Structuring and using the water in a warm up

Carrying on our study and revision series. Learn how to apply the properties of water in a warm up.

Warm up Component

The aims of the warm up are the same as for any other exercise session, in other words to “prepare” the body and mind (skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, respiratory; energy and neuro-muscular systems) for the exercise session to follow.

The effects of water on the structure and content of the warm up component:

Temperature (see also pool safety section)

The “cooling effect of water makes it necessary to start the warming process as soon as is practically possible after the participants have entered the pool and the teacher has explained the necessary safety procedures e.g. how to regain/maintain balance, advice on depth and organised class appropriately.

Additionally this requires the warm up to contain a high percentage of moves to promote circulation and elevate the heart rate in a gradual manner. However the intensity gradient will need to be steeper and thus the duration can be decreased. Moderately paced exercises will be safer than fast, tense movements at this stage in the class, as the latter may contribute to abnormal increases in blood pressure.

The movements selected should involve the use of large muscle groups working against the resistance of the water to generate heat throughout the body. These movements will need to be continued throughout the whole of the warm up and interspersed with mobility exercises and , at the later stages of the warm up, with ‘stretches’ to maintain a comfortable body temperature and prevent cooling.


The buoyancy provided by the water reduces the impact forces on the body and thus allows jumping moves to be included without placing stress on the body (providing the water depth is appropriate).

Buoyancy will in addition provide extra support for mobility moves and stretches and therefore facilitates larger and more controlled moves, thus enhancing the range of motion achieved. This is especially beneficial for the hip joints which in land-based classes bear most of the body weight.

The floatation and support created by buoyancy requires warming up exercises to be performed in a relatively energetic manner, in order to be effective!


The resistance created by the water requires movements to be slower than on land and reduces the ability to change directions quickly, making it necessary to perform a relatively higher number of repetitions or each move to be effective. However it will also enhance the “warming” effect of mobility exercises which utilise a full range of motion, as it requires more energy to be exerted to perform theses movements at a moderate speed.

The benefit of the resistance provided by the water is that it prevents participants reaching the end of their range of movement too quickly (ballistic moves) and thus full range mobility work and moving stretches are much safer than on land (the latter need to be included in the later stages of the session when the body is fully warm). The range of motion should build progressively throughout the warm up.

Hydrostatic Pressure

The pressure of the water improves circulation and reduces the heart rate and thus the intensity of performance can rise more steeply, without creating discomfort. This reduces the time necessary for the warm up.


The combined effect of the properties of water requires pulse-raising moves to be combined throughout the warm up. Initially they can be combined with mobility exercises and, as body temperature rises, with moving and static stretches. Thus the intensity can be higher and the duration much shorter.

  • Slower, larger movements through a full range of motion provide mobility and pulse raising benefits

  • Jumping moves can be used, as they are less stressful to joints

  • Range of motion stretches will be safer, thus can replace some static stretches

  • Stretch positions may need to be different – the wall and partners or propulsive moves can be used to aid balance (see MSE component for examples of starting positions)

  • More time will be required for directional changes and thus a higher number of repetitions of each exercise will be more effective

  • Need to use the slower beat within music

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