The pandemic turned backyards into personal retreats. The latest trend? Making them your workout space, too.
(Above) Over 90% of Endless Pools’ designs incorporate some component of the brand’s fitness technologies. Photograph courtesy of Endless Pools
Outdoor living has been a buzzword and trend for years, with everything from kitchens to living rooms migrating outside and poolside. The pandemic only ramped up that craze, and now, homeowners are increasingly looking to their pools for fitness, too.
“Instead of a workout room in the house, we want the workout room in or around the swimming pool,” says Mike Farley SWD, ASLA, principal and lead designer of Farley Pool Designs.
That’s a smart move, experts say, since water is a great environment for exercise. It’s perfect for everyone from elderly people who need low-impact activities; to those with physical disabilities who find water’s buoyancy freeing; to high-performing athletes who use water to train; and everyone in between.
“People are trying to get as much exercise as they can at home,” says Michael R. Murray, PT, DPT, an aquatic physical therapist and president of the American Physical Therapy Association Academy of Aquatic Physical Therapy. “The pool is a perfect place to do that.”
The Fitness Benefits of Water
Murray says there are some incredible fitness benefits of water, and buoyancy is only one of them.
“The first thing is that most people think about is the buoyancy of the water,” Murray says.
While it’s true that water’s buoyancy helps people with arthritis or other conditions workout without hurting their joints as much, Murray doesn’t consider buoyancy the most important benefit of aquatic fitness.
“I think the most important aspect is actually the resistance of the water. You can use that to actually build up the muscle, build up your cardio,” he says. “That’s typically what I do with my sports medicine patients.”
In addition to buoyancy and added resistance, the water also provides cardiovascular benefits that can help build stamina.
“When you’re in chest-deep water, it changes how your cardiovascular and your respiratory system kind of work. It makes the respiratory system have to work harder,” Murray says. “If you’re working at a lower heart rate in the water, it compares to a higher heart rate on land.”
Murray also points to the benefits of hydrostatic pressure.
“When you’re in deep water, the pressure on your legs is…almost like wearing compression sleeves on your feet. So you don’t have to worry about the swelling as much after a hard workout,” he says.
Types of Fitness Tools
While using the resistance of your body against the water is great alone—walking, running, or jumping in the pool, for instance, provides a fantastic workout all by itself—adding tools can ramp up the experience. Murray points to everything from low-tech exercise bars and resistance bands to high-end current systems, underwater treadmills, and even water bikes.
“Aquatic fitness continues to gain popularity due to the low impact, high intensity workouts. Over 90 percent of our pools include at least one of our fitness technologies,” says John Satir, commercial sales manager at Endless Pools, which makes compact pools and aquatic fitness technology.
For instance, adding a current to the water is a great option because pool owners can have the fitness benefits of added resistance in a pool of any size, as though they’re swimming upriver.
“You can swim against the current, and that way you don’t need a lot of space but you still get the same exercise and benefit as you would if you were doing a full lap,” says Andrew Kaner, MLA, SWD Master, president of Aquatic Consultants, Inc.
The best currents have variable speeds for different users and fitness goals, Farley adds.
In addition to swimming “laps” with the swim current, or “swim-in-place” pools as they’re sometimes called, pool owners can use the current to add resistance to other parts of their workout, too, such as their underwater runs, as well as strength, core, and balance work.
“A lot of customers will do their whole upper body workout…they’ll take dumbbells, and they can push into the resistance,” says Suzanne Vaughan, president of SwimEx, which makes plunge pools and swim-in-place pools. “You can do squats sitting back into the current. There’s so much you can do just by positioning yourself in the pool.”
In addition, Vaughan says they offer new software to program pools to create custom and pre-programmed workouts that vary the water speed depending on who’s using the current.
In addition to providing places to work out, there are other options to make the pool a place for health and fitness.
“The pools are also temperature controlled and custom sized to fit most spaces, creating a convenient and comforting at-home environment,” says Satir.
In addition to the more-familiar hot tubs and saunas, cold-plunge pools have been growing in popularity over the years.
“There’s a trend toward getting into supercooled water after you exercise,” says Kaner.
Farley notes that two years ago, cold-plunge pools were nearly unheard of in the home environment.
“People are realizing that’s another form of therapy that you can put in your backyard, and I’ve actually incorporated several into swimming pool designs,” he says.
Vaughan says professional athletes have long known the benefits of cold plunges, and now an increasing number of clients order them for their homes.
“It helps with any swelling, helps to reduce lactic acid, and you’ll be much less sore afterwards,” she says.
While water workouts might evoke images of clinical environments or unattractive municipal pools, homeowners don’t need to sacrifice aesthetics for getting aquatic exercise at home.
“We like to make beautiful spaces,” Kaner says. For instance, they like to integrate overflow, vanishing edges on lap pools.
“When you’re not swimming it gives you this very highly reflective water surface that reflects the architecture and the landscape and the sky and the water,” he says.
They’ve also created side-by-side hot and cold plunges that look like they’re connected together in a way that’s functional and beautiful.
“You can turn it into a water feature. You put floating pavers across the two bodies of water to kind of isolate them, and then they could also be overflowing,” he says. “It creates this beautiful body of water, but it also helps people that exercise a lot.”
Whether you choose to add workout features to your pool, water is great for the mind, body, and spirit.
“That’s what people are doing: They’re creating settings to unwind and relax in, and meditate in,” says Farley. “It’s as much a mental-fitness space as a physical-fitness space.”