Why Pool Workouts Are The Ultimate Summertime Exercise

Certified trainer and Aqua Group Fitness Instructor Kelly Morgan shares her favorite pool exercises for when you’re looking to take your workout to the water.

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You might think of swimming pools and beaches as places to relax and catch some rays, but they also make excellent gyms. There are tons of exercises you can do in the water, and we’re not just talking about swimming laps.

If you have your own backyard pool, using it to exercise is a no-brainer. If, like most of us, you don’t, there’s always the community pool or your local YMCA. Whatever it takes to try pool exercises, trust us, it’s worth it.

Moving your workout routine to the pool can help beat burnout, re-energize your motivation, and allow your body to activate and work muscles you’ve been missing at the terrestrial gym. Plus, exercises in the pool are low-impact, meaning they’re easier on your joints. If you have access to a pool this summer, consider trying out some of the following workouts. Your body will thank you!

What the Pool Workout Has Over a Standard Gym

Pool workouts have a ton of benefits for people of all ages and abilities.

“Water workouts are safe for most people, as the low-to-no-impact movements and hydrostatic pressure can be therapeutic for those with injuries or other limiting factors,” certified trainer and certified Aqua Group Fitness Instructor Kelly Morgan tells HealthyWay.

Pool exercises are especially helpful for those in cardiac disease rehabilitation, as well as people with diabetes who may physically struggle with exercising.

“This type of exercise is also customizable and adaptable to any ability, and the intensity can be changed easily,” says Morgan. “Many of the movements are simple and familiar!”

Once you’re in the pool, you don’t need any equipment to have a successful workout. However, adding some pool noodles or aquatic weights is always a great option when you want to incorporate more resistance into your pool workout.  

Pool Exercises for the Whole Body

So you’ve made your way to the water. What now? Well, that’s mostly your call! Pool exercises can be customized in many different ways, so you can work your whole body or target specific areas. Here are some of Morgan’s favorite pool exercises.

Pick and choose your favorites and build your own routine. Try doing three sets of eight reps for each movement. If that’s too easy, move to three sets of 10! You can perform each of these exercises one at a time, resting in between each set, or you can develop a circuit for a full-body workout.  

Pool Exercises for the Arms

Perform arm workouts in the pool with or without weights. These exercises work best in neck-high water so that your arms remain submerged for the most part.

  • Bicep Curls: Lift your arms out in front of until they are just below the surface of the water. Flip your arms so that your forearms are facing up. Then bend your arms at the elbows and raise your hands (or weights) toward your shoulders, up and out of the water.
  • Side Raises: Start with your arms (and weights if you’re using them) down by your sides under water. Lift your arms out to your sides until they are just below the surface of the water, making a T-shape with your body. Return to your starting position.
  • Front Raises: Start with your arms down in front of your body under water. Lift your arms out in front of you until they’re just below the surface of the water, then return to your starting position.
  • Punches: Hold your hands (with or without weights) close to your chest, just below the water’s surface. Punch straight out to the front, alternating arms.
  • Tricep Dips: Stand with your back against the pool wall and your hands on the ledge. Push down to lift your body out of the water, and then slowly lower your body back into the water.

Pool Exercises for the Legs

Swimming and treading water are great exercises for the legs, but they don’t necessarily isolate the region. These moves will give your leg muscles what they need without involving your whole body in the motion.

  • Flutter Kicks: Keeping your legs just under the water’s surface, do small, quick kicks. You can do these kicks while holding onto the side of the pool wall or with a kickboard. If you have the space, it can be fun to travel a bit while doing flutter kicks.
  • Frog Jump: Find a spot where the water is about waist high. Start by standing with your heels together and your knees slightly bent. Jump as high as you can out of the water, and return to your starting position when you land.  
  • Bicycle: Using your elbows and forearms, anchor yourself to the edge of the pool in the deep end (or at least deep enough to avoid striking the bottom with your ankle or heels). Face the water, not the land. Once you’re in place, pretend you’re riding a bicycle, pedaling your legs in alternating circles.
  • Scissor Kicks: While holding onto the side of the pool, straighten your legs out in front of you in a V-shape. Then move to close your legs, but bring one ankle over the other. Open your legs back into the V-shape and close again, bringing the other ankle on top. Repeat.

