There will be days this summer when your outdoor workouts are perfect. You’ll breeze through a HIIT routine or bang out a bodyweight workout at a local park, and you’ll keep your cool—literally and figuratively. But then there will be days when there’s no trace of a breeze, and your body’s taken such a banging, you can hardly walk to the park. Now what? Hit the pool to build muscle, drop weight, and give your joints a break. “Swimming is one of the best full-body, low-impact physical activities you can do,” says Jimmy Minardi, personal trainer and creator of Minardi Training. “It offers something no other aerobic exercise does—the ability to work all the major muscle groups without harsh impact to your skeletal system. Every kick and every arm stroke becomes a resistance exercise—which is the best way to increase overall fitness, strength, flexibility, and muscular endurance, enabling you to re-sculpt your body.” With these swimming exercises, you’ll turn fat into muscle, and torch calories all-summer long—instead of the heat torching you all-summer long.
1. Kick Drills
Hold a kickboard in front of your body at arm’s length. Tighten your core muscles while you flutter kick or dolphin kick across the length of a pool. “Focus on flexing your foot past 90 degrees,” Minardi says. “It’ll give you greater propulsion and better results.” Try these alternate kicks to target different muscle groups:
Flutter Kick: Legs are extended straight back, in line with your body, as you kick them up and down.
Works the transverse abdominis—the deepest ab muscle group under the obliques.
Frog Kick: Bend your knees and bring your feet together, drawing your legs up toward your body (resembling a frog’s). Next, straighten your legs as far as you can, and then quickly bring them back up again.
Works the inner thighs and glutes, and is excellent for toning and shaping.
Butterfly Kick: Bring your legs together completely from your thighs to your feet. Point your toes. Use your hips to kick your legs, keeping them together, acting as a fin to push through the water.
Works the internal abdominal oblique (deep ab muscle, which is a great stabilizer and postural muscle group), the external abdominal oblique (the muscle alongside your abs), and the rectus abdominis (aka your six-pack).
“Take it up a notch by ditching the kickboard and lying on your back with your arms overhead,” Minardi says. “This forces you to rely more heavily on your abdominal and leg muscles, giving you a more intense exercise.” Beginners should complete 150 meters of kicking, and intermediate swimmers should complete 400 meters.
2. Breaststroke and Butterfly Drill
Full body strokes like the butterfly and breaststroke engage your core muscles, and improve endurance and speed. “Breaststroke swimmers should perform one arm pull for every three leg kicks,” Minardi suggests. “And butterfly swimmers should use one arm pull for every three dolphin kicks.” Focus on tightening your core muscles, and using them to help bring your arms out of the water. Advanced swimmers should complete 10 25-meter swims with 15-second rest intervals between each.
3. Water Running
Also known as aqua jogging, this exercise provides the high-intensity cardio aspect of running without the punishing impact of striking on a hard surface. “The water should be just below your neck, and if you want to engage your arms, you can add hand paddles to engage your triceps and biceps,” Minardi says. Essentially, you run through the water just as you would outdoors (only with slight tweaks on proper form). Your back should be straight; your arms should be bent at the elbow, and your hands balled into fists as you pump them through the water. Run as hard as you can. Do 3 rounds of 5-minute running intervals.
4. Leg and Core Toners
Stand with your back against the side of the pool, and your arms extended backwards holding the edge of the pool on each side. Then, pull your legs up toward the surface, keeping them together until they’re extended straight out in front of you. Next, move your legs outward to a V-position and then back together. Keep them together, and move back down to the starting position. Keep your movements controlled, engaging your abs and glutes to complete each motion. Continue pulling them up, out, in and down for 3 sets of 20 reps.
5. Water Crunches
“Nothing beats the water resistance of a pool for targeting abs with a greater range of motion,” says Minardi. Float in the water on your back perpendicular to the side of the pool. Put your legs, from the knees up, on the deck of the pool, while the remainder of your body is flat in the water. Use your abdominal muscles to pull your upper body up out of the water as far as you can. Use your muscles again to lower your body back into the water. Do 3 sets of 20 reps.