workout in water

Strength, stretching, relaxation –  the antidote to so much desk and screen time.

Almost every day this summer, I have gone to my friend’s pool and several of us have worked out with water ‘dumbbells and noodles’.  We stay at a social distance – but we are close enough to laugh and chat.  Every one of us would tell you that it has been a high point in this very odd summer of 2020 – and except for an investment in a Styrofoam noodle and ‘dumbbells’ – it is free.

We began with exercises that I learned from a friend and subscriber Phoebe D.  and we have spent the summer adding and refining our moves.  I know, I know, water aerobics gets a bad rap as a retirement community activity on a par with knitting and basket weaving.  Not the way we do it!  We all feel fitter, stronger and more limber. You will definitely use your core.  It is our antidote to spending so much time at desks in front of screens.

We are not professional trainers, so proceed using your own judgement – but I am going to try to share our workout with you in the hopes that you can find the fitness, yoga-like stretching and overall reduction of stress that we have found.

The following are instructions for the program we have ‘perfected’.  You can go online and find many water aerobics moves and videos.  We have tried and rejected some and incorporated others.  If you have access to water,  I hope this brings you as much joy as it has brought to us.  Use this program as your starting point and develop your own.  Don’t do anything that strains you or makes your sore. It takes about an hour, more if you do more reps.   I’ve put links to the simple equipment we use at the end.

Pool Workout Program – Dumbbells and Noodles­­

As adapted and practiced by amateur friends in Greenwich – you know who you are.

Hydrate            Stay Upright – Shoulders Back               Flex Feet

Warm Up in chest high water

Usain Bolt ‘slo-mo’ sprints – High step, prance

Stride across the shallow end with one leg way out forward to stretch and step, then the other.

One Knee Up and Open, then Leg Out to Stride

Feet together.  Lift right knee up to chest with leg forming a 90-degree angle. With knee bent, turn leg out to the right, and take a long step to the right. Repeat across the shallow end of the pool.

Return with left knee and leg leading. You will open up your hips.

Grapevine, Criss Cross Steps

Begin with feet together. Criss-cross your right leg in front of your left and take a step. Bring left foot next to right. Criss-cross your right leg behind your left and take a step. Bring left foot next to right. Repeat across shallow end, then lead with your left foot back across the pool.

Styrofoam Dumbbell – ‘Weights’ in chest high water

Figure 8 Under Water

Lock dumbbells together at right angles.  Stand, core tight, and push connected dumbbells underwater, close to your abs, and move them in a figure eight out and back to each side – keeping dumbbells the same depth. Switch your top hand halfway through and change the direction of the Figure 8.

Extra challenge: Lift your feet off the bottom of the pool and use your core for balance.

Biceps Curls – Palms Up

Hold dumbbells just under the surface with your palms up and hands shoulder-distance apart. With your arms close to your sides and core tight – bend at your elbows to bring dumbbells straight down until arms are straight.  Curl arms back up, bending elbows.  Keep dumbbells just under the surface at the top of each curl.

Extra challenge: Add stepping in place to each motion with one foot forward on the downward curl, and the other foot forward on the upward curl.

Triceps Curl – Palms Down

Hold dumbbells just under the surface, palms down, arms straight out in front, feet hip distance apart, core tight. Pull dumbbells down with straight arms. Just touch the sides of your hips, arms close to your sides.

Extra challenge: Add a high knee march step to each movement of the barbell.  Keep feet flexed.

Dumbbell Taps under your knee

Stand with feet together. Pull right knee up to your chest and tap the ends of the dumbbells together under your raised knee. Step down, feet together. Pull left knee up and touch dumbbells. Alternate.

Dumbbell Stretch Squeeze Shoulder Blades

Stand with feet hip distance apart. Hold dumbbells out to your sides with straight arms, just below the surface. Stretch dumbbells backwards and open your chest.

Karate punches – Alternate Arms

Hold your dumbbells up close to your chest – palms down. Punch out into the water and then pull the dumbbell back.  Keep dumbbells just under the surface.

Extra challenge: Step in place and change feet with each punch.

