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Each Fitness Article, is written by Mary E. Sanders, Ph.D
Adjunct Professor, University of Nevada, Reno and Director of Wave Aerobics®.

Email Mary Sanders

Bookmark this section and check back often for more fitness education tips.

Burnin’ The Fat....
   in Deep Water

One of the greatest benefits of water is that the natural resistance of water is used to stimulate both cardio respiratory AND muscular endurance conditioning. Training studies conducted in water, indicated significant body fat loss along with significant muscular strength/endurance gains (Barretta, Hoeger, Sanders, Ruoti). The benefits of deep water include zero impact for a low joint stress, high intensity cardio workout with some cross over muscular conditioning. Research by Grediagin et al (1995), suggests that if fat loss is the goal of a program and time is limited, people should be encouraged to exercise safely at as high an intensity as tolerable to expend as much energy (kcal) as possible during their allotted time. Water provides a safe and effective environment to work at high intensity without some of the risks associated with impact on the land. Hit the pool for serious results or cross train using a “surf” and “turf” approach, alternating wet/dry workouts for balance. Be sure to learn the proper water running techniques to optimize training. Frangolias & Rhodes (1995) suggested that “water skills” are important to maximizing results. The subjects in their study who were “water trained” achieved higher intensities than those who did not know how to use the water effectively. keep in mind, water running is a “learned skill”, similar to other sports such as tennis. Let’s examine the guidelines for training targeting weight control as published by the American College of Sports Medicine. ....AFAA and a member / presenter, currently certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)...

Guidelines for Weight Control and Body Composition
(ACSM, 1998).

Minimum training threshold for fat loss:

Frequency: 3 days per week
Intensity: High enough to expend 250-300 kcal per session
Type/Mode: Cardio respiratory Fitness
Time: Approximately 30-45 min. for an average fitness level

People who want to target weight loss as their primary fitness objective, are recommended to workout more often, for a longer duration and a moderate intensity. Risk of injury will be reduced and hopefully, students will stick with a program that is moderately paced. 

Training guidelines for these people are: 

Frequency: 4 days per week
Intensity: High enough to expend 200 kcal per session
Type/Time: Cardio respiratory /30-45 minutes


Deep Water” Surf” and “Turf” Kcal “BURN”.
The following chart compares deep water walking/running with land based activities. 
Type of Water/
Land Exercise 
Water Activities for Women:
Deep Water "Walking:
(moderate intensity)
Deep Water Running
(hard-very hard intensity)
11.5 (or higher)
Land Running, 130 lb. person
11 min/mile pace 8.0
9 min/mile pace 11.4
Water Running for Men:
Deep Water Running
at 78% HRMax (Michaud, 1995)
13 (or higher)
Deep Water Running 
at 83% HRMax (Richie, 1991)
15 (or higher)
Land Running, 170 lb. person  
11 min/mile pace 10.5
9 min/mile pace 14.9
8 min/mile pace 16.0

Let’s apply the information to design a water workout that meets the minimal weight loss threshold criteria.

Note: Consult a physician prior to starting any new workout regime. Make sure to monitor intensity during the workout using perceived exertion, heart rate monitoring or the “talk test”.

The “Burnin”... Deep Water Interval Workout
Strap on a buoyancy belt and use webbed gloves for balance. Head for the deep. Be sure you know basic personal safety skills and workout under the supervision of a lifeguard. 

Warm-up, pre training phase & Warm-down, post training (6 kcal/min)* (include light bicycling, kicking, jogging and scissors).

Warm-up 8-10 min. Light to Moderate
Training Phase (15-30 min.)  
Walking (8.8 kcal/min 10 min. Moderate-Hard
Recovery (4 kcal/min) 1 min Light
Running (11.5 kcal/min) 3 min. Hard-Very Hard
Recovery (4 kcal/min) 1 min.  

Three days/week program:
Perform Training Phase 2 times.

Four days/week program:
Perform Training Phase only once.

Warm Down (6 kcal/min) 8-10 min Light to Moderate

Kcal Workout "BURN"

Three days/week program:  
Workout time (approx): 45 minutes
Estimated training phase kcal: 261 kcal
Estimated workout kcal: 351 kcal
Four Days/week program:
Workout time (approx): 30 minutes
Estimated training phase kcal: 130.5 kcal
Estimated workout kcal: 226.5
Kcal estimates are based on studies measuring women.

