October 28, 2021 10 min read

The benefits of resistance training are widely recognised, from fostering muscle development to pursuing personal milestones, such as the ability to lift our grandchildren effortlessly or even using it to unwind. The motivations are as varied as the individuals who undertake it.

A 2017-18 study by the National Health Survey reveals that only 15% of Australian adults are getting adequate physical and muscle-strengthening activities under the recommended guidelines. Adults aged 18 to 64 should get 2.5-5 hours of moderate physical activity or 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous physical exercise each week. At least two days of strength training is specified. On a global scale, out of 168 nations, Australia ranks 97th in terms of the proportion of its populace that engages in sufficient physical activity. This is a sobering revelation, considering the strong correlation between physical inactivity and chronic health conditions. 


Resistance training, known as strength or sometimes weight training, is the use of resistance to muscular contraction to build strength, anaerobic endurance, and the size of the body's skeletal muscles. Resistance training works on the principle that muscles of the body will work to overcome the resistance force when challenged to do so. When you do resistance training both repeatedly and consistently, the muscles in your body become stronger. A well-rounded fitness program includes resistance training to improve joint function, bone density, muscle, tendon, and ligament strength, as well as aerobic exercise to improve your heart and lung fitness, flexibility, and balance. Australia's physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines recommend that adults do resistance training activities on at least two days each week. 


Water is 800 times denser than air, providing greater resistance. This density creates the resistance needed to get in a good strength workout that is both challenging and gentler on the body without the need for heavy weights or mechanical load. Working out in a pool for 30 minutes can give you similar benefits to a two-hour, land-based workout. If you're looking to burn calories in a short period, water is an excellent medium for this.

Water's resistance comes from all directions, which differs from exercising on land. For example, during a land-based workout, the resistance is from gravity and whatever weight is being used. In water, someone must focus on engaging all muscles to maintain posture and remain vertical in the pool as well as the movement. 

Water also creates resistance — the harder you push or pull through it, the more resistance you experience. When you're lifting a weight, that amount doesn't change throughout the movement. In water, the resistance placed on the muscle changes, like in this study where the authors observed that muscular load increased as the speed of movement increased. This makes it easy to increase load and intensity but as it is propelled by your own strength rather than a mechanical load, you reduce the risk of adding too much load and injury. Your own strength controls the load you can reach making sure you are working in a load range you are capable of and ready for.

Water also forces individuals to work their muscles both eccentrically and concentrically. This allows an equal ratio of strength and reciprocal contraction and relaxation of the muscles.  


The benefits of strength training include:

Improved Cognitive Abilities

Regular exercise, including resistance training, improves cognition. Cognitive skills are things like focus, attention, memory, learning capacity, etc.  Psychology research has detected structural and functional brain changes after acute and prolonged physical activity interventions. 

Mitigated Anxiety & Depression

A 2022 scoping review noted the promising nature of aquatic exercise for mental health. The most prominent mental health conditions tend to be anxiety and depression; these conditions often coincide with other mental and physical ailments. 

Resistance training has improved depressive symptoms in cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's patients. However, a large study also concluded that resistance exercise improved depressive symptoms in adults regardless of health status. 

Elevated Sense of Well-being

It is no secret that resistance exercise can provide 'enormous benefits' to well-being. Wellbeing is multi-faceted, and physical fitness is just one component of the larger picture. However, it feeds into several other physical, psychological, and social wellness aspects.  

Enhanced Self-esteem

Resistance training can impact self-efficacy, or self-confidence, more so than other types of exercise due to the challenging nature of resistance and strength building. This is especially true in young people

Reduced Risk of Dementia

Adults with a higher rate of cognitive decline are more susceptible to developing dementia later in life.  A large review study concluded that when comparing different types of exercise regimens, resistance exercise was best at slowing cognitive decline. 

Diminished Inflammatory Markers

Inflammatory markers are associated with disease or distress in the body. They can represent the presence of a common cold or things like chronic stress and excess alcohol consumption. Inflammation is especially an issue among individuals carrying excess weight.  Recent research investigated exercise's effect on inflammatory markers in overweight and obese adults. The authors concluded that a combination of aerobic and resistance training led to the greatest improvement in reducing inflammation. 

Lowered Cholesterol Levels

Someone's lipid profile is an important indicator of health, as poor lipid metabolism is associated with chronic conditions. "Good" cholesterol (HDL) is increased with a healthy diet and physical activity and "bad" cholesterol (LDL) is increased with poor diet and inactivity. Since metabolic disorders are often interrelated, it's not surprising that a combination of aerobic and resistance training also lowers LDL cholesterol.  

