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Power in Resistance

Workouts with water.

The Unbearable Lightness of Water

So what makes water so great? Several things. First, its natural viscosity, or thickness, challenges your body with a constant state of resistance. To generate greater resistance you have several options: for instance, if you wear gloves or hold your fingers closed, you'll find it harder to move your hands through the water. Pushing yourself to go faster creates more resistance. Current and depth can also make your workout harder. Ever try to swim in choppy ocean waters? The deeper you go, the tougher the work.

For the injury-prone, injury-wary, or already-injured person, water is an extremely forgiving environment. During a run on land, your foot strikes the ground between 800 and 2,000 times per mile, each time at a force of up to four times your body weight, says David Brennan, aqua running expert and assistant clinical professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Your knees, ankles, and back take the brunt of this pounding, but in water your joints and skeleton are cushioned. You can work as hard and as fast as you want, but without the impact-related problems.

Skiers, dancers, need to work on your balance? Dive in, says Sanders. The muscles you use for balance and posture are all challenged by the constant push-pull of water. Try a one-legged squat in waist-deep water, she suggests. Not hard enough? Do it with your eyes closed and try to stay balanced. Strength work, too, can be done in water, with foam dumbbells. Think about a biceps curl, says Sanders. On land, this movement only works the biceps, whereas in water, you'll also target the triceps as you fight the dumbbell's buoyancy to lower your arm.

Choosing Your Workout: Go Solo or Join a Class

You don't have to memorize a complicated routine to get a good pool workout. Most YMCAs or health clubs with pools offer some sort of aquatic exercise class nowadays, says Sanders. Some focus on endurance, some on strength, and some on moves that will help you in your specific sport.

Water walking or running, however, are both things that anyone can effectively do alone. If you're going to be running in the deep end, all you need is your own bright blue flotation belt; for walking, a pair of nonslip shoes or old tennis shoes can help you grip the bottom of the pool. (Of course, if you haven't been exercising regularly, you should get your doctor's approval before you start.) For more tips on proper water walking and running techniques, see Wet Workout Basics.).

As for me, I'm back to being a landlubber -- most of the time. But whenever my back acts up, or I need a change of pace, I'm back in the water in a flash. I've gotten my money's worth out of my big blue belt and, summer-camp indignities aside, I've made peace with the water. I think I've finally graduated from guppy to dolphin.

Elizabeth B. Krieger is an associate editor at WebMD.

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