References available on request. --Mary E. Sanders


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Mary E. Sanders, Ph.D

Associate Professor, School of Medicine, Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health, University of Nevada, Reno and Director of WaterFitÒ/Golden Wavesâ; Affiliated Faculty, Sanford Center for Aging University of Nevada; Associate Editor of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal for the American College of Sports Medicine; Advisory board member for International Council on Active Aging; columnist The Journal of Active Aging; Faculty member, Thera-Band® Advisory Board & Research Advisory Committee, TRAC Academy, Editor/co-author of YMCA Water Fitness for Health and developer of WaterFit Ò and the SpeedoÒ Aquatic Fitness Systems.  Mary has been active for 20 years conducting research in exercise sciences & leadership, training instructors globally and as an international presenter and author. She can be contacted at www.waterfit.com .

Current Research Projects:

  • Program Evaluation: Determining the Impact of a Water-based, Cross-cultural Exercise Program for Women Aged 50 Years and Older to Improve or Maintain Functional Activities of Daily Living on Land (Includes data from programs conducted in the USA, Japan and Spain)

  • Efficacy of the Thera-Band®, First Step for Active Health Program Among Participants in a Medical-Based Weight Loss Program

  • Understanding How A Water Exercise Program Motivates Older Adults to Be Physically Active

  • Program Evaluation: Integrating Water Exercise into Current Physical Education Programs in Hong Kong Middles & Secondary Schools


  • IDEA, Health & Fitness Association, Instructor of the Year, 1997

  • Aquatic Exercise Association, Global Award, Lifetime Achievement in Aquatic Fitness, 2000

  • Fitness Educators of Older Adults Association’s, Fitness Educator of the Year, 2001

  • Sanford Center for Aging, University of Nevada, Reno, 2002, Senior Star Tribute

  • Aerobic Fitness & Health Association, Republic of China, 10 Years of Industry Contributions, 2004 presented at the International Health Promotion & Aerobic Convention, Taipei, Taiwan

Mary is certified as a Health & Fitness Instructor by ACE and ACSM and a continuing education provider for a number of certification organizations.

Contact Mary Sanders via email.

HOT NEW Articles & Info Sources !

Contact the publishers or associations for membership information or single copies/reprints of the article.

 ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal www.acsm.org .

The Journal on Active Aging, www.icaa.cc

Perspective, Journal of the Association of Professional Directors of YMCAs,  E-mail: perspect@apdymca.com

IDEA Fitness Journal, www.ideafit.com

Fit Germany, Fitness Professionals, June, 2000. www.aquateam.de


·         Exercise Soothes Arthritis
by D. C. Nieman, Dr. P.H., FACSM,
May/June, 2000 ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal.
Contact ACSM, cheister@acsm.org or 317-637-9200. 

·         Deep Water Running Training and Road Running Training Improve V02 max in Untrained Women
by K. Davidson and Lars McNaughton. 
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2000
, 14(2), 191-195. Contact: NSCA, http://www.nsca@nsca-lift.org or 800-815-6826. 

! Consumer Magazines featuring Water Fitness:!

Skiing Magazine – January, 2003

Cooking Light – June 2003

Prevention – August 2003

Self – Summer 2003

www.prevention.com 2004
SHAPE, August, 2004

! Professional Website Links !

American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM's Health &
Fitness Journal:

Aquatic Exercise Association: http://www.aeawave.com

Desert Southwest Fitness: www.dswfitness.com

International Council on Active Aging: www.icaa.cc

IDEA, The Health & Fitness Source: http://www.ideafit.com

YMCA of the USA: http://www.YMCA.net


WaterFit, Wet in SHAPE Workout!

Checkout SELF MAGAZINE July/August 2005 for the complete workout!

By Mary E. Sanders, MS

Photos by Tracy Frankel.

Integrating water exercises into your personal training program or your land based group exercise program provides unique training benefits. Besides “surprising” the body with a totally new movement environment, water provides an opportunity for you to explore how the body moves without constraints of gravity and fear of falling.  The trunk “core” (abdominals, erector spine and obliques) are constantly stimulated by currents, pushing and pulling, for postural training.  Two of the greatest benefits include:

  • the ability to adjust impact, even during high intensity work
  • accommodating resistance of water, (the harder you press, the harder water presses back and when they stop the effort, the work stops). 

