Exercise at a YMCA Pool

At the Y, our pools aren’t just for lap swimming. We have water cardio classes across Middle Tennessee that get your feet moving and heart racing. But if you can’t make it to an Aqua Dance Blast or H20 Circuit group exercise class, there are plenty of simple pool moves that you can try on your own to build strength. By taking advantage of water’s natural resistance, you can get a full body workout.

Pic of YMCA member

One of our expert H20 cardio instructors, Colleen Cussick, enjoys showing beginners the variety of exercises they can do in the pool. “You don’t have to just swim. There are so many other things you can do," she says.

Colleen suggests working with pool equipment as a great way to burn calories in the water. 

"You can take a board or a noodle, and you can put it behind you and run. You have so much more resistance. You can use it to work on your kicks. You can use it to work on your arms," she says.

Of course, simply using your body weight works too!

"If you’re treading, you’re suspended, using your core, isolating muscles and working on your upper body. Or, you can isolate your leg muscles and work on your lower body.”

Below, Colleen gives us a breakdown of five specific moves she recommends for beginners.


The goal of this arm exercise is to move the water as much as you can.“The water is your resistance,” Colleen says. “This works your primary and secondary pectoral muscles.” Standing at about armpit’s depth, bring your arm around in a semi-circle hook motion. Alternate arms and keep your core strong and centered. Now make some waves!

Leg Abductors

Grab a pool noodle! A pool noodle is a versatile water exercise accessory and can be used to help you stay balanced on one leg, like you’ll be doing with these leg abductor (outer thigh muscle) motions. Put one leg in the center of the noodle and swing it from side to side, keep your core strong. “This works both your adductors and abductors,” Colleen says. After you’re completed a few reps on one side, switch legs.

Water Sprints

Trust us, this pool exercise is much simpler than its land counterpart. To add resistance, fold a noodle and hold behind your back. Run forward, and then try running backwards, propelling yourself against the resistance of the noodle. “Reversing creates more drag,” Colleen says. This exercise is great for working your entire body, and will get your heart pumping.

Butterfly Shoulders

Let’s get back to working those pectoral muscles! Bend your elbows and bring your arms to a 90-degree position (like a field goal) on either side of your body. “Make sure your shoulders are in the water and your hands aren’t tight,” Colleen says. Squeeze and bring your arms together in front of your face. Bring them back out to the butterfly position, squeeze, and return to center. You also have the option to use arm weights in the water and try a lateral press, pushing the water forward.


We’re working our triceps with this move. Start with your fist by your side and punch up, ending with your fist in front of your chest, and push it back down. Alternate arms. "It’s the downward motion that actually works your tricep muscles because you’re resisting against the water,” Colleen says. “The water gives the opposite result from what you’d do on land.” You can also try classic forward punches for a full arm workout.


Overall, the great thing about water exercises is the low impact. You can get the same cardio without the joint pressure. "If someone is used to challenging themselves in a performance zone, but they need a low-impact experience, they can do that in the water," Colleen says. "If they add something else that gives them resistance, then they’re strengthening muscles and doing cardio at the same time. So it’s a ‘two-fer.’" Now, go suit up!

Find one of our YMCA pools to get moving on your own or join an H2O cardio group exercise class.