Water Workouts to Help You Heal

Swimming is a classic summer pastime. Whether in the lake, ocean or in a pool, playing in the water is a fun way to beat the heat and relax. Some people think using the pool for exercise is only for athletes swimming laps or children playing hard, but the pool can be used for so much more than cannonballs and breaststrokes. In this blog, we’ll talk about some of the benefits swimming can have on your body and we’ll give a few exercises you can perform in the pool to help strengthen your body after an injury.

Benefits of Swimming

Whether you’re recovering from an injury or just looking for a fun way to strengthen your body, swimming and other water activities are wonderful exercises for any age and mobility level. Swimming laps, with correct form and breathing technique, can help build muscle, increase flexibility and offers a cardio workout without the stress on your body that running provides (no sweating too!). Since swimming is considered an aerobic workout, it also helps to strengthen your heart (reducing the risk of heart conditions) and lung capacity (allowing you to have stronger lungs and better breathing for longer, more efficient workouts).

Water provides an environment that makes you feel lighter, taking the stress of body weight off of your joints for a low-impact workout. The water buoyancy makes it easier to move with less pain and stress on the body. Because of this, even patients with severe conditions, like arthritis, find water aerobics easier to perform than land activities. Though feeling weightless, the resistance in the water helps to strengthen weak muscles safely without the use of any gym equipment.


Given the unpredictable nature of lakes and oceans, its best to perform these exercises in a pool where you have more control over the elements. Large waves can throw you off balance and stepping on rocks and shells can derail your workout. The LAST thing you want to do while recovering from an injury or surgery is hurt yourself again. Be sure you are prepared with water shoes (if necessary), drinking water, and on a nice day with minimal wind or indoors.

Lower Body

  • Squats– keeping the same form as a land squat, in the shallow end of a pool bend your knees and sit back as though you were sitting in a chair. Be sure that your knees do not extend past your toes. Keep your arms in front of you, parallel to the water. Once you reach a 90-degree angle, hold for a few seconds, and then stand back up to a neutral position, remembering not to lock your knees. 3 sets of 10 squats
  • Walking Lunges– moving along the shallow side of a pool, perform a front walking lunge from one end to the other. Begin in a neutral position, then step forward with one foot, bending both knees as low as you can go (a 90 degree angle is ideal). Be sure your knees do not extend beyond your toes. Keeping your front heel firmly planted, stand back up to a neutral position, moving your back leg to meet your front. Arms can be placed at your sides or on your hips for balance. Repeat this exercise alternating your stepping leg. 3 sets of 10 lunges per leg
  • Flutter Kicks– Holding the side of the pool or a raft for support, float on top of the water on your stomach. Once stabilized, gently and controlled, kick your legs in an up and down motion. Try for 30 seconds at a time and then allowing 30 seconds of rest. Increase your kick time as you gain more strength. Not only is this a great workout for your legs, it also helps to strengthen your core. 3 sets of 30s
  • Single Leg Balance– Keeping your arms in any position that will help you balance (holding on to the pool wall if necessary), stand in the pool with your legs shoulder width apart and slowly raise one leg until your knee is at hip level. Pause at the top for as long as you can, challenging yourself to hold longer every time you complete the exercise. Before losing your balance, slowly lower your leg back down to a neutral standing position. Repeat with the other leg. 3 sets of 10 each leg.

Upper Body

  • Water Push Ups– This is just like an elevated push up on land, but in the water! Place your arms shoulder width apart along the pool ledge. Slowly step your feet back into an angled plank position, keeping your feet together. The further back you step, the more resistance the water will put on your body. Keep your elbows tight to your body and slowly bend your elbows until your chest meets your hands. Pause, and slowly extend your elbows until you return to a neutral plank position. 3 sets of 10
  • Under Water Punches– Either kneeling in the shallow end or moving a little deeper, adjust yourself so that the height of the water is just above your shoulders. Get into a fighters stance, with your legs slightly staggered, your elbows bent, arms at your chest, and hands in fists. Extend one arm in front of you, ending with your arm fully extended, fist in the middle of your chest, palm down. Slowly bring your arm back to starting position and repeat with your opposite arm. 3 sets of 10
  • Dips– Using a step or a pool latter, stand with your back to the steps, lowering your body until your palms (while arms are fully extended) rest on the top of a step (your fingers should be at your hips). Extend your legs in front of you, either straight out on the ground for more resistance, or bent at a 90 degree angle for a little easier dip. Slowly bend your elbows until your elbows reach shoulder height, or you hit the bottom of the pool, whichever comes first. Then raise your body back up to starting position. 3 sets of 10
  • Arm Circles– Moving deeper again so the water is just above shoulder height, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms extended out side to side just below shoulder height. Slowly move both arms in a small circles at the same time, completing 10 rotations. Next, repeat the same movement but make larger circles, and a third time with even larger circles. Repeat all 3 circle sizes for 3 sets of 10.

Rehabbing your body after an injury isn’t always easy. It can be painful and difficult at times but finding new ways to complete your home exercises will help keep you revitalized and will aid in the recovery process. Though not all Physical Therapy exercises can be completed in a pool, performing the ones that can will not only help with some of the aches and pains, but it will also allow you to have some fun!



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