Water Exercise for Upper Body

Monday, August 10 2020

Who needs a gym when you can train like a pro in the water?  In August 2020, PoolFit is featuring the Water Exercise Gym Circuit Series. The first video goes in-depth with upper body training, featuring several circuits of strength & cardio.  Equipment is optional.  The water’s resistance is more than sufficient for many people.  However, experienced exercisers can use webbed gloves or Aqualogix bells to add more upper body resistance.    

March 11, 2020 was the last time I exercised in a gym.   COVID-19 completely upended my fitness routine after 32 years of exercising in health clubs.  Fortunately, my condo pool remained open and lockdown coincided with warm and sunny weather here in Florida.   With inspiration and ingenuity, I was able to save my sanity and my physique by recreating gym workouts in the pool.

Recreating gym workouts in the pool
Recreating a pool version of my weight-room routine was fairly straightforward because anatomical movements are the same in water as they are on land.  Muscles are targeted by movements that occur at major joints of the body. There are only so many joints and so many muscles and that is why we always do the same strength exercises in the gym, such as squats, bench presses, seated rows, lat pulls, arm curls and more.  Effectively breaking down muscle fibers to increase muscular strength and endurance requires performing several sets of the same exercises, hence the repetition of circuits in the Water Exercise Upper Body video. 

Exercise in the gym is influenced by the downward force of gravity, while exercise in the pool is influenced by the water’s viscous resistance.   In water exercise, submerged resistance occurs in ALL directions, targeting muscles on both sides of a joint, which promotes better muscular balance and joint integrity.  Training muscle groups on both sides of the joint is demonstrated in segment 2 of the video, the Anterior & Posterior Circuit.   WATCH Mark further explain resistance training in the water.

Split Training & Giant Sets
Eventually, I created a “split-training” routine in the pool, separating muscle groups per day like I have always done in the gym. On “anterior day” I trained the muscles in the front of the upper body – the chest, anterior deltoid and biceps. For example, in Segment 3 of the video, four exercise are performed in a “giant” set for the anterior muscle groups in an effort to fatigue them to the point of muscle breakdown.  Muscle fibers need to be broken down in order for new muscle cells to grow.  Posterior day featured the muscles in the back of the upper body – the lats, mid-trapezius, posterior deltoids and triceps.  Leg day was all lower body muscles and just as exhausting as a leg workout in the gym. 

As mentioned above, you can train anterior and posterior muscles with every movement in submerged resistance.  However, if you want to emphasize anterior or poster muscle groups, you would need to adjust hand positions.  For example, to target muscles in the front (anterior) of the upper body, the arms move FORWARD with palms facing front (full surface) and BACKWARDS with palms facing inward (sliced).   To target muscles in the back (posterior) of the upper body, these hand positions would be reversed.  Understanding frontal resistance is a huge step towards recreating gym workouts in the water. 
WATCH Mark explain frontal resistance and the importance of changing hand & equipment positions to target upper body muscles. 

Adding Drag Equipment
Drag equipment, such as webbed swim gloves can be placed on, webbed gloves typically retail for around $15.00 a pair and can be incorporated into any pool workout. Experienced water exercisers should absolutely consider using them.

However, if you want to truly recreate the gym experience in the pool, consider investing in Aqualogix. The Aqualogix Upper Body Bells increase surface area in a more extreme fashion, creating maximal drag resistance. The belles have a flat and seam side that is meant to mimic hand positions, allowing for an emphasis on anterior or posterior muscles.  Training with the Aqualogix bells helped me to achieve the burn that I enjoy when working out in the gym. 
WATCH Mark provide additional tips for creating more upper body resistance, including the use of webbed gloves and Aqualogix bells.

Important to note, foam dumbbells, a type of buoyant equipment, cannot be substituted for drag equipment, such as the Aqualogix belles or webbed gloves.  Drag and buoyant equipment have completely different outcomes.   The bulky shape and super-size of the foam dumbbells could impede form and create safety issues if used in this video.  Buoyant equipment, such as noodles and foam dumbbells should only be used in a routine specifically designed for their use.  An entire series of noodle workouts are posting on PoolFit in September 2020, and a foam dumbbell workout is scheduled to post in October 2020. 

In the meantime, enjoy recreating an upper body gym workout in the pool, utilizing just the water’s resistance or by adding webbed gloves or Aqualogix bells.   Stay tuned!   Next week, the Water Exercise Lower Body Circuits will post.  Get ready for Leg Day in the pool!

Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.