Best No-Swim Workouts for Any Body of Water

Whether you’re taking a dip in the backyard pool or spending a week at the shore, there’s an easy workout move that will help you get fit. Even if you’re not that into swimming.

July 13, 2011
Swimming is an indisputably excellent way to exercise, but it isn’t your only water-based option. Being in the water makes all kinds of workout moves possible. “Water provides resistance and also buoyancy, so it’s an efficient way to burn calories and build muscular endurance without high impact,” says Mary Sanders, PhD, a Reno-based exercise physiologist and director of WaterFit/Wave Aerobics personal training and instruction.

To add some exercise to your next aquatic outing, choose the workout that works best for the water you’re in:

1. Best Home-Pool Workout: The Spiderman
Space is often too limited in a home pool to swim laps. If that’s the case, make more like a superhero than superswimmer Michael Phelps, and try crawling some walls, suggests Sanders. Face the side of the pool and place your arms on the edge for support. Then literally run down and back up the wall as quickly as possible. You’ll burn calories and work your core muscles, she says.

Another option: Deep-water running—it’s great for burning calories with no impact whatsoever, says Sanders. Simply slip on a buoyancy belt, and go for a run in the deep end. You can run in place or do a small circuit. Perform 1-minute sprints followed by 1-minute recovery intervals to increase the challenge.

2. Best Public-Pool Workout: Dodge-Running
Public pools tend to be crowded, but you can use this to your advantage, says Sanders. She suggests running back and forth across the shallow end of the pool, dodging kids, pool toys, and noodles as you go. The random obstacles that cross your path will keep things interesting. “It’s fun to dodge sideways around kids and others,” she says. “Just try to keep your speed up while you’re doing it. Maximal running effort in water of navel to nipple depth can burn about 14 kilocalories per minute.”

3. Best Lap-Pool Workout: Vertical Laps
Tired of those freestyle laps? Try swimming vertically. Start in the shallow end, and “rebound run” (that is, run by pushing off the bottom of the pool) forward until your feet can’t touch the bottom and more. Then go float upright and propel yourself by pumping your legs as if running in place. When you reach the wall, turn around and repeat. If you don’t have a lane to yourself, “Just make sure you choose the slow lane for your workout,” says Sanders, “and that you circle it counterclockwise, just as swimmers do.”

4. Best Workout in a Lake: Fin Intervals
Safety is your biggest concern when lake swimming, warns Sanders. “You’ll be hard for boaters to see. A bright swim cap can help, but that alone won’t keep you safe.” For maximum above-the-water visibility, Sanders suggests donning fins, grabbing a colorful raft, and performing fin-kicking intervals from one pier to another. Too many jet skis in the area? “Use fins with your buoyancy belt, and kick while in a seated position, with your legs in front of you, with your back against a pier,” she says. “You’ll get great core workout.”

5. Best Workout in a River: Kick against the Current
Here, again, safety is a big concern. Whether you’re swimming or exercising, Sanders suggests wearing a personal flotation device, as well as a pair of swim shoes so your feet are protected. Know the area you’re swimming in, she says, and be sure there are no hidden dangers such as drop-offs, rapids, underwater trees, or other obstacles that may get in the way. And never dive into open water without knowing the depth. For a bout of simple exercise, Sanders suggests anchoring yourself with your back against the bank or a boat, so you’re facing into the current, kicking forward with legs in front to build your quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thighs).

6. Best Workout in the Ocean: Surf-Striding
Running or walking along the beach with your feet immersed in the surf is a simple—and splashy—way to add resistance to an already excellent workout. “Both sand and waves offer great resistance for all movements,” says Sanders. “So you’ll increase the intensity of your workout even as you up its fun factor, simply by taking your strides into the surf.”

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