Fitness

Exercise While Staying Cool in the Pool!

Last updated: Aug 01, 2017

As temperatures rise this summer, water activities can be a cool exercise alternative to pounding the pavement and working out in the gym. In addition to keeping you cool, water-based exercises (or aquacises) can help strengthen your muscles, improve muscle tone, improve balance and flexibility, and strengthen your heart and lungs. That’s because water mass provides many times the resistance of air, which means moving through it requires your muscles to contract and relax. The repeated muscle contractions help strengthen and tone muscles just like working out with weights and resistance bands.1

AS WITH ALL EXERCISE PROGRAMS, START SLOWLY 
AND GRADUALLY INCREASE YOUR SPEED AND INTENSITY
TO PROTECT YOUR HEALTH.

Regularly swimming and working out in the pool also can strengthen muscles of the core, including those of the abdomen, middle back, lower back, hips, and side (or oblique) muscles. Having greater core strength can help support and stabilize the body for better balance. In addition, regular swimming and strength training in the pool can help you stay flexible.2

Like other aerobic workouts that increase your heart and breathing rates, swimming and working out in the pool can improve the heart’s ability to pump blood. Like other muscles, the more the heart pumps, the stronger it gets. As the heart pumps faster and breathing rates increase, the lungs also can get stronger.1,2

Varying your strokes or movements in water can work almost every muscle, 
including those in your abdomen and trunk (core), shoulders, chest, and arms (biceps and triceps), buttocks, legs (hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps), and hips (hip flexors).
2

Aquacise: An Alternative to Swimming Laps
In addition to swimming laps, there are a variety of exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles, improve muscle tone, improve balance and flexibility, and improve your heart and lung health, including:

Walking and jogging

  • Stand up straight with the water at or slightly above your waist
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Walk or jog forward (or backward) across the shallow end of the pool from wall to wall, avoiding walking/jogging on the tips of your toes
  • Breathe in and out
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Increase the intensity of your walk or jog by increasing your speed
  • Continue your workout for 3 or more intervals lasting 5, 10, or more minutes, depending on your fitness level
  • If you need time to catch your breath and recover before starting another interval, walk slowly through the water until your heart rate and breathing normalize

Stepping sideways

  • Stand up straight with the water at or slightly above your waist
  • Face the wall at the shallow end of the pool 
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Starting at the side of the pool, step sideways until you reach the opposite wall 
  • Breathe in and out
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Tighten muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability
  • Increase the intensity of your side steps by increasing your speed
  • Continue stepping sideways between walls of the pool for 3 or more intervals, depending on your fitness level
  • If you need time to catch your breath and recover before starting another interval, walk slowly through the water until your heart rate and breathing normalize

Lunging forward 

  • Stand up straight in shallow water no higher than your waist 
  • Stand next to wall of the pool, holding onto it for support 
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Step (lunge) forward, keeping your knee over your ankle and toes
  • Step back until you are standing in the position you began
  • Breathe in as you step forward, breathe out as you step back toward your body
  • Alternate legs, repeating lunges 10 times per leg for a set
  • Repeat sets of lunges 3 times per leg for a total of 30 lunges per leg
  • If you need time to catch your breath and recover before starting another interval, walk slowly through the water until your heart rate and breathing normalize

Cycling 

  • Start in the middle of the pool where the water is deep enough to keep your feet from touching the bottom
  • Loop 1 or 2 noodle floats around the middle of your back, resting your arms atop the noodle like you are sitting in an arm chair
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Peddle with your legs as if you are cycling on a bike
  • Breathe in and out at regular intervals
  • Continue cycling for intervals of 5, 10, or more minutes, depending on your fitness level
  • Increase your cycling speed for a more intense workout
  • If you need time to catch your breath and recover before starting another interval, cycle slowly until your heart rate and breathing normalize

Balancing on one leg

  • Stand up straight in shallow water no higher than your waist
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Stand on one leg
  • Raise the opposite knee to be even with your hip
  • Place a noodle float under your raised leg, forming a U with the noodle float
  • Place your raised foot in the center of the U
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Tighten muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability 
  • Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds
  • Breathe in and out 
  • Switch legs
  • Repeat the exercise for 5 to 10 balances on each leg for a set
  • Repeat sets 2 to 3 times for each leg

