Many people hear the words “water workout” and think it’s a lightweight activity. But, water workouts can provide demanding full-body exercise for anybody. In fact, mixed-martial-arts champion Demetrius “Mighty Mouse” Johnson loves to hit the pool — swimming laps, running pool sprints, and participating in various group drills with fellow fighters.
Since water provides resistance from all vectors and angles, exercising in it can be more challenging than working out on dry land. It’s far more difficult to slog the length of a pool than it is to sprint through air, after all.
At the same time, the water’s buoyancy provides extra support for your muscles and joints. Running on land can be jarring to joints because the full force of each step resonates through your body. Running in water, on the other hand, reduces the impact of each footstrike, minimizing wear on muscles and joints. This helps prevent injuries — and allows those who are already injured to continue working out and building strength while they heal.
Ready to dive in? Try the following workout, designed by exercise physiologist and owner of the Strong Made Simple gym in San Diego, Brian Tabor, CSCS. Tabor, who has led injured San Diego Chargers football players in similar water exercises, says this simple routine will help you build conditioning and explosiveness, and it will take less than 30 minutes.
The workout is based on time rather than reps, so you can easily increase or decrease intensity. You can also make the exercises easier by moving into shallower water, or by shortening your stride or the width of your stance. Make sure to rest for 30 seconds between exercises.
A note about etiquette: Pools are shared spaces, so be sure to pay attention to your environment. Practicing good pool manners begins with being aware of those around you. Carve out a small space for your aquatic workout and avoid sprinting in the same lane as a lap swimmer or splashing unsuspecting swimmers.
Begin your pool workout with a quick warm-up. Simply jump into the pool and do a slow march in place. Swing your arms while bringing your knees up, keeping your core muscles engaged. March in place for 45 seconds, followed by a 15-second break. Repeat three times.
1. High Knee Sideways March
- Stand in the pool where the water is chest high.
- March your left knee up, and swing your right arm forward at the same time.
- As your left knee comes down, march your right knee up and swing your left arm forward.
- Move laterally through the water as if you were walking sideways across a room instead of front to back.
- Duration: Continue for 30 seconds in one direction to complete one set. Take a 15-second break, then reverse direction. Complete two sets in each direction for a total of four sets.
- Still in chest-high water, with your feet a few inches apart, stand sideways in the lane with your left side facing the direction you’ll be traveling.
- Cross your right foot in front of your left foot.
- Move your left foot out and step it to the left to return to your beginning stance (you will be moving away from your starting point). Use your arms for balance.
- Next, place your right foot behind your left foot. Then, once again, move your left foot out, stepping to the left, to return to your beginning stance. Continue this pattern as you travel down the lane.
- As you get more comfortable with the movement, increase your speed.
- Duration: Complete two 30-second sets in each direction, for a total of four sets. Make sure to rest for 15 seconds between sets.
3. Sideways Broad Shuffle
- Standing sideways in the lane in chest-high water, lift your lead leg (the one on the side of the direction you will be traveling) and take a big step to the side.
- Pull yourself sideways with your lead leg, bringing your legs together.
- Continue to take large sideways steps, reaching out with your lead leg and letting it propel your body sideways.
- Move quickly and explosively throughout the movement, almost like a lateral jump.
- Begin a new set by switching directions and allowing your trailing leg to become your lead leg.
- Duration: Complete two 30-second sets in each direction, for a total of four sets. Rest for 15 seconds between sets.
4. Rotational Wake
- Take a wide stance in chest-high water with your arms extended forward and palms flat together.
- Using your legs and hips to drive the movement, twist at your waist and drive your arms horizontally through the water, rotating right and left about 180 degrees.
- Continue twisting back and forth, alternating sides.
- Duration: Complete four 30-second sets, with a 15-second break between each.
5. Break Your Wake
- Beginning in chest-high water, sprint down the length of the pool as quickly as possible.
- When you get to the end of a self-determined distance or depth, quickly turn around and drive through the ensuing wake of water. This will create additional resistance for you to sprint against.
- Duration: Repeat the activity for a total of five minutes, resting as needed between sprints.
6. Split-Stance Fly
- Standing in shallower water, facing forward in your lane and keeping your hips square, step back with your left leg and drop your left knee to about an inch or two above the pool floor. At this point, the water should be chest or shoulder high.
- Extend your arms out to the side with your palms facing forward. Keep your arms submerged underwater.
- Bring your arms together in front of you until your palms touch, then return your arms to the original position. You should feel your shoulders and upper back working. Make sure to engage your legs, hips, and core.
- Duration: Complete four 30-second sets with a 15-second break after each one. Switch legs for each set.
More Water Workouts
- Every Body Into the Pool
- The Pool as a Training Tool
- Swim for Your Life!
- So, You Want to Be a Swimmer
- Learn This Skill: A Faster Freestyle
This article originally appeared as “Workout With a Splash” in the March 2014 issue of Experience Life.|