Water Aerobics vs. Regular Aerobics: Which Is Better?

Aerobic activity is one of the most effective ways to improve heart health, nurture bone and joint strength, burn body fat, and reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes or heart disease. In fact, cardiovascular activities like aerobics play such a crucial role in improving health that the CDC has weekly guidelines for American adults: at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise (source). But if given a choice between water aerobics and regular aerobics, which is better?

Regular aerobics is better than water aerobics because it burns nearly twice as many calories, the workouts are more physically intense, and there is a far greater workout variety. Regular aerobic exercises are also considerably more effective at building strength, balance, and flexibility.

If your gym offers both water and regular aerobics classes, you might assume it comes down to preference—do you want to get into your swimsuit or not? But it’s not quite that simple! To learn about the benefits of each type of aerobics and why one might be better than the other (in certain circumstances), read on.

Getting the Most Out of Aerobics

To get the most out of an aerobics class, you want to ensure that you’re pushing your body past the point of comfort without taxing the heart or joints to a dangerous degree. For example, a lackadaisical approach to a Zumba class or a flutter-kicking session will all but render a workout useless. Yet, overexerting yourself until you feel faint or dizzy can turn into a trip to the hospital.

It’s all about finding a happy medium that’s both safe and efficient.

So, rather than rating your intensity on the aching sensation in your quadriceps or how out of breath you feel, focus on staying in your target heart rate zone (THRZ). This zone will make you sweat, breathe moderately heavy, and increase your heart rate in a way that’s safe for your body (source). The table below will explain how to calculate your ideal heart rate during aerobic exercise:

Calculation StepExample
1. Subtract your age from 220 to get your max heart rate.220 – 50 = 170
2. Multiply your maximum heart rate by 50% to find the low end of your THRZ.170 x 0.5 = 85 bpm
3. Multiple your maximum heart rate by 85% to find the upper end of your THRZ.170 x 0.85 = 145 bpm
4. Find your THRZ.85 – 145 bpm

What Is Water Aerobics?

Water aerobics brings your standard aerobics class into a waist-deep pool. Because the human body is about 60% water, being in the pool will add an air of buoyancy and make you feel far lighter than you are on land (source). As a result, water aerobics is gentler on those who struggle with mobility or have weak joints, muscles, or bones—like those with arthritis or osteoporosis.

Low-impact water aerobics classes can take on multiple themes, just like regular aerobics courses. That includes water Zumba, aqua jogging, and even light weightlifting. Some water aerobics classes will even infuse equipment like kickboards to work on lower-body endurance and strength or water dumbbells to sculpt muscular biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

Are you wondering what you should expect if you enrolled in a water aerobics class? The video below will show you a sample of the exercises your instructor might introduce:

The Benefits of Water Aerobics

Water aerobics can be a fantastic exercise option for those who lack proper gym experience or have strict physical limitations while exercising. Below, you’ll find four critical benefits of water aerobics in these populations:

A More Suitable Option for the Overweight, Elderly, & Disabled

Walk into any water aerobics class, and you’ll notice that many of the participants have one thing in common: their age.

Unfortunately, this leads many quiet observers to assume that water aerobics is only for the elderly. On the contrary, this low-impact activity is a safer alternative for overweight, old, and disabled folks who struggle with average strength and balance. The simple explanation for this comes down to the “weightless” sensation of being in the water. 

Standing in a waist-deep pool will make you feel about 50% lighter than on land (source). So, a person with fragile bones, weak joints, or heavy body weight will be able to do typical land exercises—like jumping jacks or leg kicks—in the pool without putting too much strain on sensitive areas of the body. A regular aerobics class may prove dangerous; water aerobics reduces injury risk in those with pre-existing physical conditions.

Of course, this reduced pull of gravity is also far gentler on the hips (-36 to 46%) and knees (-36 to 55%) (source). So, those struggling with painful ailments like multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia can do exercises like knee extensions and aqua jogging without causing achy lower-body joints. At the same time, standing in a pool provides more resistance than air on land. Marching in a water aerobics class can strengthen the upper legs without straining the joints at the same time!

