Best Water Exercises

Lap Pool

Water workouts pack a double punch of cardiovascular and resistance training benefits. People report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Low Impact

Many of the exercises you do on land can be done in the water. The best part is that there is very little impact on your joints, yet you can work even harder with the help of the water. You can expect to burn 400 to 500 calories per hour performing water exercise, says the Aquatic Exercise Association.

Suspended Jumping Jacks

Perform them much like you would on land. Jump your legs out but don't let your feet touch the bottom when you bring them back to the center. Work your arms, too, by crossing them at the chest as you jump. Crossing your arms this way keeps them submerged in the water and you'll continue to get the toning benefits.

Squat Jumps

Shallow-water squat jumps strengthen the muscles in your quadriceps and improve your power without the impact that you experience when jumping on land. In waist-deep water, with your feet shoulder-width apart, sit back into your heels until your knees form a 90-degree angle, then press explosively up, leaping into the air. As you jump, extend your arms over your head. Land with a slight bend in your knees, and after you regain your balance, continue the exercise for a minute.

Tuck Jumps

Jump forward and backward as if you were jumping over a box. Tuck the knees into the chest and use the arms to help you jump and keep your balance. You can increase the intensity by pushing the water with your hands.

Side Shuffles

Move laterally across the pool to tone your inner and outer thighs while performing a side shuffle. Start with your legs shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips. Step to the side with one leg, then pull your other leg to meet it. Make your way across the pool in both directions before giving yourself a break.

Ski Jumps

Standing with both feet together, hop side to side. The best way to do this is to pretend there is an imaginary line on the pool floor and you're jumping over it. Incorporate the arms by swinging them in the opposite direction of your legs as you jump. This will also help with your balance.

Cross Country Ski

Your right arm and left leg will work together. Jump and bring them forward at the same time. Then do the same thing with the left arm and right leg. Once you have the movement down, pick up the pace. You can hike up the intensity on this move by exploding out of the water every time you jump.

Pool Running


Deep water exercise is a completely non-weight bearing exercise. Water offers 12 times the resistance of air, which helps to improve muscle strength. Elite athletes often use this method to train while they are recovering from injury and seeking to cross train.

Deep water running is beneficial to the runner sidelined by injury, but it's also an excellent workout for anyone. According to Fluid Running, you can burn up to 40% more calories than running on land. Furthermore, the motion mimics the land-based version so you'll keep your muscles fit and toned.

Try this pool running routine the next time you want to add running to your pool exercises:

  • Run at a moderate pace for 10 minutes.
  • Run for one minute at a faster pace.
  • Repeat the above steps ten times through.
  • Next, sprint for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the sprint/rest combination ten times.
  • Finish up by cooling down with moderate activity for 10 minutes.

Be sure to drive the knees into the chest. This will look more like a cyclist than a runner but this form is best in the water, as it protects your back.

It's also a good idea to use an aqua jogger when doing pool running or other deep water exercises. This buoyancy belt will help you maintain good form which is always an important consideration.

Increase Intensity

Pool running
Pool running

Interval workouts can improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance. They also supercharge the caloric expenditure, meaning you burn more calories in less time. Research done on interval training shows that compared to moderate intensity endurance exercise, high intensity intermittent exercise burns causes an after-burn effect, wherein you continue to burn fat after the workout. Studies also suggest that appetite may be suppressed more following intense intervals.


High intensity interval training (HIIT) consists of 45 seconds of all out intensity followed by a 15 second rest period. Do the aforementioned water exercises back to back three times. This workout will take about 15 minutes to complete, including your rest periods.


You can even do tabata intervals in the pool. On land these intervals burn 240 to 360 calories. Again, perform the water exercises listed above but do them for 20 seconds, paired with a 10 second rest period.

Isolation Exercises

Use the resistance of the water to tone up. You can save these exercises to the end of your workout or use them as recovery exercises while doing interval training.

Practicing flutter kick
Flutter kick

Leg Work

  • Flutter Kicks: Stand arm's length away from the side of the pool. Extend both arms and grab hold onto the side of the pool. Extend your legs out behind you so that you're horizontal. Start to kick the legs in a flutter motion. Kick fast and hard in 30 second, 45 second or one minute intervals.
  • Outer Thigh Lifts: Stand with left side near wall, feet together, holding edge with left hand. Lift right leg out to side. Do this on the right side, as well. Perform 20 reps on each side.

Core Work

  • Trunk Rotations: Take a wide stance. Extend your arms and bring the hands together in front of you. Rotate from side to side, pivoting your feet as you rotate to protect your knees. Keep your navel drawn in and the back straight. You will get more benefit from this exercise if you keep the arms submerged in the water. The faster you rotate the harder this exercise will be. Try 10 to 20 rotations.
  • Isometric Crunch: Make sure you are in the shallow end of the pool. Place a towel on the side of the pool. Lift one leg up onto the side of the pool while the other leg is still in the pool. Place it on top of the towel so your leg doesn't slide off, then pull the other leg up onto the wall. Keep the legs close together and your hips close to the pool wall. Cross your arms over your chest and lower your torso into the water (keeping your head above the water). Do 12-15 crunches.

Arm Work

Stretch arms out for arm circles
Stretch arms out for arm circles
  • Quick Punches: Submerge to shoulder level. Rotate to your right side and make a fist. Bring your fists up to shoulder level and pretend you are punching a bag like a fighter. Punch as quickly as you can for 30 seconds, 45 seconds, or one minute.
  • Arm Circles: Good, old fashioned arm circles take on new meaning in the pool. Extend the arms out and circle forward 20 times and then backward 20 times. Repeat this sequence two times through.

Challenging and Effective

Pool exercise tends to feel very different from land-based exercise, but they can be just as hard. You can even add tools to enhance your workout such as flotation belts, webbed gloves, and water ankle cuffs. Make it a point to stay hydrated because the cooling effect of the pool water may make you forget your thirst.

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Best Water Exercises