Kicking from the knee 

  • Stand up straight against the pool wall in shallow water no higher than your waist
  • Keep both feet flat on the pool floor
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Lift one knee to be even with your hip, tightening muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability 
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Extend your leg until it is straight in front of you, without locking your knee
  • Bend and straighten your leg 5, 10, or more times for a set
  • Breathe in and out with each kick
  • Repeat the exercise on the opposite leg
  • Repeat sets 2, 3, or more times for each leg 

Kicking forward

  • Stand up straight in shallow water no higher than your waist
  • Stand next to the wall of the pool, holding onto it for support
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Extend your right leg in front of you, keeping the leg straight without locking the knee
  • Kick your right leg up and down 10 or more times for a set, tightening muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability 
  • Breathe in and out 
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Repeat the exercise with your left leg 10 or more times for a set
  • Repeat sets 2 to 3 times, alternating legs

Kicking backward

  • Stand up straight in shallow water no higher than your waist
  • Stand next to the wall of the pool, holding onto it for support
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Extend your right leg behind you, keeping the leg straight without locking the knee
  • Kick your right leg up and down 10 or more times for a set, tightening muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability
  • Breathe in and out 
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Repeat the exercise with your left leg 10 or more times for a set
  • Repeat sets 2 to 3 times for each leg

Curling biceps

  • Stand up straight in water at or only slightly higher than your waist
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Use arm paddles, webbed gloves, or water barbells for resistance, hold arms at your sides
  • Tighten muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability
  • Be conscious of keeping the muscles in your upper body relaxed, especially those in your shoulders, neck, and upper back
  • Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, raising and lowering your arms toward and away from the surface of the water  
  • Breathe in and out 
  • Repeat the exercise 10 times for a set
  • Repeat sets 2 to 3 times

Curling triceps

  • Bend slightly at the waist with your legs slightly apart in water no higher than your waist
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Use arm paddles, webbed gloves, or water barbells for resistance, hold arms straight behind you and at your sides
  • Do not lock your elbow
  • Tighten muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability
  • Lift and lower your arms toward and away from the surface of the water  
  • Breathe in and out 
  • Repeat the exercise 10 times for a set
  • Repeat sets 2 to 3 times

Lifting arms

  • Stand up straight in water at or only slightly higher than your waist
  • Keep your head up, looking straight ahead and not down at the water
  • Use arm paddles, webbed gloves, or water barbells for resistance, hold arms at your sides, keeping them straight without locking the elbows
  • Tighten muscles in your legs, buttocks, and core for stability
  • Be conscious of keeping your shoulders down
  • Lift and lower your arms up and down toward and away from the surface of the water as if you are a bird flapping your wings
  • Breathe in and out 
  • Repeat the exercise 10 times for a set
  • Repeat sets 2 to 3 times

Equipment to Make the Most of Your Water Workout
Floatation devices, water weights, and water shoes can improve the quality of your workout. If you work out at a public pool or Y, ask the staff to review equipment with you, including:

  • Hand webs, which can increase resistance as your hands and arms move through the water
  • Water shoes, which can help you maintain traction on the bottom of the pool
  • Floatation vest or belt for safety 
  • Water (foam) barbells, which increase resistance under water
  • Kickboard, which can give you leverage when focusing on exercising your legs

If you are already fit, adding swimming to your weekly workout 
can give your joints a rest from weight-bearing exercises 
such as walking, jogging, running, and cycling.

Aquacise and Swimming Take the Load Off Your Joints
Because being in the water takes weight off of the joints, aquacise and swimming is a great way to exercise if you are pregnant, overweight, or if you have sore joints or arthritis. Swimming and strength training in the pool also can be a safe way to exercise if you are recovering from certain injuries and need to strengthen muscles and build stamina without stressing your joints. 

Unlike weight-bearing exercise
such as walking, jogging, running, and cycling, 
swimming does not increase bone density;
so be sure to vary your exercise routine with a mix of activities
to ensure overall fitness and bone health.

If you’d like to add swimming to workout routine but don’t know where to begin, ask your local Y or swim club about classes. 

As always, check with your Summit Medical Group practitioner 
before beginning a new or intensifying your current workout. 

If you are recovering from an injury, 
ask your physical therapist if swimming is right for you.

References

1. Pöyhönen T, Keskinen KL, Hautala A, Malkia E. Determination of hydrodynamic drag forces and drag coefficients on human leg/foot model during knee exercise. Clin Biomech. 2000;15(4):256-260.
2. Taunton JE et al. Effect of land-based and water-based fitness programs on the cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility of women aged 65 – 75 years. Gerontol. 1996;42(4):204-210.

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