Allows for Greater Mobility & Balance

A regular aerobics class may not be in the cards for those who struggle with balance and mobility—i.e., those suffering from Vertigo, arthritis, osteoporosis, or metabolic conditions. Performing a long set of step-ups in the aerobics studio can ultimately lead to a hip-breaking fall, severe dizziness, or even an embarrassing stumble. 

So, the 360-degree support of standing waist-deep in a pool makes water aerobics safer and more nurturing if balance isn’t your strong suit (source). For example, the water pressure can help an overweight person drive their knee higher during a march, where they might generally lose their balance on land due to the more generous range of motion. The more confidently you can perform the exercises, the higher your self-esteem and willingness to return for another class.

However, the balance and stability effects don’t suddenly vanish as soon as you exit the pool area. The latest research shows that continued water aerobics participation can reduce the risk of falls in the elderly, improve lower-body balance in all participants, and enhance mobility both in and out of the pool. So, for individuals who struggle to find balance on land, water aerobics can potentially hold the key to long-term improvements.

Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, and Muscle Tone Improvements

One of the significant downsides of water aerobics is that it doesn’t work the heart as hard as riding a bike or running on the treadmill. That’s because being submerged in the water dramatically reduces exercise intensity and enhances blood flow from the extremities to the heart—17 beats lower than on land, to be precise (source). As a result, water aerobics won’t benefit heart health in a trained individual as regular aerobics.

However, a water aerobics class can pose significant cardiovascular benefits to those with hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure. The latest research shows that a 10-week aquatic aerobics program can lower systolic blood pressure by an average of 11.71 points, meaning water aerobics can reduce stress on arterial walls. The long-term benefits are astounding: A 14% lower risk of death from stroke and a 9% lower risk of heart disease-related death (source).

Of course, healthy blood pressure is only scraping the surface regarding the health benefits of water aerobics. This type of exercise can also decrease resting heart rate by an average of 10 beats per minute while also building muscle tone and strength in weaker individuals. So, water aerobics is a viable alternative to stay in shape and improve the health outlook for those recovering from an injury or struggling with a joint disorder.

Lower Stress/Anxiety & Better Mood

The thought of exercising in a room surrounded by dozens of fit individuals may be all it takes to send you into a tizzy or induce anxiety. Thankfully, being in the pool will shield you from the looky-loos that make you nervous as you exercise at the gym. And even better: the confidence, mood, and relaxation boosts of water aerobics don’t end as soon as your workout session concludes.

Like many aerobic exercise types, scientists discovered that 12-week water aerobics programs could reduce depression by 53% and anxiety by another 48% (source).

The question of “why?” is relatively easy to answer. Exercise can trigger the release of endorphins—the feel-good hormone—that’ll make you feel naturally “high” after a workout session. Additionally, the soothing sensation of being surrounded by water and feeling weightless can leave you feeling less stressed and happier.

What Is Regular Aerobics?

Regular aerobics is your run-of-the-mill group fitness class at a standard gym or fitness center. These normally high-impact exercise classes require a sense of rhythm—either through dance, bodyweight exercises (like lunges), or steppers—while pairing the fitness sessions with an upbeat musical playlist at a steady count.

High-intensity aerobics classes better target nearly every aspect of physical fitness for those looking to get (or stay) in shape. Regular aerobics classes usually boast cardio movements (like marching), brief stretching sessions, and mild weightlifting. As a result, regular attendance at aerobics classes can enhance flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance.

Are you curious about what would be in store if you signed up for a regular aerobics class? The video below shows you a sample, 30-minute aerobics class to get a taste for your next workout:

The Benefits of Regular Aerobics

As beneficial as water aerobics can be for those with conditions like obesity, fibromyalgia, or MS, regular aerobics is the best choice in nearly every other circumstance. So, we’re going to dive a little deeper into this one to prove our point. Below, you’ll find all the reasons that regular aerobics is better than water aerobics most of the time!

