Aquatic Exercise Routines

Tamsen Butler
Woman exercising with dumbbells in swimming pool

You don't have to attend an aqua aerobics class in order to enjoy the many benefits of exercising in the pool. Get in the water and enjoy a fun, low-impact workout that will build strength and endurance.

Upper Body Sculpting With Free Weights

Many pools offer floating free weights specific to aquatic exercise. They are large and buoyant and can provide good resistance in the water to build strength and shape muscles. Grab two dumbbells and head into the pool's shallow end. You'll want to be at least waist deep, but not submerged deeper than the chest. Start with the feet, standing hip width apart.


Begin with both dumbbells by the hips.Dumbbell Curls

  1. Alternate by lifting one side, bending at the elbow and curling the dumbbell up toward your shoulder. You should feel this mostly in your bicep.
  2. Repeat on each side 10 to 15 times.

Triceps Push

  1. With both dumbbells at hip level, with straight arms, push the hands back until you feel enough resistance.
  2. Return to hip level.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Shoulder Strengthener

  1. With both arms spread out to each side, palms facing down, bring both arms together in front of your body, palms still facing down.
  2. Push the weights into the water and alongside the hips.
  3. Lift the arms back up to shoulder height and repeat.
  4. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Total Arm Toner

  1. Beginning with dumbbells at hip level, make small circles in one direction gradually bringing the arms up to shoulder height.
  2. Reverse circle direction as you lower the arms back to hip level.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Women exercising with dumbbells in swimming pool

Upper Body Strengthening Without Weights

Water provides all the resistance you need with the following exercises.

Chest, Back and Arms

A wall push-up is a challenging move that targets a variety of muscles.

  1. Use the wall as a prop. Face the pool edge.
  2. Bring hands to the wall at chest level.
  3. Back the legs up so you are at a diagonal.
  4. Bend the elbows out to the side and bring your chest closer to the wall keeping a flat back.
  5. Change up the resistance by adjusting your legs. Closer to the wall is easier, farther away from the wall is more difficult.
  6. You can also adjust your hand position. Bringing the arms wider out will work your chest muscles and arm muscles differently. Experiment with bringing hands farther and closer apart.
  7. Repeat 10 to 15 times in each position.

Shoulders, Arms and Back

The explosive movement followed by the controlled landing makes this exercise beneficial for overall fitness.

  1. Facing the wall, place your hands out of the water on top of the edge of the pool so the palms are facing down.
  2. Bend the knees and hop out of the water, using your arms to boost you up as high as you can go.
  3. Land slowly back on your feet, bending your knees and come back to a standing position.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Back and Shoulders

Try this variation of a pull up that uses water to help you move your body more buoyantly.

  1. Face the wall and put your hands on the edge of the pool.
  2. Bend the knees and sink down into the water as deep as you can bend, then using the arms, pull yourself as high out of the water as you can.
  3. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Abdominal and Core Workout

The core gets a great workout in the pool with these exercises.

Basic Crunch

  1. Float on your back and draw your knees in toward your chest.
  2. Bring the legs back out straight, then repeat by bringing the knees back into the chest.
  3. Repeat up to 20 times.

Oblique Crunch Variation

  1. Stay in the same floating position as the basic crunch above.
  2. Draw your knees to one side of the body, then back out, and then in on the other side.
  3. Repeat each side.

Pelvic Isolations

  1. Stand next to the wall, keeping one hand on the wall for support.
  2. Keep feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, bend the knees.
  3. Tilt the pelvis forward, pause, then back to neutral. Tilt the pelvis back, then back to neutral.
  4. Repeat in each direction 10 times.
  5. For added difficult, remove the hand from the wall and bring the arms out to the sides.

Standing Leg Lifts

  1. Stand with one arm on the pool wall and the other arm stretched out to the side.
  2. Draw the leg farthest away from the wall slowly up, taking the knee up to hip height.
  3. Pause for a breath, then slowly return the leg to the ground.
  4. Repeat on that side 10 to 15 times.
  5. Turn around and do the other side. For added difficulty, remove the hand from the wall and keep both arms stretched out to the sides.

