Swim Workouts

Few of us have the flat stomachs of our dreams. Keeping the midriff area tight is one of the bigger fitness challenges, especially for men who want a six-pack and for women who have had a baby. 

Swimming is great aerobic exercise that is also good for toning because even the parts of your body that aren’t actively moving are supporting you against the resistance of the water. Pool workouts are also unique because they provide firm resistance without impact. You could lose your balance lifting free weights, or shift into the wrong position on an exercise machine, but no one has ever fallen over in the pool. This gives you a great opportunity to build strength with less risk.

Back and Tummy
Strong stomach muscles are critical to back health. Your stomach and back muscles work together to keep you from slumping and compressing internal organs, and to help keep you balanced. That’s especially important as we age, including to decrease fall risk.

Sara Haley is a big believer in swimming and water workouts. She’s a fitness expert and pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, so much of her work involves keeping bellies strong. "If you want your entire core strong, you need to strengthen the lower back, too — it will help you hold in your pooch,” she says. Here are some water exercises she recommends to help you tighten up your midsection. 

Know any other good pool workouts? Share them with us! »

1. Kickboard Kicks

  • Get a kickboard and hold it out in front of you.
  • Just like in beginner swim lessons, start kicking your feet.
  • As you do this, imagine pulling your navel in toward your spine and away from the bottom of the pool.
  • Travel the length of the pool. 

2. Pikes

  • Bend your knees to push off from the floor of the pool.
  • Extend both legs forward in a pike position as you lean back. This will help to tone your abs.
  • Push your arms back. This should help to tone the triceps.
  • Your body should be in a V-position with your bottom pointing to the floor of the pool.
  • Repeat 10 times.

3. Tic-Toc

This exercise works your obliques, or the side muscles, as well as your abs. You can do this exercise with a kickboard or with your hands behind your head.

  • Stand in the water with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean over to one side (think up and over) so that your lower elbow hits (or disappears) into the water.
  • Alternate to the other side.
  • Squeeze your abs tight as you return from the movement.
  • Repeat 8 times.

Dr. Taylor Moore is a doctor of physical therapy who competed at the college Division 1 level in swimming for four years. Her workouts combine swimming technique with toning.

“Start off by getting a coach to look at your stroke to ensure you are doing all the strokes correctly,” she advises. “It may even be helpful to do some team practices so they can see how your stroke breaks down when you get tired.”

“Once you determine how far into a workout your stroke breaks down when you fatigue, that is how far you should set your first group of workouts. Once you hit that number or feel you are performing the strokes incorrectly, stop the workout and begin doing drills to maintain your technique.”

Here are some swim drills she says will help to streamline your body.

4. Flutter Kick

  • Start on your stomach with arms above your head in a streamlined position (or use a kickboard).
  • Quickly and repetitively kick your legs, keeping your feet within a 12-inch range.
  • Keep the core engaged and hips tucked under to ensure core activation. Don't let your back arch. This will also work hip flexor and gluteus muscles.
  • Travel the length of the pool.

5. Dolphin Kick

  • Start with arms in streamlined position or with a kickboard. A streamlined position means your fingers are touching and your arms are squeezed right to your ears. You should be looking down.
  • Push your chest downward while keeping your hips up.
  • Then engage your core and push your hips down in a wave-like motion. This may take some practice.
  • Continue this repetitively and lift head when you need to breathe.
  • Travel the length of the pool. 

To increase core activation and make breathing easier, flip over on your stomach and do the same thing. In this position, engage your abs to force your hips up in a wave-like motion.

6. Swimming with a Buoy or Band Around Ankles

  • Place a pull buoy between legs or a strap around your ankles (more difficult).
  • Begin swimming freestyle.
  • Keep your core engaged to prevent hips and feet from sinking.
  • Travel the length of the pool and back.