Nov 22, 2010 11:06PM
● By Anonymous
A fitness trainer at her gym in Arnold encouraged her to try a weekly aquatic exercise class geared toward people training for a triathlon. It combined a cardiovascular workout with the natural resistance of the water—and without the pounding effects of gravity. Even though Terry didn’t know how to swim, she decided to give it a try.
“It was such a realization for me to discover how swimming uses everything in your body. You use all your muscles, get a cardio workout, and I learned how to breathe correctly. And it’s without all that stress on my joints,” she says after a class. “I mean, I just swam for 30 minutes, and I’m starving!”
Lose Pounds Without the Pounding
As Terry found out, fitness club pools aren’t just for swimming laps anymore; the scope of exercises, group classes, and equipment available has grown vastly in the past few years. People are taking “ai chi,” aqua aerobics, aqua sculpt, and various aquatic versions of other group classes that, until now, were typically conducted on the fitness room floor.
Since water is like one big resistance machine, it strengthens your muscles as you push against it. Couple that with cardiovascular intervals, water weights, and some upbeat music, and you’ve got a fantastic workout that’s kind to your body.
Not all classes are high energy, though. Classes like “ai chi,” aqua yoga, and aqua Pilates promote range of motion, strength, breathing, and the connection between body and mind. Specialty programs, such as aqua arthritis, target people with specific medical problems and are usually taught by a certified instructor.
Taking a group class with friends can be even more motivation for a healthy lifestyle.
Ride the Wave to Wellness
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the nation’s top resources in medical education and research, aquatic exercise is a perfect option for people with injuries, obesity, or illnesses such as arthritis and for those who just haven’t exercised in a while and want to start slowly.
“Aquatic exercise is ideal for people who are overweight or have arthritis or issues with their spine because it takes the pressure off of the joints,” says personal trainer and wellness manager Teresa Reymann. “Land exercise puts three times your body weight on your joints, but when you’re in water it’s low-impact. That’s why trainers recommend that overweight people start exercising in water until they lose some weight.”
As a specialist in fitness for seniors, Reymann says that as people age, balance becomes an issue. “So land exercise can be unsafe,” she says. “When seniors exercise in water, they don’t have to worry about falling and injuring themselves.” She adds that one downside to aquatic exercise is that it does not provide benefits for people exercising specifically for osteoporosis. “People with osteoporosis need weight-bearing exercises, but the water alleviates the effects of gravity.”
“[Aquatic exercise] is simply good for fitness,” concurs Robert McMurray, professor of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “It develops muscular endurance and there is some data out there to suggest that it will reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, too.”
Although aquatic exercise won’t build bulky muscles, people who are healthy and in shape can still benefit from it. Trainers warn that your body will get used to the same workout after about six to eight weeks, however, so to get the most out of your aquatic exercise routine, you should also cross train, challenge your muscles, and vary your workout.
The Young Set
Introducing youngsters to a lifestyle of fitness and health is also very important. Children benefit enormously, not only from being introduced to a healthy lifestyle at a young age, but also from having an active, healthy role model in the family. Fitness becomes part of their natural routine, just like brushing their teeth.
Aside from fitness programs, many pools offer lots of “extracurricular” activities for youth, too, mostly for younger kids while their parents work out. Programs include movies in the pool, ball-handling water games, and glow-stick swims. Though not all local aquatic centers have a wide variety of kids’ programs, most offer at least swimming lessons and family swims, for age levels that range from toddlers to teens. These provide kids with an excellent introduction to an active lifestyle.
Some mothers introduce their children to the water even before they’re born. Prenatal aquatic classes help mothers prepare for labor and also help them recover more quickly from the delivery. A study published in the Journal of Prenatal Education (2003) found that prenatal aquatic exercise benefits both mother and baby, especially by decreasing psychological stress.
Once their babies are born, new mothers can take their little ones to mommy-baby classes. Specially designed “boats” allow babies to float in the water while their moms get great aquatic exercise “motoring” them around the pool. Water exercise helps prevent muscle soreness from labor and from carrying the little one around all day. It also helps mom and baby develop a lifelong love for physical activity. These classes aren’t just for moms; “parent and me” classes give new fathers a chance to bond with their babies and to help them become comfortable in the water from a young age.
So no matter your age, size, or physical condition, take the plunge and see what aquatic exercise is all about.
When you are considering taking an aquatic exercise class, look for one taught by a certified instructor. While this is important for any fitness class, it is especially important if the class is geared toward a specific medical issue, such as arthritis or back problems. If you are taking an aqua arthritis class, make sure your instructor is Arthritis Foundation certified. If you are taking an aqua yoga or Pilates class, select someone who is a certified yoga or Pilates instructor. You can usually find this information in your gym’s program guide, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask!
Even though the water is a low-impact, relaxing environment, a cooldown is essential to slowing your heart rate and preventing muscle cramps and injuries. After you swim or finish an aquatic exercise class, dip your head underwater five or six times, blowing out all of your air each time. Then either swim one-tenth of the distance of your workout at a gradual pace or water-walk one lap across the shallow end of the pool.
Replenish your fluids after a workout. Even though you’re in the water, you still sweat and lose water. According to Women’s Health, the average woman swimming for 45 minutes burns 421 calories and ten ounces of water. So drink up!
And always be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program—whether in water or on land.
Use It and Lose It
Aquatic exercise equipment to amp up your workout
Hand webs are like waterproof mittens that increase your resistance in the water. Wearing hand webs in water that’s about waist deep, walk across the pool, swinging your arms as you do when you walk on land. Keep your back straight and tighten your abdominals to avoid swaying side to side or too far forward.
Kickboards also provide resistance. Standing in chest-high water with your feet shoulder width apart or further, hold the kickboard at each end, with your elbows bent and close to your sides. Tighten your abdominal muscles, and wave the kickboard to your right, then back to center, then to the right. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Water weights, or foam barbells, use the resistance of the water to create their “weight.” Standing in water at least up to your elbows, grip the bars with your palms facing up. Start with your arms at your sides and slowly raise the bars to the surface of the water, keeping your elbows close to your body. Turn the barbells so your palms now face the bottom of the pool, and push them back down to your sides.
A buoyancy belt wraps around your waist and suspends your body shoulder deep in deep water so you can perform traditional land-based activities such as running and aerobics in the water. To water jog, wear the belt as instructed and simulate running in water too deep for you to touch bottom. Think about your form—tall torso, eyes forward—as you complete laps for 10 minutes. According to calorie-count.com, a person who weighs 150 pounds burns 544 calories per hour by water jogging!