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Cardiovascular Training & Aquatic Fitness


  • Improve the strength of the heart and lungs by using large rhythmical lower body motor movements.

  • Massage the heart for improved circulation and venous return.

  • Reduce the risk for diabetes

  • Improving circulation efficiency and reducing blood pressure

  • Improved mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression –because endorphins are released as you exercise (endorphins are  produced by the  pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during exercise.

  • research indicates an  increased cognitive capacity


The main focus of cardiovascular sets should be to benefit the heart and circulatory system to prevent heart disease. Progressive overload as well as interval training of “go intense then less intense” will train a person to perform more total work while lowering resting heart rate.


Cardio respiratory endurance is defined as the ability to engage large muscle groups namely the lower body muscles, dynamically or rhythmically, continuously or intermittently, at low through moderate to high intensity exercise. Exercise design needs to be more than 3 or more minutes in duration to utilize aerobic or with oxygen energy systems. Simply stated cardiovascular or cardio-respiratory training is training the breathing.


CV exercise testing gathers VO2 or Volume of Oxygen  consumption. Typically most people have 30-35 ml/kg/min (millilitre per kilogram per minute )whereas a high performance athlete may be somewhere in the range of 70 ml/kg/min or more. Conversely, a cardiovascular impaired person may be very low or 15 ml/kg/min.


Any program designed to improve cardiovascular endurance should apply the concept of progressive overload (i.e. working increasing harder over time will deliver a training effect). Generally, in a program an instructor will perform about 5 sets of 3-5 minutes in duration. The TOTAL amount of work is of greater importance than continuous training. IN fact, a person will benefit more with intervals or discontinuous sets because the ultimate goal is to see how quickly the heart is able to recover from exercise rather than how high the heart rate can climb.


Performance and intensity of exercise design depends on the functional state of the respiratory, cardiovascular, skeletal and muscle system, as well as the participant’s personal skill level. Therefore, during every program, an instructor must realize that the maximal potential for each individual will be different.  This will be more noticeable in water as, when compared to land, muscles usually fatigue prior to the breathing. 

The traditionally accepted measure of cardio respiratory endurance is direct measure of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). Direct measurement of VO2max involves analysis of expired air samples collected while the subject performs exercise of progressing intensities. This test is usually done using a bike or treadmill and/or other very expensive equipment unavailable to most instructors.  However this test is not critical to training safe and effective cardiovascular sets.

Another option for testing VO2max is to take blood lactate samples. The higher the blood lactate, the higher the VO2max.  This may be performed via a simple finger prick sample. This would be the easiest way in water to assess the VO2max, but proper analysis machines will be needed to assess the levels of blood lactate so, again, this is not cost effective for most fitness professionals. Additionally, direct measurement of VO2max is often not feasible because it may be of high risk to people with medical or muscular skeletal conditions.  Therefore, many procedures for estimating VO2max have been developed which are more cost effective and less risk.  Most exercise testing is performed via a sub-max test where the results are extrapolated to determine a predicted VO2max. 


In the water because water temperatures are generally more variable than land training temperatures direct heart rates are generally not taken because cooler water temperature may lower the heart rate response. An aquatic instructor must reference many systems to monitor and regulate intensity throughout a program and be cognoscente that cardiovascular training is working on how much oxygen a person’s muscles uptakes throughout exercise.  A participant should be breathing more forcefully (but not feeling sick or totally fatigued). Our goal is to help the participants breathe easier throughout their daily routines as well as for their heart to be trained so that they may easily recover from exercise i.e. their heart rate recovers quickly to a rest level after bouts of cardiovascular exercise.


Research has shown that heart rates in the water are, on average, about 14% lower than land heart rates when working at the same intensity.  (However there may be a range of 10 and 20 beats difference depending on conditions. It is important to help your participants monitor and regulate their intensity through some system, i.e. talk test, rate of perceived exertion, heart rate monitor.


Most aquatic professionals have decided that using the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE) is the one of the best ways for the client to recognize their intensity level. This gives the trainer a reference point from which to work. The rate of perceived exertion monitors how a person feels from both a breathing AND muscle fatigue standpoint using a scale of 1 through 10: one being minimal and ten being maximal effort and total fatigue. Safe exercise design suggests that participants work at a 3-5 RPE (easy through moderate) to begin the program then progress to work out at 6-8 RPE (somewhat hard to very hard). At this point the participant should feel somewhat breathless, so should be able to talk but not carry on a full conversation. Instructors should also use cardiovascular sets for thermal regulation (keeping the core temperature regulated) as well as helping to dissipate the blood lactates or the bi-product of anaerobic work created by the natural resistance of water in creating muscle fatigue.

Pool and air temperatures may vary greatly from one center to another on any given day i.e. could be a swim club or a therapy/hospital setting. This range may be from 79ºF to 96ºF depending on each facility’s, clientele or main services. Therefore, ideal temperatures for your clients may not be within your control.  You may need to adjust your exercise blueprint design to help your clients enjoy and benefit from water training.

The recommended pool temperature is 83º to 86ºF or 28º to 29ºC for the average apparently healthy population. This allows class members to work at a suitable intensity without overheating or risk. Participants with arthritis or orthopaedic conditions may benefit and feel most comfortable with 86º- 88ºF or 30º - 30ºC.  Therapy pools (defined as anything over 90F) may not be suitable or safe for training any participant with high blood pressure or cardiac problems. In water with a higher temperature it is easy to generate heat but with no way for the heat to dissipate. This risks raising both heart rate and blood pressure without any increase in VO2 or oxygen consumption.


More Information

Check out -DVD038 - Cardio Combo's

All Certification programs include some content on how to optimize your CV Training

Advanced Cardio is included in Sport Conditioning Specialist Certification programming

Download PDF Cardio Article 

More Cardio Please (PDF)

Check out H2O Certifications


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