Physical fitness is a really important aspect of hiking and backpacking and while I could go hiking everyday if I wanted to, I like to mix up my workouts to keep from getting bored. I lift weights, swim laps, ride a stationary bike, use kettle bells, you name it – to keep fit, especially in the winter months when I need to carry heavier loads and can’t get out as much.
Another exercise regimen that I’ve started is water walking, and its different variants including aqua jogging, aqua-running, aqua-cross-country-skiing and water-cycling. It’s a great all-body workout that is very time efficient and provides great aerobic, strength, and core stability benefits for hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor sports.
I go water walking two to three times a week for 30 minutes and alternate between jogging, running, cross-country skiing, and bicycling. I do all of these exercises in the deep end of the pool without touching my feet on the pool bottom – and sleep really well on the days I do this workout!
Benefits of a Water Workout
Water is 12 times as resistant as air, so it takes a lot of additional effort to run, ski, and bicycle in water. You burn 50% more calories and you use all of the muscles of your body to stabilize yourself, so it’s a great way to enlist your core muscles in a functional, synergistic manner. If you have joint problems, there is no skeletal impact, and it’s great for rehabbing injuries under the guidance of a physical therapist. You don’t even sweat because the water keeps you cool!
Minimal Gear Needed
Unlike the guy in this video, I’m not at the stage where I use hand floats or foot wraps to increase resistance, but I imagine I will build up to them eventually. I just wear an aqua jogging hip belt that I borrow from the group gear box at the YMCA. It fits over my waist, but you really need to cinch it tight to keep it from moving up your torso in the water. Even then, it’s not absolutely necessary so you can workout anywhere including hotel pools or fresh water ponds, without having to carry any extra gear.
If you want to do a mellower water-based workout, you can also enroll in an aqua aerobics class. These exercises are typically performed while standing on the bottom of the pool, and while beneficial, the workout is much less intense than if you throw in the instability of floating in deep water.
Benefits for Hikers
In addition to strength, endurance, and aerobic training, water walking provides you with a full body workout that uses all of your muscles at once. It’s surprising similar to hiking with a fully loaded backpack where you need to recruit all of your little stabilizer muscles to remain upright on uneven ground. How do I know? I feel the same kind of mid-back and core muscle fatigue after a water walking workout that I feel after a long day of backpacking. So if you’re looking for a good winter workout for hiking that you can do quickly and closer to home, give water walking a try. You’ll be surprised by the results.