Overall Fitness & Physique Improvements

Regular aerobics sessions aren’t only more affordable, convenient, and entertaining than the greatest water aerobics class in history. But the incredible intensity and focus on functional fitness can catapult your fitness and physique gains across the board:

  • Greater Flexibility: Most aerobics classes will begin and end with brief stretching sessions, aiding flexibility and reducing your risk of pulled muscles and injuries.
  • Weight Loss: Zumba classes, for example, have reportedly triggered an extra six pounds of weight loss and 1.4″ waist circumference reduction over 12 weeks (source).
  • Heart Health: Since bodyweight exercises are more effective at reaching the THRZ, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate are far easier.
  • Balance and Mobility Improvements: Exercises like step-ups and dance moves can improve balance on the feet and develop a steadier gait.
  • Muscle Strength Gains: With no “weightless” sensation in the studio, you can put more stress on your muscles to build greater lower-body strength and mass!

Of course, the benefits above aren’t guaranteed because you enroll in a regular aerobics class and participate once. The more you give your all in the gym and attend classes (preferably three or more times a week), the more health benefits you’ll notice. These benefits are substantially more crucial as you get older.

More Calories Burned per Minute

If you ask 100 people why they’re doing aerobics in the first place, about half of them would probably say “to lose weight.” This is because the advanced calorie-burning features of regular aerobics classes are about twice that of water aerobics sessions.

To be more specific, 30 minutes of Zumba, kickboxing, or stepping can burn 420-622 calories an hour (source). Meanwhile, you’d burn about 240-356 calories in the same amount of time while in the pool doing moderate water aerobics.

So, if you have your eyes set on losing weight, regular aerobics at home or the gym is far more efficient, though simultaneously more intense. It’s possible to lose an extra pound per week by merely adding five 60-minute aerobics sessions to your weekly workout schedule. Of course, you can shred even more fat and develop a more aesthetic physique by adopting a healthy diet as well.

A Generally High-Intensity Workout

No two regular aerobics classes are the same, but you can say one thing across the board: they’ll typically be far more intense than a typical water aerobics session. The higher intensity—and ensuing sweat production, heart rate increase, and muscle activation—comes from a high-paced class’s steady bounce and rhythm.

While flutter kicks around the pool’s edge and water jumping jacks can be tiresome, you could reap even more substantial benefits in a shorter land session with even fewer reps. So, the more you pound the ground during high knees, crank out dozens of squats, or try out new dance moves, the more you’ll shred fat and improve your stamina.

These benefits make a 30-minute aerobics session more efficient, especially if you’re low on energy and time.

Better Exercise Variety (AKA: More Fun!)

On day one, you might find a 30-minute water aerobics class to be exhausting both physically and mentally. But as you continue to attend classes regularly, you might find these workouts repetitive, not vigorous enough, or flat-out boring. 

So, when you want to keep your workouts exciting while tailoring your exercise sessions to your current skill levels, regular aerobics classes will always reign superior. For one, you have far more class variety by selecting regular aerobics classes than the few options offered in water aerobics, like water jogging, for example. You can choose between:

  • Zumba
  • Kickboxing
  • Circuit Training
  • Indoor Cycling
  • Shadowboxing
  • Fitness DVDs
  • Rhythmic Dancing
  • Pilates

So, when you’re still sore from a challenging indoor cycling class, you can take it easy and wind down with a soothing pilates session. Or you can do a few different types of classes each week to keep your workouts interesting while targeting different facets of fitness—like agility with Zumba or endurance with kickboxing.

Fewer Equipment Needs

One of the glaring problems with water aerobics is that not everyone has access to a pool at home. To make matters worse, gyms with pools typically have loftier membership fees. Without the pool, waterproof weights, noodles, and kickboards, water aerobics might not be in the cards right now. On the other hand, all you need is your body weight to have a successful aerobics session.

So, the lack of mandatory equipment makes regular aerobics a more feasible option if you choose to work out at home. Plus, you can always swap in a low chair or bench for a stepper, follow along with a kickboxing YouTube video at no additional cost, and use whatever resistance gadgets you have—like dumbbells or resistance bands—for strength training aerobic classes.


If you want a quick answer, here’s how to know whether regular aerobics or water aerobics is better for you:

  • Water Aerobics: A better idea if you’re new to exercise, have a pre-existing condition that limits your mobility or aren’t ready for an hour-long aerobics class just yet.
  • Regular Aerobics: A solid choice if you’re already an avid gym-goer, want to burn calories quickly while improving your stamina, and want to enhance your muscle tone and strength more rapidly.

There you have it! It looks like it’s time to register for your gym’s next aerobics class!

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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