The Effects Of Strength Training In Water Vs. On Land!

There are many different programs that can be used in the water. Aquatic Step Training, and Circuit Training for example. This study is focused on Strength Training in the circuit and plyometric fashion. Better than in water? You decide.

Editor's Note: This article is actually a paper written for an advanced college exercise science class. We were so impressed by ISSA Trainer Tara Witten's paper, that we thought our readers might enjoy it as well.

Chapter One: Introduction

Exercising and strength training have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Romans held athletic competitions, the Greeks held the original Olympic Games, Native Americans played sports against each other—physical activity and sports have been about since the beginning of time. However, the area of aquatics is relatively new (Herbold-Sheley).

Aquatic exercise became popular in the early 1980's. In 1983, there were 200,000 water exercisers in the United States. That number has since jumped to over 2.5 million, and grows every day (Herbold-Sheley).

Although elderly women used to comprise the majority of participants, today we are seeing the younger generation, athletes, people interested in cross training, and those trying to regain fitness after an injury all involved in aquatic fitness training (T'Jonck).

There are many different programs that can be used in the water. Aquatic Step Training, Circuit Training, Interval Training, Aquatic Rehabilitative Assistance, Team Training, Deep Water Training, Shallow Water Training, and Plyometric Training are the main areas of aquatic fitness.

While each area focuses on a different aspect of fitness, they are all inter-related. The area that this study focused on was Strength Training in the circuit and plyometric fashion (Grantham, Briley).

What Does Plyometric Mean?
Exercise involving repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles to increase muscle power and speed (as opposed to strength).

There are many different ways to develop strength in the water, as well as on land. Strength training in the water requires minimal equipment, but does require a pool.

Some helpful equipment may include resistance tubing, bands, buoyancy weights, and other resistance items. On land, you do not need any special area to work out in, but the equipment needs are much greater and heavier (Mayo Clinic Staff).

Statement Of The Project

The purpose of this study was to compare aquatic strength training with strength training on land, to determine which method would yield more strength to the upper extremities within a given amount of time.


There will be no significant difference in strength gains between those training in the water and those training on land.


  • The study used eight active female students at Brigham Young University Hawaii (BYU-Hawai'i, or BYUH for short), ages 20-25.
  • The study used the BYUH swimming pool and weight room.
  • In the control group, for those exercising in the weight room, only free weights were used.
  • In the experimental group, for those exercising in the pool, floating dumbbells were used.


  • Subjects not showing up to work out.
  • Subjects not following the protocol.
  • Subjects getting injured.
  • Subjects quitting the study.

Definition Of Terms

  • Dumbbell: A small weight, usually ranging from 2 to 100 pounds, that is lifted with one hand.
  • Floating Dumbbell: A small floating dumbbell that is used for resistance training in the water.
  • Hydro-Boots and Bells: Resistance devices that wrap around the hands and feet to create greater drag in the water.
  • Barbell: A long bar weighing 45 pounds with space at either end to add more weights.
  • Noodle: A 3-foot-long foam cylinder that is used as a flotation device in the water.
  • Webbed Gloves: Gloves that have fabric sewn in between the fingers that are worn in the water to create more drag in the water.


The researcher hoped to find out if training in the water with resistance equipment can result in strength gains comparable to those made on land with free weights.

It will be beneficial to strength coaches that have injured athletes that cannot exercise in the weight room, but may be able to endure a water workout.

If one can make equal or greater strength gains by training in the water, it would also add variety to strength routines practiced by not only sports teams, but fitness enthusiasts and even the weekend warriors, without compromising strength.

Chapter Two: Setup


To test if comparable strength gains can be made by exercising in the water, the following procedures were followed.


The subjects were placed on strength training regimen for five weeks. The one group worked out in the BYUH weight room, and the other group in the BYUH swimming pool.


  • The study involved seven active females from BYUH. Three were in group A, while the other four were in group B.
  • The subjects were females ranging from ages 20-25 years old.
  • These subjects were volunteers, gathered by advertising with fliers in the BYUH pool and weight room.

Testing Procedures

The study was conducted over a period of five weeks. There were seven people total. Each person was subject to a pre-test and a post-test of strength for two of the major muscle groups of the body—the biceps and pectorals.