These two benefits put you in charge of your own workouts and create an opportunity to focus on powerful resistance overload for muscular conditioning and/or vigorous lower body movements targeting cardio training.

Water provides an effective environment for any fitness level or age of student.  Athletes who need to increase the volume of their training without increasing risk of injury find water’s resistance a tough workout, without the same joint stress as their land drills. Baby Boomers can keep up with their activity dreams. According to a report in the financial publication, Barron’s (1998) “baby boomers are refusing to go quietly into middle age.  Emergency room admissions for sports injuries of people over 40 years old have increased by 60% between 1986 and 1996”. A physical medicine physician I spoke with said that water is the one environment where “sofa athletes” can safely workout “like the athletes they are in their mind”. For older adults, water’s safety and accommodating resistance offer a safe chance for people who are challenged by their ability to perform simple activities of daily living by improving skills that seemed easier when they were young.  By including water as a component of a complete exercise program, you can train vigorously comfortably while developing lifetime skills that keep you active as your bodies change over time.


Why Add Water?

  1. Decreased weight bearing so the trainer can regulate the degree of  impact down to zero (deep water), while still maximizing overall  intensity. The volume of work (especially high intensity) can be   increased without increasing risk of injury from impact.
  1. Increases movement confidence by providing support, especially for clients with impaired balance or stabilization skills.
  2. Decreases swelling and offsets tendency of blood pooling in extremities.
  3. Helps build muscles of inspiration and assists with expiration.
  4. Resistance drops to zero the instant force/effort stops.
  5. Clients who are intimidated by the weight room can target progressive resistance training, using multiple range of motion.
  6. Resistance may be progressively adjusted during the pattern performance       by regulating speed for uninterrupted overload.
  7. Postural muscles are stimulated constantly by water pushing and pulling against the body. 
  8. Functional patterns of daily living or sports patterns, especially for recovery to a stabilized position can be resisted for improved performance on land.  
  9. Buoyancy provides support for enhanced range of motion work for the limps and spine.
  1. Blood supply to muscles significantly increases: improves oxygen delivery to muscles and improves removal of muscle lactates, affecting the degree of post exercise muscle soreness, making clients more comfortable.

Cross Training with Cross-over benefits

Time Efficiency:

Besides all the great points listed above, another great reason to hit the pool is the opportunity for time efficient training during a single session.

Guidelines for training:

Energy Expenditure: For weight management the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 3 sessions of exercise per week with an intensity high enough to expend 250-300 kcal/session or 4 days a week at an intensity high enough to expend 200 kcal/week. 

Studies show that estimated kcal expenditure of water exercise ranges from 5-15 kcal/minute, comparable to land exercise (with less orthopedic stress to the lower body). Training studies resulted in an average decrease in body fat of 1-3% after about 8 weeks of training.

Resistance: For health it’s recommended that resistance training be performed twice a week.

The resistance of movement performed at an average speed is estimated to be about 12 to 15 times that of air based on water being about 800 times denser than air. Since all movements can be resisted in the water, muscular conditioning can be performed functionally – using patterns of daily living in multiple planes. Studies show impressive significant gains in muscular endurance after 8 weeks of training with some subjects moving from a category of below average to above average in fitness level according to the YMCA evaluations.  Older adults showed significant improvements daily activities such as the sit to stand, speed walk (16% faster with fewer steps taken), agility, biceps curls for lifting and stair climb (Sanders, et al, 1997).

Cardiovascular Fitness. The objective is to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most preferably all days of the week.

Training studies show significant cardiorespiratory improvements. In some cases intensity in the water was higher when compared to an equivalent activity on land. Water’s buoyancy can reduce impact progressively. As water depth increases, weight bearing decreases, until it is zero during deep water exercise, performed with the support of a buoyancy belt. Your can perform vigorous exercise without the “cost” of lower body impact making your session more comfortable.

Flexibility: Range of motion exercises included 2- 3 days per week as part of the warm-up and cool down exercises. Significant improvements in flexibility were noted with greater improvements noted during water exercise when compared to land exercise groups.     

Crossover training: Muscular conditioning exercises for the upper body can be designed to use the lower body vigorously enough to contribute to cardio work.  Water’s viscosity naturally provides resistance for both cardio challenge and upper body muscular endurance as the arms are worked constantly for balance and movement coordination.

