This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through a link and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read the full disclosure here.
Whether you’re looking for a low impact workout or just want to cool off, pool exercises can hit the spot.
Aquatic workouts can also offer something to any fitness level. Check out these great pool exercise ideas to switch it up this summer (or anytime!)
This article will tell you everything you need to know to get started with a pool workout program this year!
*Bright flowered bathing cap not required*
Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.
What is aquatic exercise?
Swimming has always made the list of high-intensity, low-impact cardiovascular exercise.
But what happens when you’re not a swimmer?
If your technique is not up to par, jumping in and just trying to swim until you get tired can be a recipe for a shoulder injury.
But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.
For those who aren’t into swimming laps but want to cool off with some refreshing physical activity, keep reading.
Aquatic exercise or water exercise is different than lap swimming. Water exercise is performing aerobic and resistance training exercises in a swimming pool.
The water aerobics class scene has taken off in recent years, with new programs emerging like Aqua Zumba, Aqua HIIT, Aqua Barre, and Aqua Yoga. You can find some of these programs offered year-round at fitness centers across the country.
There’s also plenty of things you can do on your own (pool exercise ideas below).
Benefits of aquatic exercise
You might think exercise is exercise, right?
Water exercise differs somewhat from land-based exercise. Here are some aquatic exercise benefits to consider.
- The water’s buoyancy decreases weight bearing by 70-80% in chest-deep water and 50% in waist-deep water.
- The viscosity of the water provides resistance for strengthening activities.
- The hydrostatic pressure of the water can help decrease swelling from a recent injury or chronic issues such as arthritis and may also contribute to increased proprioception (joint position sense).
- Allows for movement with less pain
- Warmer water temperatures can promote relaxation and greater ease of movement.
- It can be a fun way to cool off and get your fitness on during the summer and can be done year-round if you have access to a pool.
- You can perform a variety of cardiovascular exercises as well as strength exercises.
A water exercise program can be especially beneficial for those with joint pain or arthritis.
Aquatic physical therapy vs. aquatic exercise
Aquatic physical therapy differs from aquatic exercise because it’s specialized care delivered by a physical therapist designed specifically for your individual needs.
Aquatic workout classes can be taught by anyone with a fitness certification in aqua aerobics or aqua fitness.
Physical therapy facilities may have specialized pools with features such as an underwater treadmill to aid in rehabilitation or sports performance.
Limitations of aquatic exercise
- Exercises may not translate to functional gains on land – so don’t swap out all your activities for water exercise.
- Most studies have been performed on populations with specific medical conditions or athletes, therefore it’s difficult to apply to a general population.
- Access to facilities
- Can be more time-consuming (because of the whole changing, getting in the pool, showering, changing again, etc.)
- Water-based exercise may not be suitable or safe for those who don’t know how to swim
- Not a great option for those with sensitivity to chemicals, open wounds or post-surgery, or issues with incontinence.
- If the water temperature is on the warmer side, it’s easy to get dehydrated and not realize it.
27 Pool exercise ideas
Perform each exercise for 30 seconds to 1 minute for a full-body workout. There are many options in the cardio section for both high and low intensity, you can pick the ones that work best for you.
*Friendly reminder – not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Always listen to your body and modify or omit exercise options to fit your needs.*
Cardio options for pool exercise
All exercises can be done fast or slow for more or less challenge.
- Aqua jogging
- Water walking: forward – backward – sideways
- Jumping jacks
- Kickboard drills
- Tuck jumps
- Rocking horse
- Alternating hamstring curls
- Alternating knees to waist height
- Mountain climbers holding on to the wall
- Scissor jumps
- Squat jumps
Upper body strengthening for pool exercise
Using pool noodles or aqua dumbbells helps create additional resistance. Move slowly and with control to focus on the intended muscle group.
- Noodle push down
- Triceps kickback with water dumbbells
- Alternate punching with water dumbbells
- Biceps/triceps with water dumbbells or webbed gloves
- Push-ups at the pool wall
- Triceps dips at the wall
Lower body strengthening for pool workouts
- Single leg kicks in all four directions
- Kicking at the wall or with a kickboard
- Shallow water squats/jumps
- Deep water kicks with float belt or treading water
Core exercises for the pool
Focus on using your abdominal muscles to control your movement.
- Rotation with aqua dumbbells or noodles
- Mountain climbers at the wall
- Knee to chest at the wall
- Alternating elbow to knee
- Water taxi seated on a kickboard
Stretching in the pool
Stretching is similar to if you were out of the water. You can also use steps and ladders as an assist with the placement of arms or legs.
Exercises can be performed for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time.
You can get creative and utilize intervals to make it more like an aquatic HIIT workout.
YouTube Aquatic Workouts
To help you visualize these ideas and more, I’ve curated a few youtube videos for you.
