Core training in the pool is a fantastic workout option and is essential for sports performance, activities of daily living, functional movement and injury prevention. The muscles of the torso stabilize the spine and provide a foundation for movement. As core muscles contract, the spine, pelvis and shoulders stabilize to create a solid base of support. From there we can generate powerful movements from the extremities and perform with efficiency.
Water is gentle on the body and offers natural resistance. Exercising in water is a great way to tone muscles and decrease impact on joints. Before teaching core exercises, lead a 5- to 10-minute warm-up. One idea is to walk in the shallow end of the pool, focusing on pulling the abs in and keeping the back straight as you walk. Cue participants to correctly brace the abdominals by pulling the navel toward the spine and lifting up. This action primarily recruits the transversus abdominis.
The following moves require water dumbbells and a noodle. Here are some teaching tips:
- Cue participants to breathe as they perform the exercises.
- Perform the movements in a slow, controlled manner to ensure correct execution and to feel the muscles working. Controlling the movements will help isolate the muscles and protect the back from injury.
- Exaggerate the “push” and “pull” of the body in order to utilize the water’s resistance.
Lie supine in water, holding dumbbell in each hand. Stretch arms out and hold them still, legs extended, abs braced. Pull knees to chest, engaging abdominal muscles. Keep arms straight at sides. As you tuck knees to chest, roll forward onto stomach. From this prone position, extend legs behind you. Reverse movement by pulling knees toward chest and flipping back. Use arms for stability and contract ab muscles as you pull knees to chest. Perform 8–12 reps (each rep includes prone and supine positions). Cue participants always to pull abs in and slow the movement in order to feel the deep contraction. Modification: Keep legs closer to bottom of pool and/or have them wider apart.
Place one dumbbell under each knee as you lie on back. Place noodle under arms, across upper back. You are now in crunch position. Extend legs, and as you bring them back in, contract abs. Exhale and focus on recruitment of deep abdominal wall muscles. To increase intensity, allow upper body to meet lower body—pull knees into chest while bringing chest to knees. Perform 8–12 reps.
Hold one dumbbell in each hand, legs directly under body in vertical position. Pull abdominals in strongly as you “walk” legs under water. Start with slow walk and, when ready, speed up movement. Keep legs straight (slight bend in knees is okay). Option: “Beat” legs, crossing one over the other in vertical suspended position. Keep abs contracted, remain upright and relax shoulders. Start with 30 seconds at a time and increase to 1 minute.
Lie on one side with good alignment, abs contracted, and flutter-kick for count of 8 to one side. Tuck legs in and under body to switch sides, ending in side-lying position on opposite side. Add flutter kick for count of 8, tuck, contract abs and switch again. Eventually, decrease kicks on each side to 4, and then to 2; then eliminate flutter kicks. This works oblique muscles as students focus on pulling through water, tucking knees, using abdominals and staying in good alignment.