Dumbbell Push-ups Two Ways: Straight Arms and Classic

Float just under surface, chest facing down, in a plank position with a dumbbell out to each side with arms extended straight out from shoulders.  Pull straight arms down in front to touch barbells.

Variation: Classic push-ups – push up and down, bending elbows and straightening arms with dumbbells underneath your shoulders.  You are pushing dumbbells down toward the bottom of the pool.

Extra challenge: kicking adds difficulty

‘Noodle’ Workout Shallow End

Stomp That Noodle

Form a ‘U’ with the noodle and push it down to your foot.  Step on the noodle so that it is held under by the arch of your foot.  Step up and down (stomp) with each foot.

Extra challenge: Add arms by swinging the dumbbells up and down together with each stomp.

Plier – Squats

Stand with your feet hip-width apart.  Hold the noodle just below the surface in front of you with straight arms and hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Simultaneously bend your hips and knees, squat and push the noodle down through the water to your knees.

Extra challenge: Open knees out to each side when bending in each squat.

Samurai Spear – Lunges

Hold the noodle in front of you, close to your chest.  Turn right and lunge while thrusting noodle forward.  Turn left, lunge and thrust noodle. Look in the direction you are thrusting.

Noodle Bunny Hops

Stand with feet together. Form a ‘U’ with your noodle and push it down in front of your shins about 8” off the bottom (I use my forefingers to help keep the noodle steady and hold the ends of the noodles under my arms). Lift knees together, touch the front of your ankles to the bottom of noodle ‘U’.  Feet stay together.

Jump and Twist Two Ways: Skiing Groomers and Moguls

Groomers – Stand with feet together and twist while holding the noodle in front of you just below the surface like you are dancing (or skiing the groomers). Keep feet in the same spot.

Moguls – Keep your feet together and hold the noodle in front of you but jump left and right when you twist (like skiing the moguls).

Plank Noodle Push-Ups, Straight Arms Out Front, Arc to Hips

Put your body in the plank position with your toes just touching the bottom of the pool for stability.  Hold the noodle out in front of you just below the surface with your hands a little more than shoulder width apart.  With straight arms, pull the noodle down in front of your hips in an arc movement – pivoting from your shoulders.  Repeat.

Ride the noodle to the deep end…

…by putting the ‘U’ of the noodle between your legs with one end in front of you and one end behind.  Pretend that you are riding a bicycle and add a little dogpaddle to get yourself to the deep end.

Noodle in the Deep End

High Kicks

Kick to the front and back with straight legs.  Alternate between flexing your feet and pointing your toes.

Extra challenge: Hold your hands like paddles and pump straight arms forward and back in the opposite direction of your legs.


Keep legs straight. Kick out to the sides as widely as you can, then crisscross one foot in front of the other, alternating the front foot. Alternate between flexing and pointing.

The Kangaroo Hop or the water ballet flower

Begin with body upright and legs extended straight below.  Feet together. Bring knees together up to your chest. Stretch legs out front of you (your body is in a right angle, bent at your hips, like sitting on a floor with legs in front of you). Pull legs straight down to original position.

The Pogo Stick

‘Stand’ on noodle with two feet together.  Step up and down with feet together.  Balance is a challenge.


Do a few laps of the pool in the bicycle motion you used to get out to the deep end.

Kick Board

Use Noodle in the ‘U’ shape in front of you like a kick board for a few laps.  The frog kick and side stroke can mix up the straight freestyle kick.

Armchair (a.k.a. the Margarita)

Put ‘U’ shaped noodle under your arms behind you (like sitting in an armchair) and kick for a few laps.  The frog kick and side stroke can mix up the straight freestyle kick.

Finishing Stretches

Standing in the shallow end, feet hip distance apart

Shoulder Stretches

  • Pull straight arm across chest, left, then right
  • Pull one hand down behind your head with your elbow straight up to stretch out shoulder.

Extra challenge: Grab the elbow which is in the air above your head for a greater stretch.

Head and Neck Release

Move your head left, head right.

Extra challenge: Swing your head from left to right and back with your chin tucked down to your chest as you swing in front.

