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Keeping the midriff area tight can be a big fitness challenge, especially for women who have had a baby and men who want six-pack abs.
Swimming is a great aerobic exercise that’s also good for toning. This is 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 can lose your balance lifting free weights, or shift into the wrong position on an exercise machine, but falling over in the pool is pretty rare. This gives you a great opportunity to build strength with less risk.
Sara Haley is a big believer in swimming and water workouts. She’s a fitness expert and prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist, so much of her work involves keeping bellies strong.
“If you want your entire core strong, you need to strengthen your lower back, too — it will help you hold in your pooch,” she says.
Strong muscles in your abdomen are critical to back health. Ab and back muscles keep you balanced and prevent you from slumping and compressing internal organs.
Here are six water exercises she recommends to help you tighten up your midsection.
As these exercises are performed in a pool, please keep safety a priority. If you feel you cannot safely perform the exercise due to fatigue, stop immediately, get out of the pool, and rest.
This exercise follows a form used in beginner swim lessons.
- Arms outstretched, hold a kickboard in front of you and start kicking your feet.
- As you swim, imagine pulling your navel in toward your spine and away from the bottom of the pool.
- Travel the length of the pool, or until you feel fatigued and cannot continue safely.
Equipment needed: Shop for a kickboard.
This exercise works both your abs and your arms.
- From a standing position in water up to your neck, pull your knees up to your chest.
- Lean back, extending and straightening both legs forward into a jackknife, or pike, position. Your body should be in a “V,” with your bottom pointing toward the floor of the pool.
- Hold this position, which will help tone your abs.
- Keep yourself afloat using your arms, pushing them backwards in circles. This can help tone your triceps.
- Hold for a few seconds, rest, and repeat 10 times.
Beginners may only be able to hold the pike position for a second or two. However, being consistent with an exercise program will allow you to hold the pike position for a longer period of time.
This exercise works your obliques, or side muscles, as well as your abs.
- Stand in the shallow end of the pool with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lean over to one side until your arm is submerged up to the elbow.
- Move slowly back to an upright position, squeezing your abs tightly as you return to standing.
- Lean over slowly to do the exercise on the other side.
- Repeat 8 times.
This exercise works the muscles in your hips (hip flexors) and buttocks (gluteus muscles) as well as your core muscles. When you feel comfortable enough in the water, you can do the exercise without the floating device.
- While in a pool where your feet cannot touch the bottom, hold onto the pool edge or use a floating device (such as a pool noodle) to keep your upper body afloat.
- Hang your legs toward the bottom of the pool.
- Scissor kick your feet front-to-back rapidly to help keep you afloat. Point your toes and keep your legs straight as you kick.
- Repeat this movement for as long as you can do so comfortably and safely.
Equipment needed: Shop for a pool noodle.
To increase the use of your core muscles and make breathing easier, you can also flip over onto your back to do this exercise.
- Start with your arms outstretched in front of you, clasping your hands together or holding a kickboard.
- Tightening your core muscles, move your body in a wave-like motion to propel yourself forward. First, push your chest downward while keeping your hips up, and then push your hips down while your upper body moves up. This may take some practice.
- Repeat this movement as you travel the length of the pool or until you feel fatigued and cannot safely continue the exercise.
Equipment needed: Shop for a kickboard.
A pull buoy is a small piece of swimming equipment that helps your body stay afloat. You can find them in sporting goods stores.
- Place a pull buoy between your thighs or ankles. This will float your hips and legs to the surface of the water. Or, for a more challenging exercise, place a strap around your ankles.
- Begin swimming freestyle. This means doing the crawl stroke, in which you alternate your arms in a forward circular motion behind you and over your head. Keep your feet together and do not kick, allowing the buoy to keep your legs floating. This allows you to isolate your upper body during the exercise. Using an ankle band serves the same purpose, but allows for a more challenging workout.
- Keep your core engaged to prevent your hips and feet from sinking.
- Travel the length of the pool, or until you feel too tired to continue.
Equipment needed: Shop for a pull buoy or an ankle band.
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. She advises paying close attention to the point at which your muscles fatigue.
“Once you determine how far into a workout your stroke breaks down when you fatigue, that’s how far you should set your first group of workouts,” she says. “Once you hit that number or feel you’re performing the strokes incorrectly, stop the workout and begin doing drills to maintain your technique.”
Swimming is a great way to exercise, especially in the hot summer months. With these workouts, you can not only enjoy a dip in the pool, but can also tone your stomach and strengthen your core!
As with any exercise, safety is key. If you start to feel tired or experience any pain, take a break outside of the pool. And keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.