A jump into a swimming pool after a long, hot day is always refreshing. But while you’re in there, you might as well get in a workout, too. Brisk walking for an hour in the pool can burn up to 500 calories, according to Prevention magazine.
“There’s this myth that water workouts are for the elderly, injured, or out of shape,” says Beth Antell, a group-exercise and private instructor at the Sports Club/LA. “But they’re great for young, healthy athletes—especially those in sports that are high-impact.”
Performing exercises in water decreases the strain that your muscles and joints endure when doing the same exercises on land. But that doesn’t make the workout any easier: In the water, Antell says, muscles feel 360 degrees of resistance.
Can’t swim? No problem. These five exercises can be done in chest-high water, so you can stand. Complete the entire routine two or three times for a full workout.
Exercise 1: Cross-Country Ski
Muscle area: Arms and core
Reps: One to two minutes
Stand with your arms to your side. Imagine that you’re cross-country skiing, moving the opposite arm and leg back and forth.
Exercise 2: Lift and Twist
Muscle area: Core and hip flexors
Reps: Ten for each leg
Stand on your right leg and extend your left leg out to the side. Bend your left leg in toward your chest, twisting your torso in toward your knee. Do this ten times, then switch legs and repeat.
Exercise 3: Jumping Jacks
Muscle area: Legs and upper body
Reps: One to two minutes
You can start by doing basic jumping jacks in the water. For more of a challenge, continue to jump the legs out and in, but while holding water weights, move your arms in circular motions so you’re pushing water away from your body. Then, go counterclockwise so you’re bringing water in toward your body.
Exercise 4: Bicep/Tricep Curls
Muscle area: Biceps and triceps
Reps: 12 to 20 for each arm
Antell demonstrates this exercise using a piece of equipment called the Hydro-Toner. But for a homemade substitute, grab two empty one-gallon (or half-gallon) milk cartons and seal the openings shut. Cut six three-inch-long vertical slits into the carton on each side. The idea is that the jugs will drag as water flows in and out of the slits and will create resistance.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart in the water and use the gallons as free weights while you do bicep curls.
“You get resistance in every direction,” Antell says. “So you’re getting the biceps and the triceps working.”
Exercise 5: Crunch Extension
Muscle area: Abs
Reps: 10 to 20
Place a swimming noodle behind you, letting it rest across your upper back and resting your hands on the ends of the noodle. Use it as a floating device. Lie flat, parallel to the water’s surface, trying to keep your toes out of the water. This forces your core muscles to work more during this exercise.
Pull your knees in toward your chest. Flip your body so you’re on your stomach, again trying to get your legs parallel to the water’s surface. Then pull the knees in toward your chest again and flip onto your back to the original position. Repeat.