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If you’re looking for a break from your usual fitness routine, why not dive into aquatic exercise? Exercising in water can provide a great full-body workout without some of the drawbacks of land-based exercises.

Plus, what could be more refreshing in the sticky summer months than being immersed in water while you’re burning calories? And, in winter, a heated indoor pool can keep you comfortable no matter how chilly it is outdoors.

Here’s a look at the benefits of water workouts, along with 8 pool exercises that can work the major muscle groups in your body.

Because water offers heavier resistance than air, working out in the pool can make the same exercises that you’d do on land more challenging in water.

The heavier resistance can engage your muscles more fully and also help you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. Aquatic exercise allows you to get a great cardio workout, while also increasing your:

  • strength
  • endurance
  • flexibility

The buoyancy of water also provides extra support for your muscles and joints. This allows you to work out harder while putting less impact on your body than you would on land.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s especially helpful for people who have joint conditions, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s also a gentler form of exercise for pregnant women and people who have:

If you attend an aquatic class at a fitness center, the facility will likely provide any equipment that you need. Some pools may even have water treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes. Remember to bring:

  • a towel
  • swim cap
  • a pair of goggles

If you’re going to work out on your own, you may want to buy some of the following gear:

  • Wrist or ankle weights. These strap-on weights can increase the resistance of your arm and leg movements in water. Find these online.
  • Foam dumbbells. Lightweight when dry, they become heavy when you put them in water. Shop for them online.
  • Hand paddles or resistance gloves. Both types of equipment can boost your strength training in water. Check out hand paddles and resistance gloves online.
  • Kickboard. A great tool for many drills, it allows you to hold on and stay afloat while doing core and lower body workouts. Find them online.
  • Buoyancy belt. This can keep your head above water so you can do arm exercises without treading water. Shop for one online.

1. Walk in water

Walking in water is a good exercise to start off with as it helps you get a feeling for how you can create resistance. Walking in water can target your arms, core, and lower body. You can increase the intensity by using hand or ankle weights.

  1. Start off walking in shallow water, around waist height.
  2. Lengthen your spine and walk by putting pressure on your heel first and then your toes, instead of walking on your tiptoes.
  3. Keep your arms at your side, in the water, and move them as you walk.
  4. Engage your core and stand tall as you walk.
  5. Continue walking for 5-10 minutes.

2. Water arm lifts

This exercise will help strengthen the muscles in your arms. Using foam dumbbells will help add more resistance.

  1. Stand in water up to your shoulders.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your side, with your palms facing up.
  3. Draw your elbows in close to your torso as you lift your forearms to the height of the water.
  4. Rotate your wrists to turn your palms facedown.
  5. Lower your arms back to the starting position.
  6. Do 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise.

3. Lateral arm lifts

This exercise, which targets your upper body, is also best done with foam dumbbells.

  1. Stand in water up to your shoulders.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your side.
  3. Raise your arms to the side until they’re level with the water and your shoulders.
  4. Lower your arms back down to your sides.
  5. Do 1-3 sets of 8-14 repetitions.

4. Back wall glide

This exercise helps to activate the muscles in your core and lower body.

  1. Hold onto the pool ledge, tuck your knees into your chest, and press your feet into the wall.
  2. Push off from the wall and float on your back as far as you can.
  3. Draw your knees into your chest, press your feet down to the bottom of the pool, and run back to the wall.
  4. Continue this exercise for 5-10 minutes.

5. Jumping jacks

Jumping jacks work the muscles in both your upper and lower body. You can add resistance with wrist and ankle weights.

  1. Stand in water at chest level.
  2. Start with your feet together and your arms at your side.
  3. Jump by moving your legs outward and, at the same time, bringing your arms over your head.
  4. Jump again to return to the starting position with your feet together and your arms at your side.
  5. Do 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

6. Leg shoots

This dynamic exercise works your core, low back, and legs.

  1. Keep your feet off the bottom of the pool during this exercise.
  2. Tuck your knees into your chest.
  3. Explosively press your feet and legs out in front and float flat on your back.
  4. Draw your knees back into your chest.
  5. Press your legs out behind you so you’re floating on your stomach.
  6. This is 1 repetition. Do 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

7. High-knee lift extensions

This exercise can strengthen the muscles in your core and lower body. Add ankle weights to increase the difficulty.

  1. Stand in water at waist height.
  2. Engage your core as you lift your right leg, bending your knee until your leg is level with the water.
  3. Pause with your leg lifted for a few seconds.
  4. Extend your leg straight out and hold this position for a few seconds.
  5. Slowly lower your leg down, keeping it straight.
  6. Repeat this move with your left leg.
  7. Continue for 5-10 minutes.

8. Leg kicks

This exercise works the muscles in your core and legs. Use ankle weights to make it more challenging.

  1. Hold onto the pool ledge or hold a kickboard.
  2. Flutter-kick your legs.
  3. Scissor-kick your legs open and closed.
  4. Do a breaststroke kick with your legs.
  5. Follow with dolphin kicks.
  6. Do each kick for 1-3 minutes.

  • You may sweat more than you realize when you’re working out in water, so stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before and after you work out.
  • Use a floatation device if you’re not a strong swimmer, like a buoyancy belt or floatation vest.
  • Avoid working out in a pool that’s heated above 90°F (32°C).

Stop exercising if you feel:

  • lightheaded or dizzy
  • unable to breathe
  • nauseous
  • faint or weak
  • pain or pressure in your chest or upper body

Water workouts are an effective way to boost your cardio fitness while also strengthening the major muscle groups in your body. Pool exercises are especially helpful for anyone with joint issues or injuries, as well as those who are pregnant or have balance trouble.

Speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine, or if you have any health concerns.