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a woman performing water aerobics

You might think of pool exercises as being easy — maybe too easy. But anyone, no matter their age or fitness level, can get a great cardio-and-strength workout in the water. And you don’t need to know how to do the backstroke or butterfly, either.

“The water itself offers 12 to 14 percent more resistance than air, so just being in the water and having to balance the whole time means you’re always working your body in some way,” says Donna Pozdol, studio manager of group training at Life Time in Burr Ridge, Ill.

Pool exercises include strength and cardio moves performed while you’re standing in water reaching the center of your chest or collarbone. Many workouts also make use of pool-specific noodles and aquatic dumbbells. If you feel at home in the water and need a greater challenge, you can always venture into the deep end.

Moving your workout to the pool is a great way to build strength and fitness without stressing your joints. Thanks to the water’s buoyancy, your joints get support through a full range of motion. “For folks who have had knee surgery or a hip replacement, the water takes the pressure off so they can move, whereas they might be afraid to do that out of the water,” Pozdol says.

Runners and other athletes who spend a lot of time pounding the pavement can also benefit from cross-training with pool exercises.

The natural drag of the water, however, won’t allow you to complete pool exercises at the same pace as you would if you were doing them on land. In fact, rushing through pool exercises only makes them less effective, says Pozdol: “You’ll get more out of it if you slow it down and make your motions bigger.”

The Water Resistance Workout

For this pool Circuit, you’ll need a noodle and a pair of medium-to-heavy aquatic dumbbells. You’ll hold the dumbbells until the last exercise, but feel free to set them on the side of the pool if you need a break. Keep the noodle nearby for the final exercise.

Perform each exercise in the circuit consecutively, taking rest as needed. When you complete the last move, pause for a quick breather (30 to 60 seconds) before starting again at the beginning.

Perform three to five rounds to build a 30-to-60-minute routine.

  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Rocking Horse With Arm Press: 12–15 reps, left foot forward
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Rocking Horse With Arm Press: 12–15 reps, right foot forward
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Side-to-Side Lunge With Arm Press: 12–16 reps total
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Core Twist: 12–15 reps total
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Jump Front to Back: 12–15 reps total
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Jump Side to Side: 12–15 reps
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Jumping Jacks: 12–15 reps
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Suspended Ski: 12–15 reps
  • Jog in Place: 1 minute
    • Core Tuck: 12–15 reps

The Water Strength Training Moves

Jog In Place

This low-impact cardio exercise will help you build endurance without stressing your joints.

jog in place

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold an aquatic dumbbell in each hand down by your sides, palms facing in.
  • While standing in place, lift one knee and bend the opposite arm to reach toward your shoulder.
  • Lightly bounce on the ball of your standing foot to alternate sides, lifting your other knee and opposite arm.
  • Stay light on your feet as you alternate sides for one minute.

Rocking Horse With Arm Press

Work hip extension and flexion, along with your shoulders, back, and chest with this move.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold an aquatic dumbbell in each hand down by your sides.
  • Bend your left knee to kick your left foot back. As you do, lean your torso forward and sweep both arms up, palms facing down.
  • Once you feel like you can’t lean forward any farther, sweep your arms down to your sides, palms facing up, and lean back. Transfer your weight onto your left leg and kick your right foot forward.
  • Build up speed until you can flow back and forth.
  • Continue for 12 to 15 reps. Repeat on the opposite side (kicking your left foot forward).

Side-to-Side Lunge With Arm Press

This exercise works your shoulders, chest, back, and lower body. It also builds coordination, agility, and power.

  • Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart and hold an aquatic dumbbell in each hand down by your sides.
  • Shift your weight and twist your torso to the left so your feet point toward the left.
  • Bend your left knee, lowering your hips as far as you’re able.
  • As you lunge, punch your right arm in front of your chest.
  • Shift your weight and twist your torso to the right to repeat the movement.
  • Keep your movements fluid as you alternate sides for 12 to 15 reps total.

Core Twist

Get your abdominals firing from side-to-side with this rotational exercise. You’ll also challenge your coordination.

  • Take a wide-leg stance and extend both arms in front of your chest. Grip the dumbbells with palms facing in.
  • Without moving your hips, rotate your torso to the left as far as you’re able. Your head, arms, and waist should move together.
  • Return to center. Then, rotate to the right.
  • Do 12 to 15 reps in each direction.

Jump Front to Back

Jumping forward and backward works agility and coordination.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward. Hold an aquatic dumbbell in each hand down by your sides, palms facing in.
  • Keeping your arms at your sides, jump forward with both feet. Then, jump backward with both feet.
  • That’s one rep. Do 12 to 15.

Jump Side-to-Side

Like jumping forward and backward, moving side-to-side also builds agility and coordination.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward. Hold an aquatic dumbbell in each hand down by your sides, palms facing in.
  • Jump to the right with both feet, and then to the left with both feet.
  • That’s one rep. Do 12 to 15.

Jumping Jacks

This classic cardio exercise activates your inner and outer thigh muscles.

  • Stand with your feet together and hold an aquatic dumbbell in each hand down by your sides, palms facing in.
  • Hop your feet wide and raise the aquatic dumbbells out to your sides, stopping once you reach water height. Keep a slight bend in your elbows.
  • As soon as you land, hop your feet together and bring your arms back down by your sides. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.

Suspended Ski

Hovering in the water and moving your limbs back and forth will challenge your core muscles, balance, and coordination.

illustration of suspended ski in water

Core Tuck

This exercise builds core strength and balance.

  • Set your dumbbells on the side of the pool and grab your noodle. Place it behind your back and tuck the ends under both arms. Let your legs float in front of your body.
  • Bring your feet together. Keeping your back straight, use your lower abdominal muscles to bring both knees into your chest.
  • Then extend your legs in front of your body.
  • Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.

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This article originally appeared as “Into the Pool” in the June 2022 issue of Experience Life.

Lauren
Lauren Bedosky

Lauren Bedosky is a Twin Cities–based health-and-fitness writer.

Thoughts to share?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I am so glad that Lifetime has developed the Arora program for members my age. Our South Tulsa Lifetime Instructors and staff could not be anymore educated, empathetic, and motivating. I am a big fan of exercise in the water and how our Arora Aqua classes have expanded at our club. Most of our Arora members agree that we feel like we are at a resort each morning and leave feeling grateful, refreshed, and eager to return to our very unique community.

  2. I’ll have to try out a few of these moves the next time I come to the pool. I’ll use them as warm ups before lap swimming.

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