Water Walking


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.

, , ,

9 Responses to Water Walking

  1. Liz W January 4, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    Sounds interesting – I might give that a try. I think the link to the video’s missing, though?

    • Earlylite January 4, 2013 at 8:18 am #

      Put the video back in – not sure where it went. Look again. I am so sore from yesterdays workout….:-)

      • Liz W January 4, 2013 at 8:24 am #

        Thank you! I will definitely try that when I go to the pool on Monday. Do you find it more effective for hiking training than regular swimming?

        • Earlylite January 4, 2013 at 9:01 am #

          Definitely – my swimming workouts are all freestyle and mostly use my back muscles in a fairly unnatural way (if you think about it) with little comparatively hip, glute, and quad involvement. Being able to stand up vertically and perform the same actions as hiking/walking/skiing with more resistance is far more beneficial. I still love lap swimming, but I swim at a moderate pace (1 yard per second) and while it’s good exercise, it doesn’t really help my hiking all that much.

          • Liz W January 4, 2013 at 9:41 am #

            Thanks! I swim slower than you, and I have back issues that can be worsened by swimming, so it sounds like water walking may be ideal for me.

            • Earlylite January 4, 2013 at 9:49 am #

              Be forewarned – you don’t actually need as much flotation as this guy has. I use a much narrower belt. The trick is to make it as tight as possible – I even wear a size small – in order to keep it in place.The rest is easy – walk, run, ski, cycle in the deep end and make sure to include your arms. Try a 20 minute workout to start. You will feel it.

  2. anwar January 4, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    thanks for the info..i will try to do water walking in my local pool …

  3. Brian January 5, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    No matter how hard I try I just can’t picture you doing this without smiling to myself. It does sound like a great (and safe) way to do resistance workouts. It also reminds me how much I miss swimming in the colder months of the year, might have to go to a local pool myself – see what you’ve done!

    • Earlylite January 5, 2013 at 1:39 am #

      Swimming is great. Go for it!

Leave a Reply