This video, 50 Pool Exercises | Choices Coach | Sara Moser, gives a fun underwater look at 50 different exercises you can do in the pool.
For a low impact water-walking workout, check out Ask Doctor Jo. She has several videos on aquatic exercise/therapy.
For my hardcore athletes, check out the Bas Rutten personal pool workout. Warning: this is not your Grandma’s water aerobics!
Aquatic exercise equipment
It wouldn’t be a pool
exercise party if there weren’t cool stuff you could buy.
Add some flair to your pool workout with these extras.
Kickboards are made out of dense foam, float, and can be used for kicking, pushing, and pulling exercises.
If you’re up for the challenge, you can always try the water taxi! Just as long as you don’t mind going under if you fall off.
Webbed gloves are just like they sound and are used to add resistance to upper body exercises and get your core muscles involved. They’re usually made of neoprene fabric with connections between the fingers.
Pro tip: I would caution against swimming with webbed gloves or paddles as they have been known to cause shoulder issues if used too much with improper technique.
The opposite of land dumbbells. They float! Aqua dumbbells are made of foam and provide resistance when pushed through the water.
They can be used to add resistance to upper body and core exercises in a pool.
Waterproof fitness tracker
What fun is it to workout and not get credit?
Make sure you have a waterproof fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate and capture all your hard work. The Fitbit Charge 4 boasts water resistance up to 50m.
You can read more about the pros and cons of fitness trackers in The Ultimate Guide to Fitness Trackers.
Pool noodle exercises
A similar concept to pool dumbbells, you can use a pool noodle to add resistance and you can also sit on them and perform movements like underwater bicycle and other kicking motions.
These accessories also double for relaxation when you’re done with your water workout!
Noodles are a seasonal pick-up at any store or you can also have the Amazon Prime fairy deliver them to your door.
Yes, they make these. Water sneakers can provide cushion and traction to your water workout.
For a less intense version that provides a little traction but still gives you foot mobility, check out these water socks.
No more sliding around on the pool floor! Pro tip: if you have a lining in your pool, make sure these won’t cause wear and tear.
Add some additional resistance to your water aerobics with these adjustable pool ankle weights. These versatile weights can adjust up to 5 pounds.
Underwater cardio equipment
Yes, they actually make cardio equipment for the pool, and the Aqua Creek Pro Wave Pool Bike is pretty cool!
This underwater bike is ideal for general fitness, aqua spinning, or physical therapy. You can adjust the tension plus you get some added resistance from just being in the water. (It also comes in awesome colors!)
I worked as a physical therapist at one facility that had therapy pools with underwater treadmills. Underwater walking or jogging can be used from rehabilitation to athletic performance. It’s also a great way to stay mobile with an injury.
Check out The Wright Stuff Medical Supply for aquatic exercise cardio and other equipment.
More pool workout tips
You can be easily tricked into thinking you don’t need water because you’re in a pool.
Wrong! You can still get dehydrated, especially in sky-high temperatures. It’s impossible to assess how much you’re sweating and can skew your perception of exertion.
Keep a full bottle of water near by during your workout.
You can still get hurt
Aquatic exercise may be a low impact workout option, but it’s far from injury-free.
Whether it’s cardio or pool weights, it’s possible to overdo it, so always listen to your body.
Once again, don’t overdo it. Cooler water temperates can skew your ability to perceive exertion.
A pool is a bad place to start feeling woozy.
Don’t stop breathing
When performing exercises in the pool, it’s common to start holding your breath.
Give your breathing priority and check in frequently.
Observe all pool safety precautions
As a former lifeguard at a super strict facility, pool safety is my jam.
It’s still a pool, which comes with its own risks. Don’t ignore normal water safety precautions.
Visit the water safety page at the American Red Cross to brush up, including what to do in an emergency. This article also includes plenty of water safety tips for home pools that are often forgotten.
Stick to shallow water workouts if you’re not a strong swimmer and always have someone with you.
Aquatic exercise provides another venue to get your fitness on and boasts a host of low-impact options from low to high intensity. Aqua exercise let’s you work on cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength as part of a well-rounded fitness routine. Try these water workout tips the next time you’re at the swimming pool!
As with any workout, always listen to your body and don’t work through pain.
How intense does aquatic exercise get?
You’ll have to wear your waterproof fitness tracker and let me know!
featured image source: Nomadsoul1 / depositphotos.com
Becker, Bruce. (2009). Aquatic Therapy: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Rehabilitation Applications. PM & R : the journal of injury, function, and rehabilitation. 1. 859-72. 10.1016/j.pmrj.2009.05.017.
Buckthorpe M, Pirotti E, Villa FD. BENEFITS AND USE OF AQUATIC THERAPY DURING REHABILITATION AFTER ACL RECONSTRUCTION -A CLINICAL COMMENTARY. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(6):978-993.