Posture, posture, posture: Water’s buoyancy and currents, stimulate the postural muscles constantly as students try to maintain balance, stabilize and change positions.  Moving the body from horizontal to vertical, provide unique trunk work that may translate to postural control and movement corrections on the land. 

Integrated Cardio & Resistance Training: Sforzo and colleagues in 1998 investigated a time efficient land training format that was based on targeting both cardio and resistance work during one session (performed 3 days per week).  Their results suggested that when clients alternated stationary cycling (performed at target heart rates) immediately followed by upper body resistance exercises (6-10 repetitions maximum), they gained BOTH muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness (Sforzo et al, 1998). One of the disadvantages of this type of format for land training is the need for equipment that is available for quick transitions.  By using the entire pool as our training “machine” a similar “one stop shopping” format can address both single clients and groups.

Add webbed gloves to assist with balance and for extra surface area overload for upper bodywork.


You are in Charge! Regulate your own – on demand intensity:

Adjust Intensity: Listen to your body.

To reduce intensity, use the 4 S’s:

1.       Slow down
2.       make the move Smaller
3.       Work the move Stationary
4.       Stabilize by sculling, using your hands on the surface like smoothing sand

To increase intensity, use the 4 S’s again:

1.       Increase Size of the move
2.       Increase the Speed of the move
3.       Travel through the water creating currents to challenge the Stablizers
4.       Add Surface area with equipment or by changing the position of the hands, legs or    body.


Tips: Drink water occasionally during the pool session               

       Use a sculling or figure eight motion with your hands for balance and to assist travel.


Basic equipment: Webbed gloves for balance and water shoes for traction, protection and support, buoyancy belt. Paddles can be added for extra resistance and tethers can be added for extra challenge to the core stabilizers. Slo Mo soft balls are added for core and balance work . Available through Fitness Wholesale, 1-888-396-7337, or through www.waterfit.com .



Wet into SHAPE! Workout

Shallow Water Ready to Play Warm-up: (5 minutes) Find a proper working depth so you can work in control, shallow water between navel and nipple.

Training Target:  Adjust to buoyancy and feel the resistance of water while you warm-up the body. Kcal cost: approximately 7 kcal/min.   

Perform light easy moves in place such as jogging, rocking, scissors or easy jumping to warm-up the body and get adjusted to the feel of water’s buoyancy and resistance.  Stabilize using a sculling movement (like smoothing sand you’re your hands at the surface). Check body alignment, ears, shoulders and hips lined up. Be sure to press heels to the bottom occasionally.  Gradually increase the size of the moves and then speed to increase intensity.

Scissors: Neutral (touching the bottom), Rebound (jumping), Suspended (feet off the bottom…mimicking deep water work)

Soft push down with hands & easy wide Jog
Push arms forward & easy Jump backward
Easy Rocking side to side

Cardioresistance Back Waves for upper back (5 minutes

Choose an overload level that is lower than your maximal but still challenging. During the sets focus on performing the entire movement with maximal effort by both the upper and lower body.  

For fun and to provide rest: focus on upper body work, then switch and focus on lower body work...then without changing intensity of the lower body, add the upper body work and work the entire body. Check RPE.

Tips: Drink water occasionally during the pool session

With shoulders down and back, walk or jog backward in shallow water (navel to nipple depth) and press arms from front to back, squeezing shoulder blades together.  Work full range of motion. Keep traveling backward and allow the currents to float your arms forward, ready for the next fly back. Perform about 12-15 flys, 1 or more sets as needed. Remember to check for good posture in the liquid weight room! Increase the pace of your walk or job for additional cardio overload.

Shallow Water Running: Cardio Chaos (5 minutes):

Target:   Cardiorespiratory endurance, agility and core stabilization. Shallow water running can “cost” an estimated 17 kcal/min, when performed at maximal effort, navel to nipple depth. Alternate “Go Easy/Go Hard” for a more comfortable interval approach.

Crossover:   All sports with running, “cutting” and cardio endurance.

Run or walk in water, navel to nipple deep using good form, begin slowly and gradually increase pace, pushing the water out of your way. Quick reverse and change directions working against the currents you’ve created. Move forward, backwards, laterally, diagonally, in circles, and zig zags. 

Intensity Progression: Gradually increase speed and change directions against the current more quickly or frequently. Team train with a partner calling out directional changes while they draft off your currents.

