What Muscles Does Water Polo Work?

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Water polo works the entire body in terms of muscular strength, toning and conditioning. The upper body, lower body and core are all used during a water polo match, and so they all undergo an intense workout during a game. The sport involves regularly swimming sprints, treading water and throwing a ball to teammates. This is often done while the player is being pinned down by his/her opponent, which adds extra intensity and resistance to the exercise.

what muscles does water polo work

Like swimming, water polo, is a great workout for the whole body. In fact a water polo can easily burn upward of 700 calories per game. It could also be argued that there are also some extra benefits to be had from water polo, which you can not get from simply swimming laps.

Because a game of water polo involves swimming sprints in many cases, similar cardiovascular and weight loss benefits can be had from the sport, as can be had from simply swimming laps at the pool.

But what about those extra benefits?…


Water polo is unique in many respects. It is a contact sport and can be fairly rough at times. Much like rugby or American football, players are often in contact with each other and trying to use brute force in many cases in order to win possession of the ball. 

As already mentioned, the entire upper body, and lower body muscles are worked during a water polo match. The legs and arms are used for swimming and treading water. The arms are also used along with your back and lat muscles in order to throw the ball while fighting ‘clingy’ opponents off you. 

what muscles does water polo work

The player’s core muscles are also worked hard during a match. Just about everyone engages their core everyday in order to support their body. Even when you are sitting down, you are most likely using your core muscles to help you sit up straight in the chair.

Imagine then, the kind of core strength and conditioning that is required by the average water polo player, when it comes to swimming and treading water, all while another player is trying to drown you!

It is certainly true that there is more of an aspect of muscular strength to water polo than swimming. Both sports are of course great for overall round fitness, but water polo has a slight edge when it comes to strength. 

It is therefore important that each player takes the time outside of the game itself in order to train and condition their muscles. 

Why it is Important to Train Your Muscles Specifically for Water Polo?

Just about all of your muscles receive a thorough workout during a water polo match. It is therefore important that your muscles are well trained and conditioned outside of the game. This will help to reduce the risk of strain or injury, and also allow you to be able to physically endure a match from a fitness stand point.

For the rest of this blog post, I will give some tips and specific resistance based exercises that can be used by any player of the game in order to help them build strength and condition their entire body. This will allow for a fitter and more effective player in the pool on match day. 

How to Train Important Muscles for Water Polo

It is important to work all of the major muscle groups in the body for reasons I have already outlined above. Therefore, what follows is a ‘how to’ list of exercises that will do just that.   

Specific Exercises

Cable Rotations (core)

Cable rotations are great for working the whole abdominal area while strengthening the hips at the same time. This exercise will not only help strengthen and tighten your ab muscles, but it will provide you with better core stability in and out of the water.

As mentioned earlier, by ensuring that you train your muscles regularly, you will also help you prevent injury not only while playing water polo, but in everyday life too. 

The video below does a very good job of explaining how to perform this particular exercise. 

Back Extensions (core and lower back)

Back extensions are also very good for working your abs, lower back, and hips. Many people experience back injuries and back pain at some point in their lives. Water polo players are even more likely to due to the physical nature of the sport.

This exercise will help reduce the chances of injury, and it will also help you to improve your posture, and freedom of movement through your lower back.

People who suffer from herniated discs, sensitive spinal nerves or who are extremely overweight should not perform this exercise.

Planks (core)

There are various forms of the plank exercise, and they are all great for working different areas of your abdominal muscles and strengthening your core.

planks essentially work your entire body from your pelvic girdle, to your legs, back and abs. This is a perfect exercise for water polo players because of this.

Lunges (legs)

Lunges are great for working your legs, which will help your in the pool with stamina. This is especially true when it comes to treading water with the ‘egg beater’ for long periods of time. Not only this, but while you are performing the lunge, you also need to engage your core in order to stay upright.

The lunge position is inherently unstable, and so you you need to use your core to prevent yourself from falling over during the exercise. Therefore, your core strength also improves as a result of doing lunges regularly.  

The lunge works everything from hips, hamstrings, glutes, quads and core. You can learn how to perform this exercise effectively by watching the video below.

Squats (Legs)

The squat is another great exercise for the lower body. Just like the lunge, the squat actually engages the whole body and core for stability. You should certainly include this exercise in your workout routine.

Leg Curls and Leg Extensions (legs)

Leg curls are great for strengthening your hamstrings. Also, through developing strength in these muscles, you also can reduce the risk of joint and knee injuries, and other related problems as you age. 

The leg extension is a similar exercise, but in this case, instead of curling your legs towards your butt, you extend and straighten your legs out in front of you. See the second video below for details on how to perform this exercise. 

Again, leg extensions are great for strengthening the patellar ligament, and knee joints as well as developing the strength of your quads.

Lat Cable Pulldown (Lats)

In order to be able to throw a ball effectively and defend yourself from your opponents during a game of water polo, you need to have strong latissimus dorsi muscles. The perfect exercise for improving the strength of your lats is the lat pulldown. Once you have developed a good base strength in your lats, you could ‘graduate’ and give pull ups a go.

Pullups are essentially the same exercise, except you hold onto an overhead bar with your legs hanging straight and freely. Then you proceed to lift your body up so that your chin is level with the bar.

See the second video below for further instructions.

Seated Cable Row  (Lats/back)

The seated cable row is another great exercise for the back in general. This exercise also works your forearms, biceps and triceps because these muscles are dynamic stabilisers for the movement. 

Dumbbell Row  (Lats/back)

The final back exercise I would like to share with you is the dumbbell row. This exercise is a great addition to any dumbbell routine. 

Final Thoughts

Total body strength training is very important if you want to be on top of your water polo game in the pool. As I already mentioned, water polo uses just about every muscle in the body.

Not only this, but the game is also a contact sport and it is extremely physical. Overall fitness, strength and muscular conditioning is important in order to prevent injury and to enable the player to get through the whole match from an endurance stand point.

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