These tests consisted of taking their 1RM on the bench press, and bicep curl. All of these exercises were done using free weights. All data was recorded.

Calculate Your One Rep Max Here

The Study

The subjects were required to go to their designated workout area, either the pool or the weight room, three times per week, and will perform a given routine. The exercises for each group were very similar.

The Routine

All subjects were required to go to their designated area to workout three times per week, and perform the following exercises. No other strength training was allowed during this time period, although cardio was allowed.

There was a period of 2-4 minutes of rest in between each set for both groups.

Group A

  • Bench Press: 65%-75% of their 1RM, 3 sets of 8 reps.
  • Bicep Curl: 65%-75% of their 1RM, 3 sets of 8 reps.

Click Here For A Printable Log Of Group A Routine.

Group B

  • Butterflies*: 3 sets of 3 minutes each.
  • Water Bicep Curls*: 3 sets of 3 minutes each.

Click Here For A Printable Log Of Group B Routine.

*See Appendix A.

Analysis Of Data

The data was analyzed using a T-test to measure significance at the 0.05 level. Analysis of Variance was also used.

Chapter Three: Testing

The purpose of this study was to determine if strength training in the water was as effective as strength training on land for the biceps and pectoral muscles.

Table 1: Pre-Test For The Land Exercisers

Subject1RM of Bench Press1RM of Biceps Curl
Subject 1 68 lbs 16 lbs
Subject 2 45 lbs 16 lbs
Subject 3 55 lbs 15 lbs

Table 2: Pre-Test For The Water Exercisers

Subject1RM of Bench Press1RM of Biceps Curl
Subject 4 85 lbs 25 lbs
Subject 5 45 lbs 16 lbs
Subject 6 85 lbs 25 lbs
Subject 7 190 lbs 85 lbs

Tables 1 and 2 show the calculated 1RM of each subject for the bench press and bicep curl for the pre-test.

The average amount the subjects in the land group could bench press was 56 pounds. The average amount that they could curl was 15.66.

In the water group, the average amount that they could bench press was 101.25 pounds. The average amount that they could curl was 37.75.

Table 3: Post-Test Of The Land Exercisers

Subject1RM of Bench Press1RM of Biceps Curl
Subject 1 76 lbs 17 lbs
Subject 2 50 lbs 17 lbs
Subject 3 64 lbs 16 lbs

Table 4: Post-Test of the Water Exercisers

Subject1RM of Bench Press1RM of Biceps Curl
Subject 4 100 lbs 30 lbs
Subject 5 50 lbs 18 lbs
Subject 6 95 lbs 30 lbs
Subject 7 200 lbs 90 lbs

Tables 3 and 4 show the calculated 1RM of each subject for the bench press and bicep curl for the post-test.

The average amount the subjects in the land group could bench press was 63.33 pounds. This shows an average gain of 7.33 pounds. The average amount that they could curl was 16.66. This shows an average gain of 1 pound.

In the water group, the average amount that they could bench press was 111.25 pounds. This shows an average gain of 10 pounds. The average amount that they could curl was 42. This shows an average gain of 4.25 pounds.

"When comparing the two groups, there was a
greater improvement in the water exercisers."

The researcher concluded that training in the water is at least as effective as training on land. The researcher also notes that there was a significant increase in strength in both of the groups.

Statistical Results

Table 5: Analysis Of Variance

Land ExercisersWater Exercisers
2.776 3.182
3.102 3.978

Table 5 shows that the water exercisers had greater statistical significance than the land exercisers.

Recommendations and Conclusions

I think that more information in needed before any serious conclusions can be reached based on this study. This study does show, however, that strength can be maintained by working out in the water.

I would recommend aquatic training to coaches with injured athletes, and to use with their whole team occasionally just to give them some variety. Aquatic training can also be used as a good alternative to traditional rehabilitative practices to regain strength.

Chapter Four: Self-Evaluation

How Did It Go?

I was very excited about doing this project. I had taught water aerobics for a while, and I was impressed with the improvement in strength that I had found in myself, so I really wanted to test my theories on others too.

What Are Water Aerobics?
Water aerobics are simply aerobics done in water. They are very low-impact and, due to the buoyancy of the water, are very good for overweight people. It is not necessary to know how to swim to do water aerobics as they are usually done in a pool in waist-high water.

