Water Works

Burn calories, save your joints and keep cool by working out in the pool

May 26, 2007|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,sun reporter

When you're preparing your swimming pool for the summer, it's easy to imagine a refreshing dip on high-90s days. This year, consider burning a few calories as well by using your backyard pool as an outdoor gym.

Don't have a backyard pool? Use the pool at your gym or any pool to which you have access.

Jessi HolmanAhart, a seasoned swim instructor at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Mount Washington, preaches the benefits of shallow-water exercises to provide aerobic conditioning while also strengthening muscles.

And after years of teaching water-workout classes, she can list their benefits as automatically as stroking a couple of laps down the pool.

Working out in water is good for you because it:

Cushions the impact on your joints and reduces the risk of falling.

Keeps your heart rate lower than the same level of exertion on land.

Provides resistance at varying levels relative to the motion's speed, angle of the surface area and the direction of the motion.

Makes it easy to adjust the level of your workout and to protect your injuries as you recover.

Helps improve your balance while working your muscles.

Done correctly, aquatic workouts can appear mesmerizingly smooth. So smooth, in fact, that you may suspect they're too, well, easy.

Judy Hassan, an avid walker who took to the water after tearing a tendon in her leg, is quick to disagree. In search of the perfect replacement exercise, she was first disappointed by the lack of rigorous workouts at one exercise studio, then injured herself on a weight machine at another. So she wasn't exactly hopeful when she tried aquaerobics at the Maryland Athletic Club & Wellness Center in Timonium last year.

"I hadn't been in a bathing suit since 1970, and I have unmanageable hair," she says. "But I thought the workout was twice as good as any I had ever gotten on land - plus, nothing hurt afterward. I feel very athletic in the water, especially in deep water, because I'm able to do things I can't do on land, like high kicks.

"You can really work up a sweat, and it's the craziest feeling to be sweating in the water! There's so much resistance that I end up getting greater exercise."

She says she plans to try her routine in her own backyard pool this summer.

HolmanAhart says water workouts generally follow the same sequence as those on land: A warm-up cardio, a muscle-group focus, a long cardio, stretching and cool down. She advises eliminating in-pool stretches if the water temperature is much cooler than 80 degrees. Instead, perform them in a hot tub or on dry land.

She recommends the following exercises, suited to the shallow water of an above-ground or in-ground pool, for a 30-minute workout. The surface of the water should hit your body between your shoulders and elbows.

Cardio Bumblebee

Jog by bending knees back behind you and lifting your heels toward your buttocks. Make opposing figure eights with your arms that are as large as you can make them without breaking the surface of the water. Do 10 repetitions.

Cross Country Ski

Start with one leg forward and the other one back. Legs should be far enough apart to bring your shoulders just under the surface of the water.

Bring one arm forward and the other back, opposite from leg positions. The arm in front should be just below the surface of the water. Swing arms forward and back as you slide legs forward and back. Keep your body from twisting, and keep arm and leg motion purely forward and back. Do 10 repetitions. (Each rep includes a forward and back motion.)

Downhill Skiing

Using a line painted on the bottom of the pool - or an imaginary one - stand on one side of the line and then jump to the other side of it. Crunch your legs toward your chest with each jump and bend at the waist.

Press your arms down on the water to keep your shoulders just beneath the surface. Do 10 repetitions.


Jog with high knees. Tuck your elbows tightly against your sides and keep your upper arms stationary. Bend and straighten elbows so that your hands swing from your elbows to just behind your thigh when your arm is fully extended. When your arm is fully bent, the hand should be on same shoulder. Do 10 repetitions.


Scissor your arms, bringing your hands up to just under the surface of the water, then swinging them in front of your body until your wrists cross. At the same time, make a jumping jack movement with your legs, starting with legs together and straight. Jump them both to a spread-legged stance, then jump again and bring them back together. You will be moving your arms and legs together and apart at the same time. Do 10 repetitions.

You can also do a set of jumps bringing your arms together over your head as in traditional jumping jacks.

Raise the Roof

Stand straight and reach straight up toward the sky. Flatten your palms toward the sky. Holding your elbows stationary on either side of your head, bend your arms, press your palms toward the sky and straighten your arms while you jump. Do 10 repetitions.

Eight-Way Leg Raises

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