Most people think of their local pool as a place to swim laps, but if you’ve never considered other types of pool workouts, you’re missing out on a key fitness area that yields big results. Pool workouts, during which your body fights against resistance while incurring zero impact, are an often-overlooked means of building muscle, burning fat, and boosting aerobic capacity. Of course, swimming is still a perennial favorite of building strength and endurance, but pool exercises, done correctly and with intention, can break even the veteran free-weight fiend out of a funk and into a new level of amphibious fitness.
So if you’re looking for a new routine, it’s time to throw on a pair of trunks, grab some foam weights (trust us on this one), and cannonball into your nearest shallow end. Remember: There may be no running around the pool, but running in the pool is fair game — and shockingly effective.
We tapped Erika Lee Sperl, an L.A.-based strength and mobility coach, and team manager for the Australian fitness company 2XU, for her thoughts on how to get fit while getting wet. “Pool-running has been utilized as a rehabilitation tool for injured and recovering athletes for years. Once they’re healed, many athletes say goodbye to the pool — until the next sign of injury,” Sperl says. “But aquatic workouts can be an ongoing part of a training program, whether you’re training for strength, power, endurance, or general fitness.”
In chest-deep water, your body weight is approximately 10% less than normal. Add in an increase in resistance, and you can train at a higher intensity without the strain or impact of joint-jolting land-based training. Here are some pool exercises and a couple of workouts you can perform in the water — all high-intensity.
With a floatation belt on, get into the deep end. Use your breath and perceived rate of exertion to estimate your level of intensity. If you move to the shallow end, incorporate high knees and butt kicks. Use the side of the pool for intervals of flutter kicks.
Press-Ups and Dips
Use the edge of the pool to press yourself up and out of the water. Use your triceps to reverse the movement back down.
In the deep end, cross your right foot over and in front of your left foot while extending your arms out to your sides. Step your left foot to the side. Cross your right foot behind your left foot. Continue moving laterally, then repeat, moving in the opposite direction.
Lunges and Squats
Perform these just as you would on land. Add in jumps out of the water. “This focuses on training explosive power,” Sperl says.
Keep the movement small, focusing on form. Alternatively, make it a bounding skip and aim for height and power as you come out of the water.
Flies, Lat Raises, Bicep Curls, and Triceps Press Downs
Use the palm of your hand to create resistance, or add a paddle or water dumbbell. “The beauty of the water’s resistance is that you will train the concentric and eccentric portion of the movements equally,” Sperl says.
Get out of the pool and hook your shins and feet over the side of the pool, knees bent at 90 degrees. Perform crunches, Russian twists, or isometric holds. “Use the buoyancy of the water for support,” Sperl says.
With your feet in a split-stance, keep both arms straight in front of you and just below the water’s surface. Rotate at your core from side to side. “You can do this with or without paddles,” Sperl says.
The Ultimate Pool Workout
“If you thought Marco Polo or water Zumba were water workouts, think again,” says Sperl. “I used this workout with a professional basketball player during the off-season and his butt was sufficiently kicked. The main set can be repeated or modified as desired to reach your targeted total training time and goal.”
Warmup (5 min)
Jog in place (1 min)
Alternating knee to chest (30 sec) Alternating straight leg kicks (30 sec) Karaoke side-to-side (1 min) Alternating high knees (30 sec) Butt kicks (30 sec) Lateral shuffle side-to-side (1 min)
Circuit (10 min)
Perform 40 seconds of exercise followed by 20 seconds rest, then move to the next exercise.
Rear lunge to front kick, first leg; rear lunge to front kick, second leg; poolside press-ups; squats or squat-to-jumps; flies; bounding skips; rear lunge with lateral rotation, first leg; rear lunge with lateral rotation, second leg; poolside Russian twists. Repeat.
Cooldown (5 min)
Repeat warmup routine.