The Perfect Water Fitness Exercise

Johnnene CC Ski

If I had to pick a favorite exercise, hands down it would be cross-country ski. It’s the perfect exercise! The basic ski is a long lever exercise, so it can be used for both high intensity and improved range of motion. And there are multiple variations. Cross-country ski can be used in both shallow water and deep water. Let’s look at some of the possible variations of the deep water ski.

But first, check to make sure you are performing the ski correctly. You want full hip flexion and hyperextension, as much as your body will permit comfortably, so be sure not to limit the range of motion to forward flexion, or your ski becomes a kick forward. You can check to see how much hyperextension you are getting by doing your cross-country ski with your back to the pool wall. How close do you have to get to the wall before your back heel taps the wall?

Cross-country ski can be changed to a short lever move by keeping the knees bent at 90 degrees when decreased intensity is desired. Tuck ski is another less intense variation. In tuck ski together, you tuck your feet under your body, go into your ski position with one hip flexed and the other hyperextended, then pull both straight legs to center. A mini ski is smaller than a cross-country ski but bigger than a flutter kick.

The basic arm movement is shoulder flexion and hyperextension. Aim for full range of motion. The hands can slice through the water, or you can increase intensity by making the palms face the direction of motion. Try other arm movements, such as lat pull-down (shoulder adduction and abduction), shoulder sweep (horizontal adduction and abduction), arm curls (elbow flexion and extension), or rotator cuff sweep (shoulder external and internal rotation). Use alternating arms or arms in unison, or use just one arm and put the other hand on your hip or behind your back. One-arm moves challenge the core muscles.

The working positions for cross-country ski are upright, diagonal and side-lying. Tuck ski together can also be performed side-lying.

There are many ways to increase intensity with cross-country ski. Increasing the speed of a long lever move like cross-country ski without decreasing the range of motion is a challenge. It is easier to increase speed with a mini ski. Increase the range of motion and the intensity by making your ski bigger in what is sometimes called an over stride. Skiing with rotation, in which the arms reach across the midline of the body, also increases the range of motion. Tuck ski can be performed with rotation too. Try the helicopter ski, in which the arms and legs sweep around the body in semicircles instead of the usual flexion and hyperextension. Another way to increase intensity is to add acceleration, or power. Accelerate through the entire move or accelerate toward the center, lifting your shoulders out of the water in what is sometimes called a power pop. Accelerate toward center with your tuck ski together too. Half turns increase intensity and are fun to perform. Ski 3 counts or 7 counts, then make your half turn.

Yet another way to increase intensity is to travel. Travel forward is not difficult to learn. Travel backward requires some upper body strength. You have to scoop the water forcefully with your hands cupped during the flexion phase of your arm swing. You can also sweep alternating arms to center or use a reverse breaststroke. Sweep both arms to one side to travel sideways, or travel sideways in the diagonal working position.

Cross-country ski can be combined with other exercises to make new moves. In a ski-jacks pyramid you perform 8 skis and 8 jacks, then 4 skis and 4 jacks, then 2 skis and 2 jacks, and finally one of each. Cue: ski, ski, jack, together. Alternate a tuck ski together with a frog kick, power popping with both moves. In a ski pendulum you move from upright to diagonal to side-lying and back. Ski side-lying 4X, then tuck, pike, tuck and ski side-lying on the other side 4X. Cross-country ski and hold the position; travel forward with a breaststroke or backward with a reverse breaststroke. As you can see, there are lots of things you can do with cross-country ski!

All of the basic water fitness exercises have variations. My last Blog post described variations for jogging in shallow water. For variations of other exercises, see my book Water Fitness: Lesson Plans and Choreography. Check out my website at for information on how to purchase the book.

See you in the pool!






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