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8 pool exercises for a low-impact, full-body workout

Take advantage of the natural resistance water provides to get a low-impact strength workout.
The pool is a great place to practice pushups, as the water supports some of your bodyweight and takes pressure off your joints.
The pool is a great place to practice pushups, as the water supports some of your bodyweight and takes pressure off your joints.TODAY Illustration

I grew up swimming for exercise, first learning how to swim indoors in the winters in Michigan and then moving to Florida and using the outdoor pool for cardio workouts in high school. But when it comes to exercising in the pool, swimming laps is just scratching the surface.

The water offers resistance like strength training, but also relieves the pressure on your joints by supporting your body weight. That makes pool exercises low impact and great for people recovering from an injury or who are experiencing joint pain.

Whether you’re in search of a low-impact exercise routine or just want to get a workout in while enjoying the sunny weather this summer, these exercises are a great way to get your heart rate up and tone your entire body.

For a formal workout routine, aim to complete each exercise for a total of 10 reps and repeat the circuit 3 times. I also like to just causally throw in an exercise here and there when I’m enjoying a pool day!

Cardio pool exercises 

walking in the pool exercise

Walking in the pool

Stand in the shallow end of the pool, facing the opposite side of the shallow end. Then walk forward toward the other side of the pool. Turn around and walk back to the starting position. Pump your arms as if you’re walking outside. 

Running in the pool exercise

Running in the pool

Start at one end of shallow side of the pool. Instead of stepping as you would when walking in the pool, try to run and get a little bit of air (water!) underneath each step. Act like you’re running toward the other end of the pool and pump your arms.

Note: When you pump your arms under the water, you’re also working your shoulders and arm muscles. When you pump your arms above the water (if the water is only waist deep instead of chest deep) it’s less of a workout on the arms.

Lower body pool exercises

Knee kicks pool exercise

Knee kicks

Rest your arms and back against the side of the pool. Then pretend like you’re riding a bike as you reach one knee up toward the top of the water and then press it down and forward back into the water. Keep alternating legs, first bringing the knee up and in and then kicking the leg straight out. This is a cardio move that will get your heart rate up, but it’s also a lower body strength training exercise!

frog kicks pool exercise

Frog kicks

Facing the wall, rest your head on your hands or hold onto the side of the wall or a noodle. Pull your legs in, bending your knees out to the sides (into a frogger position). Then, kick them straight out on a diagonal to each side and bring them back in toward center for a frog kick. Repeat.

Upper body pool exercises 

Bicep curls pool exercise

Bicep curls

Holding your arms down at your sides, open your palms and squeeze your fingers together. Then bend the elbows and curl your forearms up so that your hands press up toward your shoulders. Return your arms down to your sides and repeat. Do this in chest-deep water for more resistance. 

Tricep extension pool exercise

Tricep extension

Stand up straight and hug both elbows in toward your sides. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees so that your hands are out in front of you and your forearms are parallel with the bottom of the pool. Press your arms up and back through the water to straighten your arms behind you, squeezing your triceps. Return to bent elbows and repeat.

Chest press pool exercise

Chest press

Stand straight and reach your arms straight out to your sides underneath the water. Open the palms and press the fingers together. Then, keeping the arms straight, bring your fingers together in front of you as if you are hugging your arms around a tree. For a bonus, flip the palms so that they face the reverse position when bringing them back out to the sides. Repeat.

Pool pushups

Pool pushups

Stand with your feet a few feet away from the wall of the pool and your hands on the edge of the pool as wide as your shoulders. Bend your elbows out to the sides lowering into a pushup. Straighten your arms to return to start. Repeat.