Five of the Best Exercises to Try in a Pool
They are safe, effective, and, best of all, therapeutic.
Unlike many land-based exercises, movements performed in a pool offer an effective full-body workout sans any stress on your joints. "I like to think water is the great equalizer," says Jenni Lynn Patterson-LaCour, the founder and creator of S'WET by Jenni Lynn Fitness™. "No matter your age, size, gender, or physical ability, aquatic fitness allows just about everyone to experience a high-intensity workout." That includes those suffering from arthritis or recovering from injuries: Pool exercises are safe, therapeutic, and proven to increase your range of motion. "While water exercises are great for everyone, they are particularly good for those 50 and over," adds Claire Barker-Hemings, the head of fitness at Aqua Fitness Online. "The support given by the water allows people who have arthritis or similar conditions to work relatively pain free."
What's more, research has shown that exercising in water can benefit those who have low bone density issues like osteopenia or osteoporosis. And since water creates 12 to 14 percent more resistance than air, an aqueous workout can also help improve muscular endurance and strength. Whether you're looking to rehabilitate an injury, introduce low-impact cardio into your exercise routine, or increase your flexibility, you'll benefit. Ready to dive in? We spoke to several leading trainers and experts who shared the best exercises to test out in a pool.
Water jogging mimics the motion of running on land and can be beneficial to your overall cardiovascular health. "Water walking and jogging are simple to do and highly effective," explains Barker-Hemings. "As you move around the pool, your entire body works against the resistance of the water. You can easily elevate your heart rate by pushing harder against this resistance." To ease in, start by walking in the shallow end, around waist height. Once you feel comfortable, progress to deeper waters and either jog in place by lifting your knees and pumping your arms or run laps by jogging from one end of the pool to the other.
"We find people who love high energy classes on land take to the pool to help their bodies recover. They can still create a challenging workout while enjoying the benefits of the water," says Barker-Hemings. One way to do this? Revisit popular movements, like jumping jacks, while submerged. To start, stand in the water at chest level with your feet together and your arms by your side, then, jump and move your legs and arms outwards. Depending on preference and range of mobility, you can opt to bring your arms above your head.
Arm curls performed in a pool are gentler than those done on land—but the water offers a unique degree of additional resistance. "The buoyancy offered by the water reduces the effect of gravity and allows your joints more range of motion without additional strain, compared to land-based activity," explains Barker-Hemings. Test out this exercise by standing in the water, which should hit at chest level, with your arms by your sides and your palms facing up. Bend your arms one at a time and scoop the water up to the surface. Take it up a notch by increasing your speed or adding pool-friendly dumbbells, like these from Trademark Innovations ($13.49, amazon.com).
Strengthen your hamstrings and calves and challenge your balance with a few leg curl repetitions. Since water creates instability, your body has to work harder to remain upright—especially when you're standing on one leg. Actively grounding your legs before you move, however, will help. Stand with your feet together in shoulder-level water and hold the side of the pool with one hand for balance. Bend your right leg and bring your heel up to your glutes and then lower your leg back down. Repeat the same motion with your left leg.
Leg kicks are a great way to strengthen your core, inner thighs, and quads. Plus, they're fun to do. We recommend attempting this exercise if you're looking to introduce low-impact cardio into your routine. To begin, put your back against the pool wall and hold onto the ledge with outstretched arms (you should form the letter "T" with your body). Raise your legs together and flutter kick the surface of the water.