Reduced Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is another co-existing condition that is frequently associated with other health concerns like obesity and high cholesterol. A solid combination of resistance and aerobic physical has been proven beneficial for hypertension management. 

Studies have also demonstrated the effects of water exercise on hypertensive adults and exercising in the water has positive effects on blood pressure due to its hydrostatic effects on blood flow, stress relief, and impact on cardiovascular fitness. 

Enhanced Insulin Regulation 

In type 2 diabetes, insulin dysregulation can occur when the body becomes resistant to insulin or is not able to produce sufficient insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels, often measured as HBA1C.  Research indicates that a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise improves biomarkers for type 2 diabetes, and another study stated that high-intensity resistance exercise is significantly more beneficial for insulin regulation and HBA1C. 

Type 1 diabetes is not associated with being overweight, obesity, or lifestyle factors. In type 1 diabetes, the body cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar.  In this review, resistance exercise improved HBA1C levels in both children and adults with type 1 diabetes. 

Increased Muscle Mass

For muscles to grow, the process of muscle protein synthesis must happen faster than muscle protein breakdown. Protein synthesis is stimulated by resistance exercise, which causes tiny tears in the muscle. The muscle is repaired to be larger and oftentimes, stronger. That sore feeling, referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) means that your muscles put in the work and are in the process of repairing. However, this sensation of soreness may be less evident after water exercise than land-based workouts. 

Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, and function. Resistance exercise has been shown to improve sarcopenia more than other exercise methods in middle-aged and older adults. 

Elevated Metabolic Rate

Considering the above point related to gaining muscle, resistance exercise can indirectly impact metabolic rate. Metabolism is the group of processes in which the body uses the food and drink we consume and converts it into energy. Metabolic rate is how fast this happens at rest. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so muscle contributes to a higher resting metabolic rate, as you burn more calories at rest.

Reversal of Age-Related Changes in Mitochondria and Muscles

Reversing age-related changes in mitochondria and muscles refers to the process or methods that counteract the natural deterioration of muscle tissue and mitochondrial function typically associated with aging. Through various interventions like resistance exercise programs, scientists aim to restore strength, endurance, and cellular energy production in older individuals, promoting healthier aging.

Augmented Bone Mineral Density (and Prevention of Bone Deterioration)

Weight-bearing resistance exercise is the best way to prevent bone deterioration and maintain a healthy bone mineral density. Aquatic resistance exercise has also improved bone mineral density at the femoral neck (upper leg) and lumbar spine (lower back).

Some research has shown that swimmers have lower bone density. However, when aquatic equipment is used, and different resistance exercises are used, this is a completely different workout from swimming. Swimmers are trying to glide through the water with the least resistance possible, whereas, in a water fitness class, participants are looking to maximise the water's resistance to reap the most benefits. 

Improved Control over Movement Relief from Chronic Lower Back Pain

Unfortunately, chronic low back pain plagues much of the adult population, though there aren't many treatment methods for those chronically suffering from low back pain. Often it is difficult to treat when the root cause is unknown.

Aquatic exercise has been deemed an excellent option for individuals with this type of pain. This makes sense, considering the core strengthening and postural improvements associated with aquatic exercises specifically. However, any form of resistance training that focuses on core strength and stability is beneficial for preventing and managing low back pain.

Attenuated Arthritic Pain

Arthritis presents as achy and painful joints. Arthritic individuals are some of the best candidates for resistance exercise in water. The water prevents pain felt during weight-bearing exercises and strengthens joints and improves range of motion to prevent further joint damage from arthritis.

Sometimes, when people are in pain, they are fearful and/or unmotivated to do resistance exercises, but these are the exact movements that can help attenuate the pain. This is why considerable research exists that vouches for aquatic exercise as a therapy or fitness regimen for those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the two most common types of arthritis.

Alleviated Pain Associated with Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that can cause widespread pain all over the body, amongst other symptoms. Different types of exercise impact fibromyalgia, yet resistance training has been shown to improve pain perception associated with this condition the most, as well as limit depressive symptoms and improve overall quality of life. 

Enhanced Balance

Strength training improves balance and coordination. Resistance training in water specifically is excellent for improving balance since it trains the core muscles to be strong and stable. This is particularly important in elderly individuals or those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as arthritis, sarcopenia, or osteoporosis, to prevent falls. 

