If you have joint pain, hate sweating, or just don’t like exercising on land, the pool may be the perfect solution to getting some exercise.
Swimming has been shown to improve mood in men and women, relieve arthritis pain, reduce anxiety, help maintain bone health in postmenopausal women, and cut the risk of death in half compared to inactivity – not to mention being a heartbreaking workout.
If you’re not a strong swimmer, or your local fitness center doesn’t offer aqua aerobics or a similar class, visit your local pool and burn calories with these simple steps:
1. Take a quick swim to burn more fat.
You don’t have to be able to swim lap after lap like Michael Phelps to get the benefits of swimming. In fact, interval training, which alternates short bursts of activity with rest, can actually help you burn more fat than regular, slow, or medium-paced training.
If you can only manage to cross the pool once without a break, this is perfect: cross the pool as quickly as possible by whatever means necessary, and then rest for the same amount of time. Repeat this work-and-rest combo five times to begin. Over time, increase your work interval, decrease the length of your rest interval, or add more repetitions.
2. Step into the water for the easiest cardio workout in the world.
You already know how to tread water, but you may not know what an effective cardio workout it can be – because you won’t notice that you are sweating when covered in water. Since you’re likely to be a little inefficient at doing this (because you’re used to being on land), it is estimated that the exercise burns between 200 and 600 calories an hour – as much as walking or jogging two to six miles.
For a really easy workout, just step on the water for as long as you can and try to improve your overall time with each session. To make it even more difficult, do what Olympic water polo players do in practice: kick your arms above your head, either in the air or while holding a water polo. This will focus all of the work on your legs (and likely significantly reduce the length you can step).
To mess things up and get the fat burning results of interval training, try alternating 30 seconds of vigorous pedaling with 30 seconds of holding on to the wall. Over time, try increasing the running time or decreasing the rest time. Start with a total of five minutes and try to work your way up to 20 or more.
3. Do a simple strength cycle.
Water makes landings easier on your joints, but it also creates drag when you try to push yourself up. This simple four-exercise circuit uses both to give you strength training that you can do in waist-high water. To do this, do five repetitions of each exercise before moving on to the next exercise with minimal rest. After you’ve finished all four exercises, rest for two minutes and then repeat the process. Try to start two laps of the track and try to work your way up to five laps over time.
Exercise 1: body weight squats
Stand in waist-high water with your feet about hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards. Push your hips back to lower your torso and keep your weight in your heels. Descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the bottom of the pelvis or, if you can, until your bum is almost touching the floor. As you descend, remember to push your buttocks back and not bring your knees too far in front of your toes. When you push yourself up again, keep your weight in your heels, not the balls of your feet.
Exercise 2: Curtsy Lungs
Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, with your hands on your hips or on your sides. Take a large step back and left with your right leg so that your right foot crosses over your left foot as if to curtsy. As you step down, go down until both knees are bent 90 degrees or as low as possible. Keep your left knee above your second toe, and don’t let your knee protrude in front of your toes. Push back through the heel of your left foot to begin and repeat on the other side, this time with your left foot back. Do five repetitions on each leg.
Exercise 3: high knee raise with calf raises
Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Bring your right knee high so that your thigh is parallel to the floor and you are standing on your left foot. Go up on top of the left toe. Now switch legs. Do five repetitions on each side and try to do this exercise fairly quickly.
Exercise 4: underwater ice skaters
Stand on your right foot with your right knee slightly bent and your left foot behind you, just above the pelvic floor. Jump left about three feet and switch feet in the “air” so that you land in the opposite position – your left foot on the floor, your knee slightly bent, and your right foot behind you. Jump back to the right. Switching back and forth will make you look (and feel) a bit like a speed skater. Do five repetitions on each side.
4. Grab a noodle.
Foam noodles shoot to the top of the water, which means pushing back can be a challenge to workout on. Grab a pair of these floaters and try out these three noodle movements.
Exercise 1: Noodle straight-arm pulldown
Stand in shoulder-high water with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the noodle in front of your shoulders with arms outstretched, straight, palms down. Roll your shoulders back to open your chest. Keeping your torso upright and without moving your legs or bending your elbows, push the noodle toward your waist by pressing your hands down. Check the noodle as you return to the starting position and repeat the process. Try five repetitions at the beginning. If this is too easy, try folding the noodle in half to create more resistance and do the exercise in the same way.
Exercise 2: noodle “dips”
Place in breast-deep water with two noodles. Hold each one in the middle in each hand so that your hand is on your side just below your chest, palms inward. In this position, your shoulders should be back and your chest should be straight so your hands are in line with your torso. With your shoulders back, press your hands (and the pasta) straight down until your hands are by your sides, fully extended with your palms still inward. Control the pasta as you raise your arms back up and repeat for four reps to start.
Exercise 3: Noodle Knee Tucks
Get in the water where you can’t stand and wrap the noodle under your chest and armpits to make you levitate. Extend your legs so that you are like a pencil. Keep your feet together and bend your knees to bring them toward your chest while keeping your torso erect. Bring your legs back to begin and repeat the process. Start with five repetitions.
5. Play with the children to teach them healthy habits.
Not that you needed the science to tell you, but in one study, swimming and playing in a pool together helped strengthen family bonds. Not surprising either: the children of parents who play sports are more active.
So, give your children (or nieces, nephews or grandchildren) a healthy example and exercise too: take them to the pool and play.
Try doing a high-knee run with young children at the shallow end of the pool with the water on or above your knee. Because the water creates resistance when you lift your legs, every step is harder than when you walk on the ground, and the water reduces the bumps when you come back. The kids will love it for the splash. To do this, quickly raise your knees one at a time so that they are at your waist or higher. Try to exercise at high intensity for 15 seconds, then rest. Start with five or more rounds.
In deeper water, practice poolside kicks with younger children learning to swim, or dive for pennies (or other trinkets) with those a little further. And then bring back the water treading workout: throw a ball while kicking in circles or back and forth – you get breakouts where you can only use your legs when you have the ball, alternating between harder and easier work for immediate intervals.
* Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine.