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Playful Warm-Ups in the Water

by Debra Orringer, MS on Dec 20, 2013


Harness the pool’s properties, and help participants have more fun.

Aquatic exercise is a great way to get and stay in shape. In addition to being a fantastic cross-training option and full-body workout, exercising in the pool helps the body stay balanced. A water workout might not be the first thing your class participants think of when they’re looking to shape up and slim down—but perhaps it should be. Water fitness burns calories, boosts metabolism and strengthens muscles without putting extra stress on joints.

Before you get things boiling, however, you need to take your class through a proper warm-up. You could simply cue participants to walk around the pool’s perimeter or do basic jogs and jumping jacks, but why not try something a little more creative? Play your most motivational music, jump in, and watch as everyone lights up.

Chaos Cardio

Take water jogging to an entirely new level with this drill, which creates currents in the pool. As participants run through them, they strengthen their core-stabilizing muscles. Cue proper alignment: ears, shoulders and hips in one vertical line. The core—not the shoulders or legs—works to keep the body upright.

  • Run in a zigzag pattern from one end of the pool to the other, and then run straight through all the currents you’ve just created. Do 3-minute intervals, alternating with something less cardio-intensive, such as plank treading (below).

Plank Treading

Planks are a proven core strengthener on land. But if you don’t have a strong upper body, it’s hard to hold the position long enough to give the abdominal muscles a good workout. All of that changes in a pool. Planks boost endurance, and the water’s “pushing and pulling” forces increase the challenge.

  • Stand on the pool floor. Tread water with the hands while leaning forward until the body is on an even incline. Keep the head out of the water, but have it remain a natural extension of the spine. Attempt to stay stable for 1–2 minutes. Modify by holding a pool noodle vertically in both hands.

Squat Jumping Jacks

Squat jumping jacks go to a whole new level in the pool. Not only must participants push through the water; they must also maintain balance because their natural buoyancy will cause them to tip forward or backward.

  • Jump the legs out hard into a sumo squat, as on land, and then jump them back together. Try to get more height each time. Reach the arms high out of the water, and land with little to no impact.

Progression: Try to keep the same jump height while not allowing the feet to touch the pool bottom.

Regression: Don’t jump as high, or do knee tucks. Use the hands to help move through water.


This exercise helps you defy gravity in a way that just isn’t possible on land. It also provides a unique challenge to your core and back muscles.

  • While standing in water at the side of the pool, stabilize the upper body by sweeping the hands back and forth at the water’s surface as you run the legs up the side of the pool and then back down to the floor. Do 4 repetitions, alternating the leading leg.

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About the Author

Debra Orringer, MS

Debra Orringer, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Debra Orringer holds a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology and successfully owns her own Fitness and Wellness Company. She has managed the Fitness Centers of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centers . With twenty years experience in the industry, she holds certifications with ACSM, AFAA and ACE. Debra is a master trainer for Gliding, Pilates, Drums-Alive and BOSU. She has consulted for many international fitness equipment companies, has been featured in and authored fitness magazine articles for Shape and the IDEA fitness journal, as well as travels and presents at national fitness conferences. She dedicates a great deal of her time to working with special populations and persons with disabilities in the arena of health and fitness. Debra also competes on a national swim team as she has been swimming since before she was walking and serves as a consultant for ACE Fitness as a certification committee member.