Accelerated Walking Speed

Walking speed is a big indicator of aging, so it is commonly used to measure physical health in research studies.  This study showed that twelve weeks of resistance exercise improved walking speed for knee osteoarthritis and sarcopenia patients. Again, many study populations have overlapping conditions that make resistance training and aquatic fitness all the more necessary.  


Water resistance is often preferred when considering the needs of individuals who suffer from certain health conditions, many of whom are elderly or have co-existing conditions or comorbidities. These individuals stand to benefit most from regular physical activity, yet they often find it challenging or painful to participate in land-based exercises.

The pool offers an inviting and accommodating environment for anyone to exercise, often with significantly less pain or even pain-free. Moreover, there's an undeniable link between mental health and physical well-being, and the tranquillity of water-based exercise provides specific psychological benefits that further enhance the appeal of aquatic resistance training.

Contrary to popular belief, regular light levels of resistance training to the point of failure is just as effective as lifting heavy weights for strength and muscle hypertrophy. The most important thing is to create muscle fatigue. Whether that is done with the resistance of water or an Olympic barbell, they both build muscle and develop strength. Low-load resistance training is effective in various populations and leads to muscle hypertrophy even in well-trained men.

Musculoskeletal injuries often lead to muscle weakness and pain, making traditional heavy resistance training challenging for some. This study compares the efficacy of Low-load blood flow restriction (LL-BFR) versus conventional heavier resistance training for adults with persistent knee pain, potentially offering a less intense but effective rehabilitation method.


Resistance training in the pool has many benefits for athletes and sporting teams as well. Aquatic programs are typically associated with injury rehabilitation, which is something it is excellent for, but athletes don’t have to wait until they are injured to get in the pool. Exercising in water is beneficial for athletes, such as injury prevention, cross-training, team bonding, and improved flexibility and balance. It can be used alone or as an adjunct to traditional land-based training.

When standing in chest-deep water, an athlete weighs only 10 percent of their average body weight. The reduction means athletes can work out harder at higher intensity levels several days in a row without causing wear and tear on their joints and general muscle soreness. Whether a football player seeking to enhance cardiovascular fitness without stressing the joints or a ballet dancer aiming to build strength without adding bulk, the water environment can be tailored to suit varied training needs.

Training in a pool eliminates overtraining injuries and fast recovery for athletes as well as enabling those you may have been sidelined with injuries.


Resistance exercises in water can be applied to a variety of settings throughout the lifespan. With a diverse range of equipment, instructors, and class formats, many options exist for unique water fitness experiences.


Aqua bands are elastic resistance bands specifically designed for water. They will not undergo the same wear and tear as regular bands. There are several proven benefits to using resistance bands in fitness regimens to build strength, increase flexibility, and improve injury rehabilitation. They can be implemented into a fun and dynamic resistance training regimen and used with other aquatic equipment. 


Due to the water’s properties, any aquatic workout will be a full-body workout. A well-designed aquatic circuit training routine can engage every major muscle group. The multi-directional resistance of water ensures that both the primary muscles involved in a movement and the stabilizing muscles are engaged.


Many health benefits come from a combination of aerobic and resistance training, which is what aquatic equipment like underwater treadmills and aqua bikes are mediums for. These pieces employ similar movement patterns to running or cycling on land but minus the joint impact and hydrostatic pressure to protect and stabilize joints. 

Unlike land-based equipment, the treadmill and aqua bike are not powered by electricity or mechanics but rather by the force produced by the person exercising. Even if you’ve never done this type of workout in the water, you can imagine the hard work this would entail.


Resistance training is incredibly important for most stages of life, the water makes it easy to get started, it’s time to take the plunge and discover the benefits for yourself.

Most of the health benefits of resistance training can also be applied to resistance exercises conducted in water. However, water has additional benefits, like hydrostatic pressure, for joint stabilisation and blood flow. The water’s buoyancy creates a low-impact environment for reduced joint pressure during exercise. It’s also a safe environment for those who lack balance or are recovering from an injury where weight-bearing is difficult or suffering pain or arthritic conditions.

Resistance training in water is a versatile and effective way to achieve fitness and therapeutic goals. It offers an safe and fun alternative to traditional land-based exercises, providing unique benefits derived from the properties of water. Whether you're seeking a low-impact workout, recovering from an injury, or just looking for a change in your routine, water-based resistance training can be a refreshing choice.

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