physical fitness, but are optional based on the participant’s fitness level. To maintain the participants' heart rates at the targeted level, more strenuous aerobic exercises may be intermixed with stationary aquatic therapy exercises such as forward or sideways leg raises or knee raises.

More advanced classes for aquatic therapy exercises will then move in to deep water and will employ buoyancy devices such as an aqua jogger, noodles, or foam barbells. When an aqua jogger is used, the typical exercises are to run through the deep water, move arms and legs in opposite directions in a mimicked cross-country ski motion, and to alternately wave or flap arms and legs. When noodles or foam barbells are used, the concentration of the aquatic therapy exercises becomes the legs and involves bicycling or running motions and raising and lowering the legs forwards or sideways. The noodles and foam barbells are sometimes moved across the water surface to exercise the arms at the same time. Deep water exercises may involve the use of ankles weights for added resistance, but only if the participant is very fit and a strong swimmer.


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