Lap-swimming isn’t the only way to build muscle and endurance in the pool. Swimming exercises make for a sweat-minimizing resistance workout that is way more fun than doing a hundred lat pull-downs in the gym. Don’t worry if the only other folks in the shallow end with you are doing low-intensity pool exercises: Even the toughest professional athletes in the NBA and NHL know to incorporate pool workouts into their fitness regimens. Just ask Erika Lee Sperl, an L.A.-based strength and mobility coach and team manager for Australian fitness company 2XU.

“Pool-running has been utilized as a rehabilitation tool for injured and recovering athletes for years,” Sperl says. “But once they’re healed, many athletes say goodbye to the pool — until the next sign of injury. But aquatic workouts can be an ongoing part of a training program, whether you’re training for strength, power, endurance, or general fitness.”

In chest-deep water, your body weight is approximately 10 percent less than normal. Add in an increase in resistance, and you can train at a higher intensity without the strain or impact of joint-jolting land-based training. Here are some in-pool exercises and a couple of workouts you can perform in the water — no low-intensity aerobics included.

The Exercises

Pool Running

With a floatation belt on, get into the deep end. Use your breath and perceived rate of exertion to estimate your level of intensity. If you move to the shallow end, incorporate high knees and butt kicks. Use the side of the pool for intervals of flutter kicks.


In the deep end, cross your right foot over and in front of your left foot while extending your arms out to your sides. Step your left foot to the side. Cross your right foot behind your left foot. Continue moving laterally, then repeat, moving in the opposite direction.

Press-ups and dips

Use the edge of the pool to press yourself up and out of the water. Use your triceps to reverse the movement back down.

Lunges and squats

Perform these just as you would on land. Add in jumps out of the water. “This focuses on training explosive power,” Sperl says


Keep the movement small, focusing on form. Alternatively, make it a bounding skip and aim for height and power as you come out of the water.

Flies, Lat raises, Bicep curls, and Tricep press downs

Use the palm of your hand to create resistance, or add a paddle or water dumbbell. “The beauty of the water’s resistance is that you will train the concentric and eccentric portion of the movements equally,” Sperl says.

Hip twists

With your feet in a split-stance, keep both arms straight in front of you and just below the water’s surface. Rotate at your core from side to side. “You can do this with or without paddles,” Sperl says.


Get out of the pool and hook your shins and feet over the side of the pool, knees bent at 90 degrees. Perform crunches, Russian twists, or isometric holds. “Use the buoyancy of the water for support,” Sperl says.

Laps: The Original Pool Workout

If you’re looking to mix it up occasionally, doing freestyle laps are a killer, if slightly boring pool exercise alternative to this workout. Here are some things to always keep in mind when doing laps.

  • Keep your head neutral, turning it to the side to breathe (NOT lifting it).
  • Swim on your side, not flat on your belly.
  • Keep your elbows high.
  • Rotate your hips back-and-forth to power your kick.

The Workout

“If you thought Marco Polo or water Zumba were water workouts, think again,” says Sperl. “I used this workout with a professional basketball player during the off-season and his butt was sufficiently kicked. The main set can be repeated or modified as desired to reach your targeted total training time and goal.”

Warmup (5 min)

Jog in place (1 min)
Alternating knee to chest (30 sec)
Alternating straight leg kicks (30 sec)
Karaoke side-to-side (1 min)
Alternating high knees (30 sec)
Butt kicks (30 sec)
Lateral shuffle side-to-side (1 min)

Circuit (10 min)

Perform 40 seconds of exercise followed by 20 seconds rest, then move to next exercise.

Rear lunge to front kick, first leg
Rear lunge to front kick, second leg
Poolside press-ups
Squats or squat-to-jumps
Bounding skips
Rear lunge with lateral rotation, first leg
Rear lunge with lateral rotation, second leg
Poolside Russian twists

Cool down (5 min)

Repeat warmup routine.