Too hot to work out? Get out of the heat and into the pool.
It’s the coolest place to exercise during a hot summer and you don’t need to be a swimmer to reap the benefits of a pool workout. Water-based calisthenics and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts have just as much potential to improve cardiovascular fitness as those done on land, which makes them the perfect option if your pool is sized more for fun than swimming laps.
Another bonus to working out in the water is that you can jump, jog and sprint with less impact stress than in the gym. But to get all the fitness benefits of a high-intensity aquatic workout, you have to know how to make water’s unique properties work to your advantage. In the water, depth, temperature and resistance make a difference.
Deeper water displaces more of your body weight than shallower depths. At chest height (nipple level) about 60 per cent of body weight is offloaded though buoyancy, making some exercises more amenable to shallow or deep-end workouts.
Also at play is water’s density (water offers more resistance than air), which slows down movement. Used strategically, that resistance is what makes water workouts so tough and is one of the most understated benefits of moving your workout into the pool, lake or ocean.
Temperature also makes a difference. Cooler water (18-25 degrees C) lowers your heart rate, so you can’t use that as a measure of intensity. Instead use the simple method of perceived exertion: if you feel like you’re working hard, you probably are. The same goes for the recovery portion of the workout: if the workout feels easy, it probably is.
As for other strategies to make aquatic workouts more effective, see the tips below. Keep in mind that it takes a while to get the hang of working up a sweat in the water, but once it clicks, you’ll end up spending more time in the pool than the gym during the dog days of summer.
Popular HIIT workouts can be easily incorporated into an aquatic environment, alternating between short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by longer bouts of active recovery. Start with 20-30 seconds of work (running or jumping on the spot or while on the move) followed by 60-90 seconds of easy movements (walking or a light jog). Repeat 10 times, warming up for 5-10 minutes before starting the intervals. Remember, the key to great HIIT workouts is keeping the intensity up during the hard interval, so if you need a longer recovery, go ahead and take it. Or if you prefer, increase the length and lower the intensity of your work intervals (30 seconds to two minutes) and shorten the recovery period. Both options will help you reach your fitness goals.
Moving against the resistance of the water boosts the intensity of your workout, so cover as much ground as possible. If you’re short on space, change direction frequently, including heading back into the current you just created without losing speed. If possible, stay at a depth between the hips and chest so you can maintain contact with the bottom and easily adjust speed, direction and range of motion. Too deep and you’ll start to float. Too shallow and you won’t get the full benefit of water’s natural resistance.
Big, strong, controlled running, walking and jumping movements will engage more muscles and create more resistance, all of which gets your heart rate where you want it. Get your arms in on the action too, keeping them under water as much as possible, swinging them by your side, around the body or pushing them forward and back exposing as much surface area of your body as possible (think of pushing against the water versus slicing though it).
Mix it up
Alternating between big and small, fast and slow, stationary and traveling movements keeps the workout from getting boring. Big, fast movements will get your heart racing while slower movements are better choices when you need to dial it down. Alternate 20 seconds of big, bounding side-to-side jumps with your knees almost breaking the surface of the water, then 60 seconds of recovery at a slow-paced knees-high jog. Or sprint the full width of the pool with arms pumping by your sides as many times as possible for 20 seconds, followed by a minute of easy walking. Repeat as many times as possible for 20 minutes. Workout done.
If deep water is your only option, grab a pool noodle and get moving. Wrap the pool noodle around your back and under your arms, resting your forearms along the length of the noodle and maintaining an upright posture. Jog on the spot, move your legs in a cross-country skiing or cross-cross motion or move them side-to-side bringing both knees up to the surface of the water with each sweeping left and right motion of the legs. If you have room to move, straddle the pool noodle and start jogging through the water alternating between fast- and slow-paced intervals.
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