I think that if I would have done a more complete, total body workout, I would have seen better results, especially with the water workout, because most of the exercises done heavily incorporate the legs.

I think that the worst thing about this study was the time constraint. I think that if I could have had more time to perform the study that I would have seen more drastic results.

Also, I had a very hard time getting my participants to stay in the study. I had over 35 people sign up to participate in the study, but only eight followed through.

Another difficulty I encountered was getting all my subjects together for a pre and post-test. My committee was very helpful, giving me lots of good feedback and ideas.

What Are Your Greatest Strengths Or Assets?

I think that I communicated very clearly with all of the subjects and was very fun to work with. I tried to keep the workouts interesting and enjoyable. I had a good and effective program implemented, and the subjects saw results.

I also have several different certifications, and on Saturday, will have a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise and Sport Science.

What Are Your Deficiencies Or Weaknesses... In Approaching The Job Market?

I think that my main weakness is my lack of experience. I have worked in a gym as a personal trainer, and have run my own personal training business for about a year, but I have no strength and conditioning experience for a team.

What Do You Want To Accomplish Professionally... In Five Years? Ten Years?

In five years, I would like to have five years of experience working as strength and conditioning coach for a major university. I would also like to have built my personal training studio up as well.

Within two years, I would also like to get a master's degree. In ten years, I would like to be working on the strength and conditioning staff of an NFL team.

What Will You Do To Accomplish These Goals?

To ensure that I accomplish these goals, I have gotten certified as a personal trainer and water fitness trainer, and I am in the process of getting certified as an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist.

What Does NSCA Stand For?
National Strength And Conditioning Association [link].

I have begun researching different Master's Degree programs at various universities, and I have also applied to two different universities to be on their strength and conditioning staff. I have an interview with the University of Maryland's men's basketball team in two weeks for a position as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, which I am really excited about.

Give Two Recommendations To Improve... The EXS Program At BYU-Hawai'i.

I really think that the EXS classes need to be taught by a wider variety of teachers. There is one teacher in the department, whom I really like, but who is very 'old school'.

What Does EXS Stand For?
Exercise and Sport Science.

Technology has progressed so much since he went to school and our field has come so far, but he refuses to move forward with it.

Many ideas in our field are new and unproven, but some are old and disproved, and yet they are still taught. Another teacher, on the other hand, is very progressive, but I don't think that enough exposure is given through classes to these new advances.

Another improvement that could be made is to do more outings to see other facilities with greater technology. Maybe we could go to a larger university and see their physiology lab and just get exposed to a wider variety of things, instead of one person's perception of how it should be.

I know that this is difficult because we are on a small island, but it is just something to think about. Also, I think that it would be nice to offer athletic classes such as spinning, aerobics, kickboxing, tai chi, Pilates, and all kinds of other classes to the students free of charge.

Other universities have had great success with this, and although it would be a little bit expensive, it would be worth it.

Appendix A

  • Butterflies: This is an exercise performed with floating dumbbells. In this exercise, the subject will be standing in waist deep water, with one dumbbell in each hand. They will be slightly bent over.

    They will bring the dumbbells all the way together in front of them, arms straight, palms facing each other, and then all the way back until their arms are out of the water, keeping the arms straight the entire time. This constitutes one repetition.
  • Water Bicep Curls: This is another exercise performed with floating dumbbells. This exercise should be done in shoulder deep water. In this exercise, the arms are kept at the sides of the body, elbows pointing towards the ground.

    The arms should straighten all the way, so that the hands are by the thighs, and then curl all the way up, so that they are next to the shoulders. This constitutes one repetition.


  • Briley, John. Explosive Energy-With Less After Burn. The Washington Post, June 8 TH, 2004.
  • Grantham, Nick. Plyometrics and Swimming-boost muscle strength and Power with less risk of injury by exercising in water.
  • Herbold-Sheley, Sharrie. Water Exercise, California State University. Chico, CA.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. Aquatic exercise: Gentle on your bones, joints, and muscles. June 24 th, 2004.
  • Miller, M.G., Berry, D.C., Gilders, R. & Bullard, S. Recommendations for implementing an aquatic plyometric programme. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 23 No 6 28-35.
  • T'Jonck, Leen. Sportscience FINA 97: World Conference on Swimming Medicine.