To increase intensity more, intensity lift knees higher, run faster, work the arms through the water with more force to increase the muscular endurance work, pushing and pulling for crossover training, then increase the distance covered. Hold a submerged kickboard for a buggy walk that targets isometric postural work for the upper body and cardio at the same time. Use RPE to check intensity.

Low Intensity         Run slowly using small strides.

                             Enlarge the size of the stride and movement

                             Increase speed.

                             Change directions, zig zag, working against the currents.

                             Check posture!


Push the shopping cart by adding a kickboard, half submerged, holding it in front.  Challenge your core stabilizers more by holding the board out to the side and continue your chaos walk/run pace. Go suspended and kick, for more core stabilization work!  Check that shoulders are down and back, wrists in neutral alignment!

Higher Intensity   
Add surface area (kickboard) to your walk or jog.
Runs. Run away, forward or diagonally. Increase intensity, 
tethered to the wa

Wall Bounders (1-5 minutes)

Training Target: Agility, Cardio, Coordination and Balance

Face the wall in the shallow end. Run or walk up to the wall, quickly touch one foot and then the other about 2 feet up the wall, push off backward and recover quickly to a stand. Quickly repeat the runs in and away from the wall, working the currents created. To increase intensity add more speed, lift feet higher, or put both feet on the wall at the same time. For even more challenge, hook up a tether and work both the currents and the elastic tether resistance!

Tethered Wall bounders

Ball Core Training

Getting Started

·        Inflate your ball so it is still soft and about the size of a cantaloupe.

·        Remember to work in good posture: ears, shoulders (pulled down), Hips lined up

·        Ball Working Positions: At the Surface, Submerged, and in the Air
Sample Exercises:

Sample Exercises:

Core Cardio

·        Stir the pot at the surface – walk, jog, jump, scissors, or rock


Core Muscular

Tilting (submerged between legs)

Core, Balance and Agility

Twister – reach, submerge ball, bring to chest turn ¼ turn and stand!

Basketball Balance: Hold under and stand, leg extended, then into body, then squat and stand, close eyes! (submerged)

Paddle Ball - Ball in one hand, paddle hands, stand on 1 leg, close eyes (surface)


As seen in SELF Magazine, July/August, 20045

Popcorns – submerge, pop up, catch in the air! Add a jog forward as you submerge, release and catch the pop!

As seen in SELF Magazine, July/August, 2005

Popcorns – submerge, pop up, catch in the air! Add a jog forward as you submerge, release and catch the pop!
1. Shoulders down and back. Submerge ball. Keep abs tight.   2. Release ball underwater & let it pop up!   3.Catch it in the air!

Deep Water Running (5-30 minutes)


  • Wear a buoyancy belt
  • Water line should be at shoulder level with mouth above the surface
  • Head forward, neck relaxed and unflexed
  • Body slightly forward of vertical
  • Spine “Neutral”
  • Arms work same as land, moving from the shoulder, hands slicing
  • Hip flexion is about 60-80°
  • Ankles dorsi and plantar flex mimicking the roll through heel to toe, on land
  • Move in straight lines, no twisting
  • Use full range of motion for the arms and legs, especially extending downward
  • Use a simple “Go easy/Go Hard” interval pace for comfort.

(Brennan, Wilder in Becker, Cole, 1997)

Fitness Running RPE

Check Intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Brennan Scale (1997)

Description                     Cycles/min             Land-based Equivalent Pace

(strides/min)          (time to complete distance on land)

1.       Very Light             Less than 50          Slow walk (less than a 21 minute/mile)

2.     Light                     50-60                      Medium walk (15-20 minute/mile)

3.     Somewhat Hard      60-75                        Fast walking/jog

 (les than 15 minute/mile)

4.     Hard                     75-85                      Running (5-10 minute mile)

5.     Very Hard             More than 85         Very hard run (less than 5 minute/mile)


* Count each time the right leg extends down.


Warmdown : Shallow water (5 –10 minutes)

Stretch out by relaxing on your ball, move it around your body while you rack gently and feel the stretch in your chest. Jog easy in all directions, leap to the side to feel your hamstrings stretch and take an easy “floppy jog” to cool down!


Floppy jog


Sanders, Ph.D
MS University of Nevada www.waterfit.com


! Consumer Links !
Web MD: http://www.webmd.com
Venus Sports: http://www.VenusSports.com