In this Article…

  • What is aqua therapy;
  • Benefits of aqua therapy;
  • Aqua Therapy 10 Exercises you can do:
    • 1. Water Walking;
    • 2. Leg Abduction-Adduction (Side Leg Raises);
    • 3. Leg Flexion-Extension (Front-to-back Leg Raises);
    • 4. Leg Figure 8’s;
    • 5. Arm Figure 8’s;
    • 6. Arm Abduction-Adduction (Side Arm Raises);
    • 7. Shoulder Rotations (Shoulder Circles);
    • 8. Hip Rotations;
    • 9. Hip Flexion-Extension;
    • 10. Leg Bicycle.
  • Video Version on YouTube: Aqua Therapy: 10 Exercises for Mobility, Strength, Balance & Posture

What is Aqua Therapy?

Group of mature adults stretching in a pool

Aqua therapy is a form of physical therapy that takes place in water. Whether you’re recovering from an injury, managing a chronic condition or chronic pain, or you’re simply looking to enhance your overall fitness, aqua therapy can be a fantastic option.

What are the Benefits of Aqua Therapy?

portrait of satisfied mature woman with grey hair

The major benefit of aqua therapy is the water’s cushioning environment. Water provides a cushioning and low-impact environment that reduces stress on joints. This is great for reducing and managing joint and muscle pain while exercising.

Aqua therapy also helps to improve flexibility, mobility, strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

10 Aqua Therapy Exercises You Can Do

*Remember to check in with your primary care provider before starting any form of physical exercise routine*

1. Water Walking

Man doing water walking aqua therapy exercise in a pool. Photo taken under water.

This is a simple yet effective exercise. Find a pool where the water is chest-deep and start Walking.

The resistance of the water will engage your muscles, promoting strength and endurance. You can vary your pace to increase intensity.

I’ve introduced Water Walking as one of my 8 Foundational Exercises in a previous in a previous article. Feel free to check it out to learn more about my Foundational 8!

You can assist your Walk with your hands and arms by pulling the water as you move along. Feel free to experiment with different arm movements and try increasing the pace for an extra challenge.

Furthermore, you can challenge your body’s stabilizers including your core when you keep your hands above the water’s surface. You’ll want to focus on a good posture and a tight, engaged core as you move through the water.

Variations include…Walking through the pool sideways and alternating your arm movements in front and behind you. You can Walk backwards too. And if you’re looking to focus on proprioception training, try closing your eyes as you move along. You’ll lose all visual perception and rely on proprioception to train for balance and spatial awareness.

2. Leg Abduction-Adduction (Side Leg Raises)

Man doing leg abduction and adduction aqua therapy pool exercise. Photo taken under water.

Abduction and Adduction are just fancy anatomical words for moving your leg away from the body to the side and then bringing it back in.

In this exercise, you’ll want to cross your mid section as you bring your leg back in. Aim for 15-20 reps per side and crossing in front. Then, repeat the exercise crossing your leg behind for another 15-20 reps per side.

To help with balance and form, find a spot along the edge of the pool in chest-deep water and perform this exercise. Doing it assisted while holding on to the pool’s edge will allow you to also go at a faster pace for added resistance through the water.

Or, you can also do this exercise with a greater focus on core strengthening, muscle stabilization & balance without any pool side assistance. Go ahead and try it without holding on to the edge and use your hands to scull for balance in the water instead.

Note: Balance training & core stabilization can be enhanced even more if you raise your hands above the water and finally, you can focus on proprioception training by closing your eyes. Proprioception: The sense of the position of parts of the body, relative to other neighboring parts of the body.

3. Leg Flexion-Extension (Front-to-back Leg Raises)

Man doing leg flexion-extension aqua therapy exercise in pool. Photo taken under water.

Similar to the previous exercise, this one is another single-leg movement raising your leg up in front, back down, and then back.

Experiment with assisted and un-assisted versions of this exercise. Meaning, hold on to the pool edge and then switch to just using your hands to scull in the water for balance. Of course, you can adjust this exercise to target more balance and stabilization as well as proprioception as I described earlier.

Try pointing your toes when you extend your leg behind. You’ll notice more muscle activation in the posterior leg muscles including your calves and hamstrings. And, as you extend back, pause a second or two to squeeze your gluts (aka your cheeks). Just be careful to not hyper extend and cause pinching in your lumber spine (your lower back). If you can’t extend back too far, that is totally fine.

