Get Inspired: Build your fitness in the swimming pool
Now is as good a time as ever to ease yourself into your local swimming pool and try these four Get Inspired exercise challenges.
Choose from pool running, flutter-kicking, jumping or balancing. Better still, work your way through all four and see how your fitness and confidence in the water improves.
Go on, make a splash!
The pool running challenge
The first challenge is to walk and then run powerfully through the water at the shallow end of the swimming pool.
The three elements of the pool running challenge are a great way to get moving in the pool - even if you cannot swim.
You will tone your legs, glutes and abdominal muscles as you work against the resistance of the water without risking an impact injury.
Start slowly, simply walking through the water and building up to a breadth. Increase your distance to 10 breadths before trying the energy-sapping side steps. Once you can complete 10 breadths of the pool have a go at running. It's a tiring business so take things gently at first before reaching the target.
Standing in waist-height water, walk across the width of the swimming pool. Focus your energies on driving your legs through the water. You'll soon discover that this is not like walking normally in the park - much more effort is required. It's great for your muscles and kind to your joints.
Once you have mastered walking through water, vary your workout by side-stepping from one side of the pool to the other, again with the water at waist height. You will feel this exercise work the muscles in your legs and groin. Gradually, add a spring to your step to work those thigh muscles all the more.
For those with a good level of fitness, try running across the breadth of the pool, using your arms to help drive you forward. You'll no doubt be quickly out of breath so take it easy at first. Build up to being able to maintain a fast pace for the duration of the breadth and gradually increase to being able to do 10 breadths at top speed.
The fitness you'll have built up by walking and running in the pool will serve you well in your swimming or running outdoors. If you have an injury that prevents you running outdoors, you might like to get hold of a buoyancy belt so that you can move in to the deep end and practise 'aqua running' without your feet touching the floor of the pool.
The flutter-kick challenge
Here's a challenge you can do in your local swimming pool that will strengthen your quads and calves and will work your groin and stomach muscles too.
There are three stages: begin by lying on your back and kicking your legs out in front of you in the water. Next flip over and, holding the edge of the pool and facing forward, kick your legs out behind you. Finally, build towards being able to hold a float in front of you and, facing down towards the water, cover the length of the pool using only a flutter-kick.
Don't feel you have to rush from one stage to the next. Visit your pool as often as you can and build your strength and confidence until you can flutter-kick your way up and down the pool.
Depending on your confidence and buoyancy, hold one or two floats against your stomach, lie back in the water and raise your legs. Looking at the roof of the pool, stretch out your legs, point out your toes and begin kicking, working your hips, thighs and calves. Your propulsion through the water will improve as your kicking technique and strength increase.
Hold the edge of the pool, ideally using a ledge or bar just above water level.
Stretch out your body and begin flutter-kicking. Try to keep your hips high in the water.
Your feet should only just break the surface of the water. Bend your knees only slightly and point your toes out. Smaller kicks are better than exaggerated, bigger kicks. Try to use the power in your hips rather than that in your legs.
Next, hold a float out in front of you and, looking down and slightly forward, push yourself forward, throw up your legs and begin flutter kicking. Again, keep your hips up, point your toes our and develop a steady rhythm with your kick. Try to build up to one length of the pool.
Once you have the knack of propelling yourself through the water using the power in your legs, try to increase your speed and the number of lengths you can manage.
The pool jump challenge
We could call these three exercises the thigh-buster challenge!
They are ideal exercises for people recovering from injury who want to keep in shape or for those whose joints would not withstand the impact of jumping on a hard surface.
You'll be splashing like a happy child in a paddling pool as you use the power in your legs and glutes to thrust you out of the water. Remember, try to keep the correct body position when you do your squats.
Anyone who includes squats in their workouts on dry land will know they are great for building strength in their legs and firming up their backside muscles. Doing these exercises in the pool adds the resistance of the water, both when lowering your body and when standing up straight.
From a standing position in waist-deep water, with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and pointing slightly outwards, squat so that your chin touches the water. Make sure you keep your back straight - don't hunch forward. Try to lower yourself in such a way that your knees stay directly above your feet. Stick your bottom out. Find the right depth of water that allows you to get your thighs parallel to the bottom of the pool as your chin touches the surface of the water.
Next, lower yourself into a squat so that your thighs are parallel to the floor of the pool and your chin is touching the surface of the water. Now, thrust explosively with your legs so that you jump as high as you can out of the water.
Moving into chest-height water, now it's time to try some star jumps. The water resistance will work your legs, arms and shoulders…and your lungs! With your hands by your side and your feet together, jump up and put your feet out to the side at the same time as thrusting your arms out to the side and through the water. It will take a bit of practice to get the timing right so that your arms and legs are working in unison.
Once you can successfully complete 10 repetitions of each exercise, increase the frequency to 20 reps and decrease the recovery time between each exercise. However, don't forget the importance of good posture.
The pool balance challenge
The challenge here will work your leg and hip muscles and your core, and improve your balance.
Your goal is to keep your balance as you stand on one leg in the pool and perform a simple movement with one arm and one leg.
This is harder than it sounds. The movement of the water makes things more difficult than you might imagine. Practise being able to make the movement with your arm and leg with your eyes open and slowly build towards being able to keep your balance with your eyes closed.
With your feet about six inches apart and your toes pointing forward, stand in water just below waist level. Slowly raise one leg in front of you until your thigh is parallel to the bottom of the pool and your lower leg is at a right angle to your thigh. Try to maintain your balance for 10 seconds then slowly lower your leg and repeat with the other leg.
Do the same as above but this time, as you raise your leg, also lift your arm straight out in front of you, with your palm facing down. Keeping your balance, slowly move your raised, bent leg and straight arm out to the side. Finally, slowly return your arm and leg to directly in front of you before lowering them again. Try to build towards a 90-degree angle between your standing leg and your bent, raised leg.
Once you have mastered step 2, try doing the same move but with your eyes closed. This will take a fair bit of practice for most people, but don't worry, it's actually really good fun.
See if you can perform each move really slowly. You'll find your leg muscles will be twitching as you work them hard but you'll soon notice a difference in the muscle definition. And all without any damaging impact on your joints.
And for the finale...
And if you can manage those four challenges, why not try matching Susanne Clarke's feats on the rings at Glasgow's historic Arlington Baths...