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Warming Up in Cool Water

My idea of the perfect pool is one that’s big, beautiful, clean and maintained at 83/84 degrees - an ideal situation where we can go back and forth between high intensity work and balancing yoga movements without turning into an ice cube. Instead, I am working with ‘swimmer water’ kept at a brisk 80-82 degrees, where it’s difficult for most of my participants to even get in the pool to start class.

Dealing with this challenge for the past decade, I have come up with some creative ideas on how to warm my students up quickly in these frigid waters. Most of my classes do start with travel, and this is a fun way for students to not only get familiar with how to move themselves through the water but using the water’s inertia is a fast way to get muscles working hard and elevating body temperatures. Whether working with the entire 25-meter pool (lucky!), a single/double lap lane, or an “interestingly shaped” pool, there are a few more ways that I enjoy warming participants up in cool water.

When I started working at the Manhattan JCC, I realized that the previous instructor had always had the students doing stationary warm-up drills, with very little directional changes. Most of the students would complain about how cold the pool was, and they didn’t really care for my encouraging words, "Then work harder!" We all know that change is very difficult for most people to deal with, so I decided to start off slowly incorporating more traveling options into the routines.

It all started with turns. I was still in my first year of teaching and not the greatest at cueing directional changes, so I began with quarter turns while doing Jumping Jacks. As I felt more confident (in their abilities and mine), I progressed to half and full turns, while changing up the base moves I was using. This was a hoot for the participants! Eventually, we all progressed to some fun exercise variations.

  • For example: Jack 8 → ½ turn R & Jack 8 → ½ turn R & Jack 8, continuing to make a complete ‘around the world’ with Jumping Jacks.

  • Another fun one was doing a half or a full 360-degree turn with Cross-Country Skis. This definitely required advanced cueing and great music for the tempo, but the students were making waves and warming up. Note: careful no one gets dizzy.

The Whirlpool: After starting to gain the class’s approval, I threw a huge curve ball and had them start traveling around in a ‘circle’ to begin class. We have only a single lane of a 25-meter pool (with the line down the middle) for up to 14 participants, so I had them traveling around the middle line. Since one side is deeper than the other, I put a marker on the deck to make sure people are in the appropriate level of water, so they can maintain their speed while traveling. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more annoying than when participants choose to be in water that is too deep – when they have access to shallower water – resulting in horrible form and posture!

Once we got the circle going and then turned around to push against the wall of water, people were warming up quickly! The class started to experience the whirlpool effect and truly feel the water’s inertia (or as I call it “water power”); they realized that they had to work much harder to maintain both form and speed.

Check out Jenni's One-Minute Warmup on Our YouTube Channel!

By the way, I am a big stickler on posture, but being that I train New Yorkers, they can be challenging to slow down and take the necessary time to correct their body positioning. Over time, they realized how much more cardiovascular challenge they were getting from the traveling, and several even noticed physical changes in their bodies and stamina.

As the class was progressing and more people were continuously showing up for class, I had to step up my wave game. On those crowded mornings where it was just too tight to travel, I went back to the AEA guidelines - short levers and start to pick up the tempo while maintaining your range of motion.

When I can see from my student’s body and facial expressions indicating that the pool is really cold, I use one of my go to warm ups:


  • High Knee Jogs w/ Pumping Arms (Bring hand to hip to pull elbows back)

  • Tire Jog Right (Right leg jogs in & out of a tire, keep arms pumping)

  • Tire Jog Left (Left leg jogs in & out of a tire, keep arms pumping)

  • Tire Jumps (Jump both feet up and out, then up and in to the tire)

  • Wide Leg Jog w/ Alternating Slicing Hook (When R knee is up, L hand hooks across the front of the body; when the L knee is up, R hand hooks across the body)

  • Jumping Jacks (Emphasize pulling and pushing the legs/arms out and in)

  • Level III Jumping Jack (Play around with using one arm at a time while waving the other above the water)

  • Level I Cross-Country Ski (Cueing to scoop and pull the hands through the water)

  • Twisting Ski (Cross-country leg with arms extended out for transverse rotation. Arms held in an “L” shape, so if your L leg forward/R leg back, your R arm is straight out in front and your L arm is straight out to your left side. When the legs move, the arms stay straight as you rotate them to the other side, working in opposition to the legs, to challenge the core)

I continue each exercise for 30-60 seconds while giving physical cues, such as:

  • Keep the ears over the shoulders to maintain tall spine.

  • Try to get the knees as high and possible while really pushing and pulling the water!

  • Your abdominals are in control of the legs so let’s try to stay with the tempo of the music as much as possible.

  • For the Wide Leg Jog, brace your abdominals and try not to rock the torso side to side but lift the knees up higher to the side using your obliques.

  • For Hooks, pay attention to your hand placement to change or increase the resistance of the water… Slice → Fist → Scoop

  • With Rotating Skis, keep shoulders and hips squared to the front and brace the abdominals to prevent twisting the torso.

  • This is YOUR workout; you get what you put in!

Cueing is an art form that only improves from experience. When it comes to getting your participants fired up and moving quickly, your verbal cueing needs to have enthusiasm and encouragement…especially if you’re going to warm them up quickly and keep them warm!



Jenni Lynn Patterson-LaCour is an AEA ATS and CE Provider as well as NSCA, CPT and CE Provider for AFAA and NASM. Jenni Lynn is also the creator and founder of S'WET by Jenni Lynn Fitness™, a trademarked aquatic fitness program that incorporates her swimming background with kickboxing, HIIT, yoga, Pilates, and strength training in the pool. She truly believes the perception of water fitness can be transformed and soon ALL ages and genders will be working out together in the pool!


Reprinted with permission from the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA). This article first appeared in the December 2018 - January 2019 issue of Akwa magazine.



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