Beat the Heat – 10 Pool Exercises for Summer

While every rugger should definitely get their float time in this summer, you should also take advantage of the opportunity to skip the gym and take a swim! Don’t worry, I’m not talking boring laps. Did you know you can actually strength train in the pool all the while getting a fantastic cardio workout

Hydro-Plyometrics is a water adaptation of general plyo exercises which are rapid-fire, stop-start, explosive movements designed to generate what experts call “speed-strength”. 

It’s based on the principle that “stretching a muscle right before it contracts fires more bundles of muscle fibers than starting from a stopped position.”(1) 

So I’ve prepared 10 hydro-plyometric exercises that you can do in any pool, with no equipment required. Here is the science behind the advantages of water training.


To get started, let me share a few quick definitions to help you make sense of some of the terms I will use while describing the benefits of hydro training.

Buoyancy – the upward force exerted by water that opposes the weight of an immersed object.

Resistance – the impeding, slowing or stopping effect exerted by one material thing on another.

Velocity – the speed of an object in a given direction.

Viscosity – the property of water which opposes the relative motion between two surfaces of the fluid that are moving at different velocities. (2)


If you want to get the most out of your workout, you need to understand the dynamics of what makes this type of training so effective. It all starts with the sub-gravity environment. In chest-deep water, the rugby athlete only weighs 10 percent of his or her normal body weight. This buoyancy effect results in the virtual elimination of physical impact, reducing joint strain and muscle soreness. Not only is this great for preventing unnecessary injury from overtraining, but also allows the athlete to complete higher intensity workouts on consecutive days, without the need for longer durations of musculoskeletal rest and recovery.

Aqua training is also a more efficient method of working out, due to water creating 12 percent higher viscosity than air. The effort of a 30-minute pool session will give you the equivalent of a 2-hour land-based workout. You can also control the intensity of the training, the more force applied to the movement the more resistance the water applies to the moving part.

And this is not just one-dimensional resistance as in virtually all land-based exercises, water generates resistance from all vectors and angles, forcing athletes to work their muscles both eccentrically and concentrically. The results are an equal ratio of strength required in both the contraction and flexion of every single muscle movement. (3)

This is where velocity comes into play. The degree of resistance experienced during hydro training is directly related to the speed and direction of movement through the water. Hydro training provides a maximized form of isokinetic resistance based on the square of the velocity during the movement. Meaning, an exercise performed at 3x the speed will generate 9x normal resistance. (4)

20-1-20 PROGRAM


Getting Started

Depending on the specific type of training you are wanting to do, you can also adjust the depth of water in which you complete the exercise. If you are wanting to emphasize cardio, deep water that forces you to constantly tread is best. If you are going for more of an interval and power session, then workout in chest-deep water. (5)

I will give you 10 basic exercises to get you started, but don’t limit yourself! Virtually every land-based plyometric exercise can be adapted for the water. The concept is simple – make your body move in a manner that forces the water around you to resist your movement. And remember faster movement = greater applied force = more efficient workout. Achieving hyper-speed plyometrics is known as “bubbling”, due to the thrashing of the water on the surface generated by the rapid movements underneath the surface. (6) In a controlled state, this is the speed-strength sweet-spot of a hydro workout.

You can also employ circuit training and alternate various movements that engage different muscle groups, this will allow you to mitigate singular muscle fatigue and achieve the objective of continuous movement in the targeted cardio training zone. (7) The duration of each exercise can be determined by either a specific time frame or a number of repetitions.

Hydro Exercises

  • Leg Tread – With arms folded across your chest, tread water only using your legs. Try to keep your body lifted as high out of the water as possible. To enhance the exercise, raise your arms over your head.
  • Arm Tread – With legs together, tread water only using your arms. Try to keep your body as high out of the water as possible.
  • Wall Crunch – Holding the side of the pool with your hands and laying flat across the top of the water jerk your knees up towards your chest, then immediately thrust them back straight, while maintaining a lateral position.
  • Wall Kick – Holding the side of the pool with arms extended in a lateral position, kick your feet as hard as you can as you push against your momentum with your arms.
  • Push – With a wide palm facing out, in a standing position, simultaneously push water with both hands as if bench pressing. Vigorously fully extending and retrieving your arms.
  • Curl – With palms wide facing up, in a standing position, simultaneously thrust arms down and up in a curling motion as fast as you can.
  • Butterfly – With palms wide and arms outstretched in front of you, in a standing position, pull your arms around your body, reaching as far back as you can, then flip your hands and push your arms around your body back to the front position.
  • Vertical Jump – Begin in a standing position, descend to a low squat, then explosively jump straight up.
  • Standing Long Jump – Begin in a standing position, descend to a low squat, then explosively jump forward.
  • Sprint – Begin in water deeper than you can touch, using a running motion, sprint with your extremities as fast as you can.

Bonus: Navy SEAL Water Challenge

Want to ratchet it up a notch? See if you have the mental toughness and stamina to complete the Navy SEAL Water Challenge!

WARNING: this challenge is for experienced, conditioned swimmers only and is never to be attempted without supervision.

Part I – In a minimum 8 ft pool, without the use of your hands or feet (holding your hands behind your back and feet together) “bob” 20 times. Allow your body to sink to the bottom and push off, rising to the surface where you take another breath before sinking again.

Part II – Again, with hands behind your back and feet held together, float on your back for 5 mins.

Part III – Dolphin swim across the pool and back, with hands together behind your back.

Part IV – Still, with hands behind your back and feet held together, complete a forward roll, backward roll, then dolphin swim and retrieve a pair of goggles with your teeth from the bottom of the pool.

1 Thomas, Jim Aqua Plyometrics Exercises
2 Alexandria, Christine Strength Training in Water
3 Hutsick, Maria Hydro Power
4 Michael Mandas, P.T.; Andrew R. Einhorn, P.T. C.S.M.T.; Jon Ellertson, B.S., P.T.A.; Shawn Hickling, B.S. Exercise Physiology; Kirsten Pieters, B.S., Athletic Training; Michael Quinn; Gilbert Orbeso Aquatic Exercise Program as an Effective Alternative Method of Cross Training for Cross Country and Track Athlete
5 Hutsick, Maria Hydro Power
6 Wallack, Roy Pool as the new gym


Clarke Cayton

Clarke Cayton

Clarke is an amateur rugby player and Level 200 certified coach. He began his career with Springfield (MO) RFC and is now touring the U.S. with his wife (who is a travel nurse) playing with various clubs wherever they happen to be living at the time.