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How to get a great workout at the pool

Most pools opened after Memorial Day. Time to soak up the sun on the weekends at your house or condo complex. But did you know this is a great opportunity to work out? And I am not talking your grandma’s acquatics. I mean a challenging cardio and strength wrokout. Let’s dive in.

Why workout in water?

Besides the fact that it is cooler than a gym in the hot summer, water offers heavier resistance than air, so basically everything you do is going to burn major calories. Just look at an example of what Michael Phelps ate in a day when he was competing. But you do not have to swim like an Olympian to get a good workout. And you do not need an Olympic-sized pool.

outdoor pool
Even if you cannot get a chair just yet, sit by the ledge and start your workout. Photo by Drew Dau

Pool cardio 

Walking – believe it or not, just pacing back and forth from one side of the shallow end to another is a good way to get your steps in with added resistance. 

Running – you can take it up a notch by running. Do a few laps back and forth, and you will be surpised at how out of breath you are. 

High knees – you can take it even further by driving your knees up toward your chest as you run (but keep your back straights). This is also great for your abs. You can take out the bounce if it is too much and still get an effect from this movement.

Water kicks – A great way to also work on your tan. Prop yourself up on the ledge of the pool resting on your forearms, so you would be facing away from the pool with the front of your body facing down. Then just kick furiously until your legs get exhausted (AMRAP – as many reps until failure). You can even read a book and sip your poolside drink while doing this one! (or a tabloid, or fitness magazine – the point is to check out!)

Jumping jacks, or jump rope – if you want to be more subtle, go for the invisible jump rope, but if you do not care who is watching, do the full jack! 

Pool strength training 

It’s amazing how much resistance the water adds and you can really feel it especially when you do upper body, becuase you also have to push against the surface of the water. Try the following exercises. And if there are a set of foam dumbells or water bottles lying around, use them! 

Bicep curls – make sure to actively flex your biceps and fully extend your arms down at the bottom. 

Tricep dips – Head towards the steps going into the pool and lower yourself down on one of them so that you are almost sitting. Then straighten your arms and repeat to work your triceps. You can also try this on the ledge of the pool, by going up like you were going to hoist yourself out, but do it backwards. That is a little bit more advanced of a move so do not attempt unless you really feel comfortable with your shape. 

Pull-ups – stand in the pool facing the ledge and then spread your arms apart in a goalpost position. Then grab onto each edge to do a pullup. Depending on how deep in the part of the pool you are, you may also need to bend your knees. 

Lateral and front arm raises – this is where the surface resistance of the pool really helps you. Stand up straight and have your arms next to you. Then raise them to the side and then laterally to complete a rep. Make sure your arms come all the way out of the water.

Incline fly – Stand in the pool and then hinge slightly forward, wih your arms pointing down. Then “fly” them up in a reverse fly. 

Chest fly – Lower yourself slightly in the water, then spread your arms out and push your hands towards each other. Breast stroke is also an excellent way to work your chest!  

Calf raises and squats- not even looking like you are doing anything, except sculpting your legs. Now that you have the benefit of the water buoyancy supporting your balance, this is an excellent time to do isolating movements on each leg. You can do the same with single leg squats

woman lying on lounge
See how this guy has his arms? All you have to do is raise your legs and BOOM, abs! Photo by Lefteris kallergis

Captain’s chair Abs – one of the best ab exercises in the pool can also be a great tan enhancer. Swim up to the ledge of the pool and turn around and then hook your arms behind you so your midsection and lower body are dangling in the pool while your upper body is out on the edge. Then either crunch your knees in or pike your legs up to be perpendicular with your torso. As the name suggests, this movement is very similar to the mounting and performance of a Captain’s chair ab exercise, except you are not pulled down by your body weight so you can do so many more of them. 

More resources

I am enclosing some more articles and videos with examples of pool workouts you can do. Enjoy! 

YouTube player

Hydro Power: Using the pool in strength training

Water Exercise: The Coolest Workout!

Try These 8 Pool Exercises for a Full-Body Workout

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