First things first: I get it if the thought of water aerobics doesn’t exactly tickle your workout fancy. After all, many people think it’s only for those who are injured or elderly, and it doesn’t have the reputation for being the most fun or exciting way to spend your exercise time. But I’m here to let you know that water aerobics offers legitimate and amazing benefits for anyone–no matter your age or athletic background. In fact, it may be just what you need to bust yourself out of a fitness rut. Hear me out! 

I, too, was once a water aerobics skeptic. As a former competitive swimmer and experienced swim coach, I didn’t take water aerobics seriously for decades. When I pictured a water aerobics class, I envisioned people leisurely splashing around in the shallow end of the pool, doing gentle stretches and low-intensity dance moves. Sure, they were moving their bodies but it wasn’t a real workout. That all changed last year when I was hired to teach water aerobics at my local rec center. I went into the job thinking it would be a walk in the park. However, after a month of in-the-pool training, I learned water aerobics can absolutely be intense—I’ve definitely gotten sore and breathless from classes—and that more importantly, it’s a really fun form of fitness with tons of benefits for all types of exercisers. This makes it an awesome choice if you’re bored with your usual workout routine and itching to switch things up. So yes, I’m now a water aerobics convert. Read on for all the information that just may make you one too.

What even is water aerobics?! 

Let’s get clear on what water aerobics is. Put simply, it’s any exercise class that’s performed in the water. 

Technically speaking, the term water aerobics implies a cardio component, but water aerobics can encompass much more than that—including strength, power, balance, and mobility—so perhaps a better catchall term is “water exercise.”  That is how Laurie Denomme, CPT, a kinesiologist and water exercise coach in Florida, refers to her water-based workout classes. In typical classes, you might do moves like jumping jacks, squats, bicep curls, and crunches. These kinds of exercises will look similar to how you’d execute them on land with the obvious major difference being the fact that you’re surrounded by water.

Water exercise classes, also known as aqua classes, can take a lot of different forms and locations: They can take place in the shallow or deep end of a traditional pool or even in a lazy river pool (a smaller, narrower pool where jets simulate a river current). They can cover a range of intensities and workout types. At my rec center in Louisville, Colorado, for example, there are eight different water exercise classes, ranging from a lazy river class focused on core stability and balance to a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class chock-full of challenging cardio moves and a tai chi class centered on gentle, relaxing movements. I teach the HIIT class, which is great for total-body conditioning, but my favorite class to attend is the lazy river one, since it provides a feel-good mix of gentle balance moves and targeted strength work. 

What are the benefits of water exercise classes?

Denomme, who’s been teaching water exercise classes for more than 30 years, is no stranger to the stereotypes that I mentioned above. And, though water aerobics can be a stellar exercise for older people or those who are recovering from injury–in part because it’s a low-impact form of exercise—it is by no means a breeze. After teaching water exercise classes for the last couple months, here are the seven awesome things I’ve learned  that can benefit  folks of all ages and fitness levels too.

1. Water exercise helps build real-world strength. 

In a water exercise class, the natural resistance of water can help strengthen your muscles. As the American Council on Exercise puts it: “The resistance of water is perfect for a strength-training workout; instead of weights, the water itself provides the resistance.” Indeed, the Mayo Clinic lists boosted muscular strength and endurance as two key benefits of water exercise.