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Aquatic Squats to Maximize Lower Body Strength & Function


Strength conditioning is defined as training where the power or force of resistance generated by a muscle is progressively increased over time. Strength conditioning results in an increase in muscle size but it must be an ongoing process. In other words , to quote the proverbial saying: -"If you don't use it - you lose it!"

The decline in muscle strength associated with aging carries with it significant consequences related to functional capacity. Sad to say, there are many people who require assistance to perform simple daily tasks, not because they are ill, but because they lack the strength to move around effectively. Lower body strength is the key ingredient required for functional movement to enjoy daily activities. The lower body can be strengthened for support and balance while walking, to assist going up or down stairs, to lift the body off a chair or simply to get off the toilet unassisted.

In order to maintain lower body strength and function closed kinetic chain exercises are probably the most functional exercises that should be added to any exercise program. These are used to train for both muscular strength and endurance and are needed when training for activities of daily living and function on land. They involve weight bearing exercises where the base (the foot) is planted squarely on the ground, such as when performing a squat.


On land, squats may be difficult to perform for people who are less abled or deconditioned, –especially those with knee issues. In the water, the percentage of body weight and vertical load on the joints can be changed depending upon the water depth. For example at waist depth the body is carrying 50% less vertical load and at chest depth approximately 75% less. Additionally, in water, hydrostatic pressure offers joint traction and therefore more protection. For 100% less stress a noodle may be utilized to fully unload body weight then progressively re-load as strength is regained.

Sit to stand exercises commonly referred to as squats involve the joint actions of both the hips and knee and the action is flexion and extension (bending and straightening the hips and knees). However to do this the person in the pool needs to be in the correct depth to perform the exercise.

Most people go too deep and “miss” out on the lower body loading or benefits. Waist depth in shallow water will load the quadriceps and Gluteals with 50% of body weight . This will benefit the person much more than chest depth or 25% of the body weight . With that said, it is safer to start slightly deeper and do less repetitions if a person has some pain in the knees. Also, be sure that their technique is correct. Be sure that the movement goes down and up slowly to allow the shoulders to become submerged on the down position. Cue to sit back, maintaining weight on the heels, and keep the hips/knees/toes aligned in a parallel or well tracked position (facing same direction). Use the arms to pull the water up (so that buoyant buttocks of the person squatting goes down into the water. )


How To Do a Great Water Squat

  1. Start with the feet shoulder width apart. As you become more skilled and stronger you may vary the squat foot position.

  2. Keep the weigh on the heels. You don’t want the toes to go past the knees as you bend down

  3. As you sit down into the water, the hands must push up to assist the sitting down. Because the buttocks may be buoyant (adipose fat) the arms should be utilized to assist. A biceps curl is one of the easiest ways to combine the arms and the legs. Start with the hands reaching behind the body and then scoop down and through to assist the downward motion of the lower body.

  4. Try to think of a string pulling your tailbone back as if you are sitting in an imaginary chair. Remember you must stick the buttocks out to better engage the gluteus maximus muscles.

  5. Be sure to bend at the hips NOT the waist. Folding of the hips is key to the joint action. Keep the abdominals in tight to help with maintaining proper posture.

  6. On the downward movement, try to dip the shoulders under the water. Resist buoyancy on the upward movement so that there is control coming back to the start position.

  7. On movement ascent add a squeeze or added contraction of the Gluteals as you stand tall. Be sure to come back to the tallest position possible and, if you like, you can even add a balance or body check.

Start with one or two sets of 10-15 squats or repetitions and then add more repetitions. Progress to using more sets using a variety of positions and progressions. Squats are awkward at first – because most people have been told not to stick out their bottom –but this is key to working an effective squat.  Focus on your form, and then worry about adding reps.

: If you are unsure start with a demi or half squat where you only go half way down. If you can do the above mentioned repetitions and sets – then progress to a regular wide squat as described before.

Assume all the one sided lower body exercises such as a skateboard – could be easily progressed to adding a squat with the supporting leg. Unilateral movement is even more effective in terms of functional because we walk with one leg then the other leg – we don’t hop like a kangaroo.

What is an Aquatic Functional Squat (PDF)

Check out our DVD Library 
DVD009 - Senior Functional Fitness Program  click here

                           DVD059 - Fun with Function click here

                           or NEW DVD078 ( 2 DVDs) Entry Level Program for Non-Swimmers  click here

                           Shape Up and Water Train - DVD071 (2 Discs)

                           Programming for common knee problems - DVD062

                           Move You  Way to Health -DVD079 (2 Discs)

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