How to take your workout outdoors: A pool session can be more than just swimming laps

Take your workout to the pool, lake, or ocean this summer for an intense exercise session in the water that is also easy on your joints. 
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When it comes to pools, the first activity that comes to mind is swimming. It’s no secret that whether it’s in a pool, the open ocean water or a lake, swimming is one of the best ways to get in some high-intensity, low-impact cardio exercise. And with summer beginning to heat up, people will be heading out on vacation—many to the beach or a tropical destination, where an outdoor pool will be readily available.

But lap swimming is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Pools or open water can be hard to come by, and—the elephant in the room—really, the only people you see bobbing up and down in the pool during their workout are your grandmother’s friends in their water aerobics class, right?

Wrong. For those who may panic at the thought of donning a swim cap and goggles, attempting a flip turn or doing mind-numbing cardio without your music blaring through your headphones, fear no more. The water—open-water or pool, outside or inside—can be the location for your next challenging but low-impact workout, and not a single stroke is required.

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“If you’ve got water you can do the workout,” says Alex Isaly, a lead trainer at Life Time Fitness’ new fitness class WTRX. “Bringing that water element into it is amazing, because it increased how long I could actually go at a really high intensity. If I did some of these moves on land, my time and intensity level would be shortened, as opposed to in the water, where I felt like I could exert a lot more effort over a longer period of time.”

WTRX, created in partnership with Speedo and available at Life Time fitness locations across the nation, combines the movements you’d normally do in a boot camp-style circuit and the muscle-building benefits of lifting weights with the low-impact benefits of the water.

So how exactly does one workout in the water without the monotonous task of swimming laps in a pool? Simply take some of your standard gym moves to the water. Not only does the water add unexpected elements to your workout, such as forcing you to stabilize your body against the motion of the water, but it also provides you with a great opportunity to take your workout outside.

For example: Do lunges or squat jumps by pushing off the bottom of the pool and working against the water’s resistance, or do triceps dips and pushups on the pool wall, using the buoyancy of the water to assist you. (Bonus: You’ll be able to complete more reps!) Set a goal to complete a certain number of rounds or set a time restriction, just like you would in the gym—and give yourself bonus points if you add weights.

“When you’re doing moves on one leg you think that you have much better balance in the water,” says Natalie Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medalist swimmer. “But the water moving actually challenges you in a different way. When I do the one-legged exercises in the water, I’m surprised at how much you have to think about it when I can easily balance on one leg on land.”

Think about it—when an athlete goes down injured, the first place doctors recommend for a workout is in the water, where the impact is low but the intensity can remain high. That thought process rings true not just for cardio workouts, but also for weights.

“[Moving your workout to the water] helps a lot of your body and works everything that you would do on land but in a safer environment,” says four-time Olympic medalist swimmer and world-record holder Cullen Jones.

To top it off, these workouts fit in seamlessly with the routines of professional athletes.

“I’ve been training at Cal since 2000, and we do a lot of outside-the-box training,” Coughlin says. “Everything from relaxing in the water with not breathing and running on the bottom of the pool without your weight—to do that you have to blow out all of your air so your body is really heavy and then run on the bottom of the pool. We swim with weights belts on our low back, that’s 14-15 pounds.”

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So, next time you’re faced with a workout dilemma, just hit the water in your workout clothes—yep, no bathing suit necessary! Because most workout clothes are made of a quick-dry material, they’ll serve a purpose for a session in the water. Form-fitting clothing works best, but if that’s not available to you, take the extra resistance in stride.

If you’re searching for ideas, check out these circuits and videos (created by Speedo and sports performance company EXOS) that detail a number of in-water workout moves designed to complement any training regimen.

“My mindset with training is anytime you challenge yourself athletically, no matter what you’re doing, you’re going to make yourself into a better athlete,” Coughlin says. “For me to run back and forth in the pool, that’s so foreign to me, so it challenges me in a different way, working on coordination, flexibility and strength.”