Lifeguarding seems like a pretty easy job—sit all day, watch the water, and occasionally blow a whistle to warn beachgoers not to venture out too far. But what many folks don’t realize is that those guards are highly trained and fit, ready to jump into the water at a moment’s notice to save a life. To stay that way, they train every day—running between lifeguard towers, swimming along the shoreline at daybreak, lifting weights, or attending high-intensity fitness classes like CrossFit.
“Lifeguarding is really demanding physically,” says Tom McGibeny, a lifeguard in Daytona Beach since 1992 and national team head coach for the United States Lifesaving Association. “When someone’s life is in danger, you can’t be out of shape. At peak times, you could be making multiple rescues in a day, running to the water, swimming, pulling someone [to shore], then doing it all over again.”
Most lifeguards already have a strong cardiovascular base, he says, either from competitive swimming or running. Others surf, paddleboard, or surf ski. While requirements vary by locality, McGibeny’s lifeguards must be able to swim 500 meters in less than 10 minutes and run a half-mile in less than 3 minutes and 15 seconds. “That run is very important, since that could be the distance between you and the next tower,” says McGibeny.
Below are three sets of exercises he recommends all of his lifeguards incorporate into their training. Work these into your own exercise routine to get the best kind of beach body: A functional one.
3 Kick-Butt Beach Body Workouts
THE TOWER RUN (aka Soft Sand Sprints)
Body parts targeted: Quadriceps, calves, Achilles tendon
Why: Running on sand requires 1.6 times more energy than running on a hard surface, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology. That means you’ll burn more calories running the same distance, while also working your calves and the small muscles around your ankles.
Run 20 yards down the beach, then 20 yards back. Repeat 10 times.
Run 40 yards down the beach, then 40 yards back. Repeat 8 times.
Run 60 yards down the beach, then 60 yards back. Repeat 4 times.
Run 80 yards down the beach, then 80 yards back. Repeat twice.
Run 100 yards down the beach, then 100 yards back.
TOWER STRETCH WITH RESISTANCE BANDS
Body parts targeted: Rotator cuffs, deltoids, triceps
Why: “As a lifeguard, you use your shoulders for everything—swimming, paddling, carrying—so it’s important to keep them strong,” says McGibeny. The following exercises can help strengthen and stabilize your shoulder muscles.
Side lateral raise (thumbs down): Stand on top of the middle of a resistance band, holding one end in each hand. With your thumbs down, raise the bands 45 degrees (about three quarters of the way to your shoulder) and lower. That’s one rep. Do three sets of 10 repetitions.
Shoulder stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding one end of band with your right hand, raise it above and behind your head, allowing the length of the band to dangle behind your back. Grab the other end of the band with your left hand, then pull the band upward with your right hand, and hold for 20 seconds. Pull the band downward with your left hand and hold for 20 seconds. That’s one rep. Repeat twice, then switch sides.
Shoulder rotation: Tie one end of the band around a lifeguard tower (or a stable anchor point). Standing with the tower off to your right side, put a rolled-up beach towel between your rib cage and your right elbow. Then holding your arm at a 90-degree angle, pull the band across the front of you and return to start. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions then switch the band and rolled-up beach towel to your left arm so that you rotate your arm outward, away from your stomach, again for 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Triceps extensions: Standing with your left foot slightly forward, step on one end of the band with your right foot and hold the other end in your right hand. Slowly pull the band straight above your head. From here, lower it behind your back until your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. Pause and then straighten your arm again. That’s one rep. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
Body parts targeted: Core
Why: A strong core can help prevent injury, especially when transitioning from running to swimming to lifting. That’s why lifeguards try to incorporate planks into their daily workouts. To maximize your plank time, McGibeny recommends intervals, as well as switching between front and side variations.
On your front: Hold a plank for 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Repeat 10 times.
On your side: Hold a side plank for 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Switch sides and repeat.
Work up to holding each plank for 30 seconds on, 10 seconds off.
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