Do a set of 15-20 reps per leg and let’s take it to the next exercise.

Leg Figure 8’s

Man doing aqua therapy leg exercise, figure 8's in a pool. Underwater angle.

Alright, this next exercise requires a bit more coordination and mental focus.

Still in chest-deep water, standing on a single leg, move your suspended leg in the motion of a Figure 8. Picture what the number 8 looks like and draw it in large circular motion with your suspended leg. The top part of the 8 is out in front (your anterior plane) while the bottom part of the 8 is behind (your posterior plane).

As you move, you’ll notice that it’s a challenge to keep your upper body from bending forward. Stand tall and engage your abdominal muscles as you draw the figure 8.

Do 15-20 reps going one direction and then switch to draw it backwards. Then repeat the exercise with your other leg.

And just like the previous exercises, you can experiment with assisted and unassisted versions, arms in the water or out, as well as keeping your eyes opened or closed. And have fun!

Arm Figure 8’s

Man demonstrating Figure 8's with arms: aqua therapy exercise in a pool. Under water angle.

Just like we drew a Figure 8 previously with a single leg, this time draw a large Figure 8 with each extended arm to the sides. This is an excellent shoulder workout and it will help with shoulder mobility.

You’ll also get an excellent stretch in your chest muscles as you move your arms back. Focus on large circular motions as you trace along the Figure 8 moving your arms together.

Aim for 15-20 repetitions.

Arm Abduction-Adduction (Side Arm Raises)

cheerful senior woman doing side arm raises in a pool

Next we’re doing an Arm Abduction and Adduction with midline cross. Arm abduction meaning moving your arms out to the sides and Adduction meaning bringing your arms back in and then crossing your mid section in front.

Do 15-20 reps with a front midline cross followed by another 15-20 reps with a posterior midline cross. Remember to engage your core and keep a good posture as you perform the exercise.

These are excellent for shoulder mobility too!

Shoulder Rotations (Shoulder Circles)

Man demonstrating shoulder rotation aqua therapy exercise

Remember doing these in high school gym class as warm up? Well, I’m bringing them back.

Excellent for shoulder joint mobility and improving range of motion, you’ll want to do this exercise slightly deeper in the water or you can bend your knees so that your shoulders are just below the water line.

With a palm up, do back circles and with a palm down, do forward circles.

Start with small circles and then gradually make them larger keeping your arms below the surface.

Do 10-15 circles per direction.

Hip Rotation

Man doing hip rotation aqua therapy exercise in a pool. Under water angle.

And now, to the hips.

Standing in chest deep water, rotate your hips going one direction like you’re doing the hula hoop but in slow motion. Large rotations without causing any injury. If you need to keep them smaller, do so.

Do a set of 15-20 and then switch directions.

As you rotate your pelvis, you’ll want to focus on engaging your core muscles too. Squeeze your abs as you rotate around in front.

Hip Flexion-Extension

Man demonstrating aqua therapy exercise, Hip Flexion & Extension. Under water angle.

Place your hands on your hips and rock your pelvis forward while exhaling deeply. Go as far as you can and hold as you squeeze your abs and your cheeks. Then, relax and rotate your pelvis into an extension as you inhale deeply. Aim for as much range as you can get without causing a pinched spine.

Hold that position and then repeat for a set of 10-15 reps.

Single-Leg Bicycle

Man demonstrating aqua therapy exercise, a bicycle. Under water angle.

And now, we’ve made it to my last aqua therapy exercise I want to show you for today, a Single Leg Bicycle.

Find a spot on the pool edge for the assisted version of this exercise or use your hands for sculling assistance in the water to target core and balance.

Just like the previous leg exercises, keep standing on one leg and suspend the opposite leg to do a Bicycle motion with large forward reach and pull back. As you slide your foot across the pool bottom and reach back, point your toes for a stronger focus on your hamstrings and calves. You’ll feel that burn as you engage your posterior leg muscles.

Remember to keep your abdominal muscles engaged while keeping good posture with shoulders back too.

Do a set of 15-20 per side.

Final Words…

I have many more exercises I want show you but for now, start with these. If you want to, you can always repeat these 10 exercises so that you do 2 or even 3 full sets. Try them out and let me know what you think!

Until next time, keep on splashin’!

Watch it on YouTube

About the Author Justin Gauthier


Your aquafit instructor, here to set you up for success!

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