Shoulder Shrugs

Stand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing your body. Slowly raise your shoulders up. Be careful to only use your shoulder muscles. Push them back, then down.

Quad Stretch – Grab Foot Behind

Stand on two feet, then bend your knee and grab your foot behind you.  You’ve done this in exercise class on land.  Switch feet.

Extra challenge: While holding onto one foot behind – stretch your free hand up in the air – channeling the Statue of Liberty – and flex your hand.  The key here is balance.

Calf and Hamstring Stretch – Step Up the Side of The Pool

Face the side of the pool and place your hands on the edge of pool shoulder distance apart.  Put your right foot behind you with your heel on the on the pool bottom until you feel a stretch in your calf.  With your left foot, step up as high as you can on the wall. Step 10+ times. Change legs and repeat.

Bat Hang – Grab Edge of Pool, Straight Legs

Face the side of the pool and grab the edge with hands about ten inches apart. Walk both feet up the wall of the pool until they are about ten inches below your hands (hands and feet forming the corners of a square). Straighten your legs and hang (like a bat).

Extra challenge: While you hang, sway your ‘caboose’ back and forth to add stretch.

Notes from trial and error….


It seems counter-intuitive since you are exercising in a pool, but you need to replenish your hydration when you finish and even while you are exercising.  Several of us had foot and calf cramps until we got better at hydrating.

Stay Upright – Shoulders Back

To protect your neck, don’t hunch over while doing exercises.

Flex Feet

Alternate between flexed and pointed feet to keep calves stretched.


Here are the ‘noodles’ and water dumbbells we like.

Workout in water dumbbells




Aquatic Exercise Dumbbells set of two. Four color c­hoices. $23.88



water workout noodles­­



Solid Core pool ‘noodles’, 55” long, 2.75” in diameter.  Three for $19.99.



Water workout solid core noodles




Solid Core Blue Noodles. Foam Solid Core Extra Long 60″ Swim Noodles. Blue or lots of color choices.  Set of six noodles. $46.99



Sun Protection

You will need waterproof sunscreen and we have found some great sun protective shirts and hats.  That will be another article.

Finally,  we have gotten so familiar with the exercises that we use this summary sheet to remind us of the moves without the detail.  It prints on the front and back of a page.  Enjoy!

Pool Workout Program – Dumbbells and Noodles­­

As adapted and practiced by amateur friends in Greenwich – you know who you are

Hydrate       Stay Upright – Shoulders Back        Flex Feet

Warm Up

In chest high water

  1. Usain Bolt ‘slo-mo’ sprints – High step, prance
  2. One Knee up and open, then leg out to stride
  3. Grapevine, Criss Cross Steps

Styrofoam Dumbbell ‘Weights’

In chest high water

  1. Figure 8 Under Water
  2. Biceps Curls – Palms Up
  3. Triceps Curl – Palms Down
  4. Dumbbell Taps Under Your Knee
  5. Dumbbell Stretch Squeeze Shoulder Blades
  6. Karate punches – Alternate Arms
  7. Dumbbell Push-ups Two Ways: Straight Arms and Classic

‘Noodle’ Workout

Shallow End

  1. Stomp That Noodle
  2. Plier – Squats
  3. Samurai Spear – Lunges
  4. Noodle Bunny Hops
  5. Jump and Twist Two Ways: Skiing Groomers and Moguls
  6. Plank Noodle Push-Ups, Straight Arms Out Front, Arc to Hips

Ride the Noodle to the Deep End

  1. High Kicks – Front and Back
  2. Scissors – Out to Sides, Cross Feet in Front
  3. The Kangaroo Hop or the water ballet flower
  4. The Pogo Stick – Feet Together
  5. Bicycle
  6. Kick Board
  7. Armchair (a.k.a. the Margarita)

Finishing Stretches

Standing in the Shallow End

  1. Shoulder Stretches
  2. Head and Neck Release
  3. Shoulder Shrugs
  4. Quad Stretch – Grab Foot Behind
  5. Calf and Hamstring Stretch – Step Up the Side of The Pool
  6. Bat Hang – Grab Edge of Pool, Straight Legs


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