The Best Pool Workouts You Can Do in Your Own Backyard

An Olympic gold medal swimmer shares her top pool workout tips for swimmers of every level


When you think about using your pool in the summer, images of lounging around on a float with a fruity cocktail in hand are probably what first come to mind.

No doubt, you should definitely use your pool for relaxation and recreation, but for anyone lucky enough to have one in their backyard, it’s easy to forget that it can also be used as your own personal gym.

Of course, it’s not a gym in the traditional sense of the word, but working out in the water can deliver some serious fitness benefits, especially if you make a habit of it during the summer months.

Perhaps there’s no one who knows this better than Olympic gold medal swimmer Misty Hyman, who currently offers training sessions for fitness, competitive and triathlon swimmers at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Below, she shares her tips for getting yourself motivated to work out at home, examples of helpful at-home tools you can use and, of course, her favorite pool workouts for swimmers of all levels.

The Active Times: Getting yourself motivated to exercise can sometimes be the hardest part of working out at home, do you have any tips for people who want to work out in their backyard pools but find that it’s hard simply to get started?
Misty Hyman:
Ask a friend! I always find that if two people plan to work out together there is less chance that one will back out. Friends are great for accountability, and working out is always more fun together—especially, if it is a swimming workout. We should never swim alone.

If you must work out alone I recommend writing it down in your calendar during a specific window of time just like you would schedule a meeting or a doctor's appointment. You should think of your workout the same way. Then when you see your workout on your calendar for the day you simply make it happen just like you would anything else on your agenda.

Aside from maybe a cap, goggles and a bathing suit, is there any equipment you recommend investing in for backyard pool workouts?
There are countless ways that you can work out in your pool. If you are doing laps, kick boards and pull buoys can help add variety to your workout. They are flotation devices that allow you to either float your arms and focus on your kick, or float your legs and focus on your pull, respectively.

If you would rather do other types of exercises, I think that flotation dumbbells for water aerobics are great! There are a wide number of core and arm strengthening exercises that you can do without any impact on your joints.

My favorite is holding both dumbbells straight out to the sides, so that your arms are straight out from your shoulders and the dumbbells are floating on the surface. Keep your neck long and neutral by pulling down from your lats (don't let your shoulders sneak up towards your ears). Then lift your feet off the ground and tuck them up to your belly. Use your obliques to shift your hips toward you left side then straighten your legs to that side as close to the surface as possible. Then use your core to tuck your knees back into your belly and use your obliques to shift your hips to the other side and extend your legs to the other side as close to the surface as possible. Continue to alternate from side to side for 20 repetitions or 10 extensions to each side.

What are some specific pool workouts you recommend?
Always make sure to swim with a buddy or make sure someone is watching you in the pool. We should never swim alone. Also, we should make sure that our workout is appropriate for our swimming ability.

You can make up your own swim practice that depends on your ability and the size of your pool. I would recommend using a 60-second pace clock or a wristwatch that has chrono so that you can use either one to do intervals. It is not as effective to just swim back and forth in the pool and it often gets boring. 

Try swimming 10 laps and then taking 30 to 60 seconds rest. Then do it again. Maybe the first time you only do two sets of ten laps. Perhaps after a week or two you can build up to doing three or more. You will get stronger quickly. If you can, notice how long each set of ten laps takes you. Then you can track your improvement.

You may also want to try changing speeds which changes your heart rate and the intensity of the workout. I like to do what swimmers call a ladder down: five lengths, then four lengths, then three lengths, then two lengths and, finally, one length. I like each step down to get a little faster than the one before, so that when I get to the last one I am going as fast as I can. You can then do this series multiple times through if you wish.

Do you have ideas for any other creative ways people can work out in their backyard pools?
I love vertical swimming workouts! Treading water in the deep end for 30 seconds and then jumping off the bottom and pulling yourself up to the surface ten times makes for a fun and challenging exercise combination. Doing somersaults in the water is also fun and helps you to use your core and to hold your breath.

Do you have any tips for how people can learn to make their pool workouts a regular habit during the summer?
Measure the distance of your pool. Find out how many lengths of your pool it takes to make a mile. Then, set a goal for the number of miles you would like to swim during the summer. Is it the distance from your house to the library? Maybe from your house to the park? Keep track of your laps and plot on a map how close you are to reaching your destination! 

I also think it helps to compare distance swum to distance run. I like to use a one to four conversion. Swimming one mile to me is the equivalent of running four miles. That helps me to keep in perspective how far I really am swimming.

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