Lower Body Sculpting

The lower body works hard in the water, whether you're swimming, hopping, or doing one of the following exercises.

Squat

  1. Bend at the knees into a squat, keeping the knees in line with the ankles.
  2. Reach your hips back and keep your chest lifted.
  3. Repeat up to 15 times.

Leg Extension

  1. Move to the pool's edge and grab hold of the wall.
  2. Extend one leg up and back, lifting to a comfortable height then lowering back to nearly touch the floor.
  3. Repeat each side up to 15 times.

Crescent Knee

  1. Draw one knee up and circle it across the body.
  2. Lower the foot to the ground.
  3. Switch sides and repeat for up to 20 reps.
Women taking water aerobics class in swimming pool

Cardio Intervals

Cardio exercises become more challenging when the water provides resistance to the movement.

Jogging in Place

  1. Jog in place 1 minute, lifting the knees as high as they will go.
  2. Pump your arms, similarly to how you would move jogging out of the water.
  3. Keep your chest up and don't round your back.

Cross Jacks

  1. Stand with feet farther than hip distance apart.
  2. Jump up and cross the feet, landing with one foot over the other.
  3. Jump back out, then jump in again, crossing the feet again, bringing whichever foot was forward the first time to the back this time.
  4. Repeat this for 1 minute.

Tread Water

  1. Move to deep enough water that it is difficult or impossible to touch the bottom of the pool without dipping your head below the surface.
  2. Tread water without dipping the head for 1 minute.

Bicycles

  1. With the back facing the wall, hold on to the side of the pool and bring the legs up to hip height.
  2. Bend your knees.
  3. Bicycle the legs at a quick pace for 1 minute.

Jump and Squat

  1. With feet hip distance apart, bend the knees and draw the hips back and bring the arms straight down.
  2. Pop up and jump out of the water as high as you can, lifting your arms over your head.
  3. As you land, return to a squat position.
  4. Repeat for 1 minute.
Under water treadmill

Full Body Aqua Exercise Workout

Combine any of these workouts for a full-body conditioning experience in the pool. You might want to start off slow and build up over time. You can decrease or increase reps, and also increase the time of a cardio interval.

Sample Full Body Workout

This workout takes place in the water.

  1. Begin with five minutes of warm ups by gently jogging in place or walking from one end of the pool to the other.
  2. Bring feet hip width apart and do 15 squats, holding weights in the hands if you have them and keeping the arms at chest height.
  3. Alternate kicks to the side with each leg, 10 on each side.
  4. Do 15 more squats.
  5. Jog in place 1 minute.
  6. Move to the wall and face the wall. Do 10 wall pushups.
  7. Place hands on the pool deck and pop up out of the water 10 times.
  8. Turn the back to the wall, still holding on to the wall. Bring legs to hip level and bicycle the legs at a rapid pace for 1 minute.
  9. Turn around and do 10 more wall pushups with arms spread wider than they were before.
  10. Take one arm away from the wall and turn 90 degrees. Bring the knee up to hip height and lower to the ground. Repeat 10 times. Turn around and do the other side.
  11. Jump and squat for 1 minute.
  12. Float on your back, bring your knees in to your chest, then straighten the legs. Repeat 10 times.
  13. For the obliques, stay on your back and draw your knees to one side, then the other. Repeat each side 10 times.
  14. Jog in place 1 minute.
  15. Cool down by walking the pool for 5 to 10 minutes.
Underwater photo of a young girl refreshing and relaxing

Modifications

Modify this workout by combining any or all of the above moves into a routine that is as long as you need it to be. Make sure to add at least one exercise from each grouping above to get a full-body workout that also includes cardio exercises.

Accessible and Fun Exercise

Doing these exercises in the water will help you meet your fitness goals while having lots of fun. Movements have a much lower impact to the body when done in water, making these moves much more accessible to people recovering from injuries or people who haven't exercised in a long time. Check with your doctor before undertaking an exercise program to ensure your readiness.

Aquatic Exercise Routines