Get in Shape
6 Strange Sports to Boost Your Fitness
"Water polo is like Greco-Roman wrestling in the water," says US National Team member Shea Buckner. Buckner has just finished a four-hour pool workout, and describes his game this way: "It's four 8-minute periods. We sprint 30 meters--the length of the court--as fast as we can, wrestle with another 230-pound guy, and sprint back. Your pulse is always at 180, but you've still got to think critically and act with finesse." (Video: How does a swimmer prepare for the Olympics? Find out.)
With all that swimming, it's no wonder they train for so long. During the day's four-hour pool session, the team practiced shooting and grappling while wearing 15-pound weight belts, swam for more than two hours consecutively, and took shots while straining against resistance bands tied to their waists.
To get a taste for the game, Buckner suggests this simpler pool session: Start by treading water. Sprint the length of the pool as fast as you can. Without touching the wall or the bottom, stop at the other end and tread water for 10 seconds with your hands in the air. Repeat the sprint and the treading. After this second round, rest for 15 seconds. "Do that [complete sequence] 20 times," Buckner says, "and you'll have an idea of what it's like to play water polo."
It's the half of the game spent in the vertical, treading position that gives even competitive swimmers trouble, says Michael Reid, coach of the Manitoba provincial water polo team in Canada, and owner of waterpolotraining.net, where he posts videos and workouts. If you're interested in trying water polo--or even if you just want to tread water more efficiently--try trading your energy-wasting flutter kick for a move more akin to a breaststroke kick, says Reid.
To do this, try treading the water by bringing your knees high and wide--this creates a larger base of support in the water, and helps you move more water. As you move your legs, bring them wide and raise your knees almost all the way to your chest. "For a land-based equivalent," Reid says, "think of the defensive position in basketball or soccer."
This isn't the exact kick used by water polo players--they employ a move called an egg beater--but it can help you stay afloat and save some energy should you try this grueling sport.
Where to try it: Rec leagues form at clubs across the country. Find one by using the search form at https://webpoint.usawaterpolo.com/website/search/SrchClubs.asp