Work the water. Swimming with your fingers spread wide apart will move water around, but uses little to no force, says Holly Waters, a self-proclaimed swimming fanatic and water aerobics instructor at Sweat Fitness. Instead, keep your fingers tightly together and cup your hands strongly to add force to your stroke. “If you pull or push the water with as much force as you would 50 pounds, it will feel like 50 pounds,” says Waters.
Power up your kick. “The most common mistake people make is swimming by kicking their legs at the knee, almost like they are running,” says Waters, who stresses that power should come from your hip flexors. “If your knees are bending, you’re allowing the water to simply move around your body,” says Waters. “When it comes from your hips, it will push you farther, faster, and use your muscles to their full potential.”
Elongate your limbs. Extending your arms to their fullest length during your strokes means your body will have to push or pull more water—which means you’ll expend more energy and increase the calorie burn of your laps. “Give it all you’ve got and reach as far as possible,” says Waters. “You’ll feel the difference the first time you do.”
Use toys to tone. Your kid’s noodle or kickboard can go a long way to help you sculpt a beach body fast. Re-create the feel of a hamstring machine with a noodle (tuck it behind the back of your knee and, using your hamstring for the effort, push it through the water, up toward your bum). A kickboard can work your glutes with a few laps of hard-core flutter kicking, and it can work your arms by using it for a chest press (stand in neck-high water and push the board away from your chest and then pull it back slowly).
Sideline excuses. You might have to work around problem aches and pains at the gym, but once you’re in the water, you can push yourself harder. “The water is great because it takes all the strain off your joints,” says Waters. “You don’t get the pounding you do when running on a hard surface."