The movies might sometimes make it seem like the only skills you need to be a beach lifeguard are swimming and running in slow motion, but in actuality, lifeguards need to be ready for anything — from saving someone caught in a riptide to resuscitating someone having a heart attack on the sand. And you better believe their workouts are as demanding as any athlete’s.
We know because we talked to Jenna Parker, 33, a surf-lifesaver for Harvey Cedars Beach Patrol in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Not only does she spend her summer days watching the waves for changing tides or swimmers in trouble, she also trains intensely for lifeguard competitions. These events pit lifeguards against each other to see who’s fastest at swimming, running, rowing and paddling — crucial activities they use to save lives.
Even if you never intend to don a whistle, floatation device and (striking red) swimsuit, working out like a beach lifeguard could bring your fitness to the next level. Here’s what we learned from Parker’s fitness routine — and what you should keep in mind when getting your sweat on.
1. MAKE THE TIME COMMITMENT
Parker basically works out all day. She wakes up at 6:30 for an hour-long session of swim drills, typically in a pool, but sometimes in the ocean. Then, it’s time for a run, paddle, surfski or row. After breakfast, she heads to the beach where she organizes paddle practice or mini-Ironmans (run-swim-paddle-row races) for the patrol. Post-work, she does another run or Ironman-type workout with patrol captain Randy Townsend.
Train Like a Lifeguard: Let’s be honest: You’re not going to work out four or five hours a day like Parker. For for many of us, committing to even 30 minutes a few days a week is hard enough. But if you want to see results — whether it’s losing weight, gaining muscle or achieving a new PR — you need to put in the time. If it helps, block out workouts on the calendar and think of them like an appointment or work meeting, meaning you cannot cancel.
2. DON’T IGNORE YOUR CORE
During the winter, Parker preps for summer competitions by incorporating more plyometric work with a focus on her core. “Having a strong core is incredibly important when rowing, paddling or surfskiing,” she explains. She also does a number of functional training movements to prevent injuries during training and competitions.
Train Like a Lifeguard: Even if you’re a cardio junkie like Parker, you need a balanced regimen of strength training and heart-pumping exercise. Add compound, functional training exercises (like lunges, squats and pushing and pulling motions) to your routine to increase your ability to perform everyday movements and avoid injury. Be sure to work your core, which will benefit you during both exercise and everyday life.
3. FIND A PARTNER
Parker and Townsend became good friends as teens because they found they both loved to push themselves. The two often work out together, and the entire patrol is super supportive. “Everyone motivates each other,” Parker says. “There are very few days I don’t want to work out in the summer because I have Randy and some of the others [doing it with me].”
Train Like a Lifeguard: To increase the chances of sticking with your fitness routine, find your own Randy. A friend or supportive fitness studio not only keeps you accountable, it makes working out more fun. And that will make you more likely to give every second your all.
4. CHALLENGE YOURSELF
“One of the things I love about surf-lifesaving is that there is always something more to learn,” Parker says. “The ocean is a constantly changing environment — you’re never going to see the same wave twice. That requires you to constantly learn and adapt, and take the knowledge you have and try to re-apply it to new situations.”
She also does this in her workouts and started surfskiing last summer. “I spent three months getting in, paddling a little bit in flat water and falling out of it,” Parker says. “But by the end of summer, I was able to take the ski in and out in the ocean and paddle through the surf.”
Train Like a Lifeguard: Seek out your thing, no matter how out-of-the-box or intimidating. “There are not many things in life that are so challenging they require you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone,” Parker adds. If you’re looking to challenge yourself in new ways, the key could be just beyond your comfort zone. So go ahead: Finally try CrossFit, sign up for a race or take your first yoga or cardio dance class. You’ll be glad you did.
Written by Brittany Risher, a writer, editor and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content. To stay sane from working too hard, she turns to yoga, strength training, meditation and scotch. Connect with her on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.