“The most essential technique to have when you walk in the water is core stabilization,” says Norton, who practices physical therapy in Sacramento, California. That means don’t lean forward or backward to push yourself through the water. Focus on keeping your abs tight and your shoulders back.
What to Do With Your Feet
Walk like you normally do on land, with your left hand forward when your right foot is forward. To keep things interesting, change up your steps:
- Walk on your toes or heels.
- March forward. Then hop backward.
- Move your legs straight up and back down without bending at the knees. In deep water, you can do a scissor kick, alternating straight legs to the front and to the back.
- Walk sideways. Speed up to shuffle sideways. Squat and walk sideways like a crab.
- Jog forward, then backward. (In deep water, this becomes bicycling.)
Moving forward or backward in the water increases intensity. “For maximum benefit, increase speed to increase stress on the cardiorespiratory system,” says Norton. If you get tired, slow down or walk in place.
What to Do With Your Arms
To get the most out of water walking, you can also change how you move your arms:
- Swing your left and right arms alternately to the front and back.
- Swing your arms together, to the front, then to the back.
- Do a breaststroke just under the level of the water.
- Flap your arms out to the sides and down.
- Punch your arms in front of you, just under the surface of the water. Punch your arms down, against your side. Pump your arms in a V shape.
To protect sore joints, bring your arms up close to the surface but don’t bring them above the water. It takes a lot more energy to break the water’s surface, so keep your arms and shoulders in the water as much as you can. Norton notes that breaking the surface of the water with your arms or hand places increased stress on your shoulders.
For greater intensity, focus on really moving your arms forward with increased speed or on punching them with power from your shoulder. Move fast enough to churn and make “white water.”
Keep It Safe
Keep these tips in mind to control the intensity of your water walking and avoid later pain:
- When putting your foot down on the bottom of the pool, remember “toes first, then heel.” Otherwise you can end up with foot pain. Wearing water shoes may help you remember to do this.
- Drink water during your exercise time. You dehydrate in the pool, too, even if you don’t realize you’re sweating.
- Don’t push yourself through pain. As Norton says, “The goal of your time in the water is to emphasize full, pain-free motion.”
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Additional reporting by Deborah Shapiro.