Forget sweating it out at the gym. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. That’s what folks who have moved their movement to the pool have discovered. Research shows water provides 12 times more resistance than air, which means muscles work up to 800 percent harder. But thanks to water’s natural buoyancy, the motions feel nearly effortless!
“Being in water lets you exercise without putting the full force of gravity on your joints,” says Howard Chansky, MD, chair of the Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at the University of Washington. “On land, that force can be seven times your body weight. In water, you reduce that force by hundreds of pounds.”
To get the perks, try this pool workout circuit plan developed exclusively for FIRST by fitness guru Denise Austin. “Some exercises are best to do in the water,” she says. “Plus, the sunshine and fresh air make you feel better!”
Water walking boosts overall calorie burn.
“This is a great total-body warmup,” says Denise. “The more muscles you use, the more calories you burn.” Indeed, previous research found that water walking builds more lean muscle than strolling on dry land.
To do: In waist-deep water, walk — making sure to lift those knees — to work the glutes, quads and calves. To burn even more calories, move to chest-deep water and pump your submerged arms with each stride, trying to maintain good, upright posture.
Natural tummy tucks flatten the belly.
Lifting against gravity in the water delivers the same effect as pumping iron in the gym, without the strain. “This is my favorite ab exercise and it works like a reverse crunch,” says Denise. It tones the belly and hip flexors.
To do: Holding on to the pool edge, your back against the wall, pull your knees to your chest, engaging your core. Extend your legs back out toward the floor. Beginners, try one leg at a time. For a challenge, flutter legs side to side.
Tiny circles streamline arms.
“This is great for sculpting arms and shoulders,” promises Denise. You will feel it in your biceps, triceps, and deltoids. And keeping arms submerged will ensure proper resistance to help erase jiggles.
To do: Palms facing up, stretch your arms to the sides and trace little circles in the water clockwise for one minute, then counterclockwise. For a challenge: Move to deeper water and raise and lower your arms as you make circles.
Side leg lifts slim thighs.
“This is an inner- and outer-thigh trimmer,” says Denise. “This move is better to do in water than anywhere else because of the resistance. And the water is so easy on your hip joints!”
To do: Using the pool edge for balance, stand on one leg and slowly lift the opposite leg up and out to the side. Squeeze your tush, then lower your leg back down. Repeat for one minute, then switch sides.
Flybacks create long and lean.
“These presses strengthen muscles in the chest and back to improve posture,” says Denise, giving a slimmer appearance. Toning also reduces back strain.
To do: In shoulder-deep water with arms out front, pull your arms back and to the side, then press them forward to the start position. Continue a fluid rhythm, facing palms out when drawing back and palms in when drawing forward. After 30 seconds, pause, then repeat cycle.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.