Aquarobics: messing about in the shallow end is good for you

Let the pool take the strain. Emma Lyndsey explains aquarobics
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The Independent Online

Aquarobics isn't as naff as it sounds. It's a lot of fun and causes a bit of stiffness the next day, both of which are good signs where workouts are concerned. On the day I drove to the class, through Saturday afternoon traffic, it was hot and sticky and I arrived feeling tetchy. But within five minutes of clambering into the pool at Holmes Place health and fitness club in Ealing, I was laughing inanely. And it wasn't at the bloke in the Speedos who'd climbed in after me.

Aquarobics – or pool training as it has become known – is back in fashion. It offers workout opportunities for plenty of people who might otherwise struggle: exercisers with dodgy joints, for example, expectant mothers or those who fancy a bit of a change from the body-pump class. The concept is simple: the water provides both support and resistance, offering the benefits of circuit training or running but without the impact. You feel as if you've put in minimum effort – but with the after-glow of a quite intense weights session.

Carrie, the aquarobics instructor at the gym, explains: "I get a lot of people who have injured themselves, pregnant women and others who don't feel comfortable about their bodies being exposed. Because the exercises are taking place under water, no one can see you."

Once in the water – it has to cover your shoulders so the arms are always working under the surface – we started with a warm up, jogging on the spot. And what an eye-opener – it was much tougher than I had thought it might be to lift my knees high, not to mention the question of stability on the tiled pool floor. Having yet to conquer my fear of the deep end, I was relieved that the water was only four-and-a-half feet deep – even non-swimmers can do aquarobics. But if you're a high-maintenance girl with chemically treated tresses,this may not appeal, as you will have to wash your hair after the session.

Those in the know use water-workout shoes. These look like trainers, with the modification of holes to allow the water to flow through. The point of them is to grip the bottom of the pool and increase your stability while doing the exercises. No one in my class was wearing these, but I did see people wearing mittens – these are thick hand socks which act as webs to increase resistance during upper-body exercises, lateral raises and pull-downs.

While the music blared, Carrie demonstrated rear leg raises and side kicks, and we all tried and failed to keep in step. Considering she couldn't see what we were up to, she did a good job. Margaret – standing behind me and whom I kept floating into and occasionally kicking in the ribs – was a club runner who had damaged the cruciate ligament in her knee. She had been coming in for six months. "It's not as aerobic as running but it has kept up my fitness levels. I am still as toned as I was," she said.

It was David and Judith's first time, too. David was using the classes to get over his fear of water, Judith was there for moral support. At the beginning of the class he'd been hugging the side of the pool, but by the end had managed to move away.

Carrie then handed out foam dumbbells. Time to get serious. We had to spread our arms out wide, lie back, then draw our knees in and out and then twist our torsos to the side and repeat the action. Abs work with no pain. This is because the water cushions the body, helping you to do things which would be difficult on land, and it was great. Doing side leg raises with alternate pull-downs was a huge effort though and I noticed I was breathing heavily. (It would have been good to have had access to drinking water.) We cooled down to Marvin Gaye crooning and then hauled ourselves out, legs a bit wobbly. I felt like I'd exercised but with none of the red-faced sweatiness of land-based physical jerks. Next time though, I'll wear a swimming hat.

Contact your local swimming pool for information or the Aquatic Exercise Association,