Pool Exercises for the Abdominals

Take the pain out of abdominal exercises (at least a little bit) by moving them into the swimming pool. Because you do need to stand up for some of these, it’s best to try them in the shallow end of the pool. For greater resistance on the Double Leg Lift and the Knee-to-Elbow Cross, venture deeper into the pool—just ensure you can still stand up with your head above water.

  • Crunches: Water crunches help you get a better range of motion than their land-bound counterparts. The trick is to anchor your legs. Float on your back near the edge of the pool, then stick your legs out onto the side, up to the backs of your knees. Use your legs to anchor you as you curl your body upward toward your feet.
  • Jackknife: Start by floating on your back. With your legs straight out in front of you, bend your knees and pull them toward your chest while crunching. Extend your legs back to the starting position and repeat.
  • Double Leg Lift: Using the pool wall as a support and facing the water, start with your legs completely straight, floating out in front of you. Raise them up as high as you can (without bending your knees).
  • Knee-to-Elbow Cross: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. While you bring one elbow down across your body, bend and lift the opposite leg, allowing your elbow and knee to touch. Repeat the motion using the opposite arm and leg.  

Pool Exercises for Cardio

Taking your cardio to the pool is a great way to get the same benefits of high-impact exercises without your bones and joints paying the price. Try these to get that heart rate up quickly.

  • Jogging Across Pool: This is just what it sounds like. Jog going forward, back, right, and left across the length and width of the shallow end. Then jog with high knees moving forward, back, right, and left in the same area. Finally, jog with butt kicks moving forward, back, right, and left in the same area. Do this circuit three to four times.
  • Jumping Jacks: Start off with your feet together. Do 15 jumping jacks in the water while moving forward and back. Do this set two times.
  • Jogging: Jog in place, then sprint in place for 15 seconds for three sets.
  • Cross-Country Ski: Start with your legs shoulder-width apart. Imagine holding ski poles and propelling yourself forward, bringing your left arm up to the surface of the water while jumping your right leg back. Then bring your right arm up to the surface and jump your left leg back—returning your left arm and right leg to their starting positions. Keep repeating for two sets of eight reps each.

Pool Exercises With Noodles

  • Noodle Push Down: Hold the noodle so it looks like a smile. Push the noodle down and up in front of the body. Repeat, twisting the torso to the right and left side. Combine these movements, pushing the noodle to the left, middle, right, middle, and so on while keeping your core tight.
  • Noodle Wave Pool: With the noodle in front of the body, push it out and pull it into the torso in a large circle, creating a churning motion. Repeat, circling in the other direction for three sets of 30-second reps.

Pregnancy and Pool Workouts

“Aquatic exercise is fantastic for pregnant women because of buoyancy. Don’t do any jumping if it doesn’t feel good, but adapt the exercises to suit your stage of pregnancy,” says certified trainer and aqua yoga specialist Karen Shopoff Rooff. “Using a noodle to support the upper body and treading water with the lower body is a great modification.”

Rooff recommends doing each of the exercises in waist-deep water for one minute for two complete circuits that will total 10 minutes of exercise.

  • Squats: These are done just as they would be on land. Be attentive to your form, and be sure your knees never go past your toes.
  • Jumping Jacks: These should also be done just as they are on land. For an added challenge, keep your arms underwater to increase resistance.
  • Stair Dips: Use the pool steps to complete tricep dips.
  • Cross-Country Ski: Expecting mamas can complete this exercise just as it’s outlined under Pool Exercises for Cardio. Start with your legs shoulder-width apart. Imagine holding ski poles and propelling yourself forward, bringing your left arm up to the surface of the water while jumping your right leg back. Then bring your right arm up to the surface and jump your left leg back—returning your left arm and right leg to their starting positions. Modify your sets and reps based on how your body (and baby!) responds to the movement.

“At the end of the circuit, move to deeper water and tread water,” says Rooff. “At the beginning, five minutes of treading water will be challenging. Work up until you can tread water for 10 to 15 minutes for a great cardio workout.”

Getting the Kids Involved in Your Pool Workout Routine

If you’re worried about the kids getting restless while you’re enjoying your pool time, get them in on the exercise action! Kids can join in on scissor or flutter kicks, or put them on your back and walk laps around the pool.

It’s a good idea to get kids interested in and excited about being physically active early on. For most kids, play is the best exercise option, and what’s more fun and playful than a day at the pool? Many of the exercises from this list can be easily transformed into “games” for kids, keeping them busy and active right along with you.

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