Water workouts making a splash

Exercise done in the pool isn't just for elderly or injured folks

Health & Fitness

September 22, 2002|By Leslie Garcia | Leslie Garcia,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Not so long ago, the words "water aerobics" conjured up one of two images: senior citizens or people in rehabilitation.

And while both groups continue to benefit from water's buoyancy and gentle nature, they now have company in the pool. Namely, younger folks, athletes and exercisers who want a good workout.

"For so long, water exercise was thought of as something you did if you couldn't do other things," says Yvette Carson, swim supervisor for the Baylor-Tom Landry Fitness Center in Dallas. "It's a legitimate form of exercise now, and it's just as hard as anything else."

People are surprised by how many calories they burn during a water workout, says Vennie Jones, aquatic exercise coordinator at the center.

What's so great about the water? Well, for one thing, it offers resistance. Here's a simple way to illustrate that: Stand in the shallow end. Lift up your knee. Now slowly lower it. Feel the push of the water? You won't get that on land.

"It uses buoyancy to help us work harder," explains Carson.

Yet while water workouts offer that resistance, they're also gentle on the joints. That's why many people with arthritis love the water, says Sandi Smith, director of aquatics and fitness for the YWCA of Metropolitan Dallas.

"Sometimes you can do things in the water you can't do on land," she adds.

In a weekly resistance-training class, Carson puts participants through exercises they could do on land only if they were nimble gymnasts.

Class members, whose ages range from 25 to 70, have donned ankle floats and connected rubber tubing to the side of the pool. For one exercise, they bend their knees, anchor their feet on the wall and grab the tubing in each hand.

"Pull back, pull back, pull past the hips," Carson instructs. "Pull down, release. Do it slowly."

Across the country, as people recognize the benefits of a water workout, fitness centers are finding ways to make it challenging and interesting. At Crunch Fitness facilities in New York and Atlanta, for instance, you can ride stationary bikes in the water. At a Virginia club, a class called Yoga Afloat features suspended and standing yoga poses.

Besides the strength-training class, the Baylor-Tom Landry Fitness Center also offers an in-water tai chi class. And in its deep-water running class, athletes from the hard-core variety to the more moderate types cross-train by putting on buoyant ankle belts and "running" in deep water.

The runners welcome the break from pounding the pavement day after day, Jones says. Plus, it's easy on their joints.

"One of the biggest complaints from runners is knees," Jones explains. "But I've had runners who now say their knees aren't bothering them anymore."

High-level athletes who have had knee surgeries and don't want to lose out on a cardiovascular workout also run in the water, says physical therapist Lisa Boudreaux.

"You'll see them doing things really vigorously," she says. "There's no way they could do that on land."

For general fitness, Boudreaux sees a lot of people ages 50 and older taking water exercise classes. They don't want to put on tights and take a regular aerobics class, she says.

Jones attributes the rise in water fitness to baby boomers. Being the information generation that they are, the boomers have become more educated on water's benefits.

Additionally, more research has been done corroborating what exercisers and instructors have long known about the water, Shaw says. Hearing the benefits brings people in.

"People realize it's not just a senior workout," Jones says. "It's a good workout. Period."

your feet wet

Water exercises can be done in a group class or on your own. You might find it helpful to take a class first, then try the exercises on your own.

Here are a few tips and techniques. For more ideas, log onto www.prevention.com.

March. Take high steps from one end of the pool to the other. Raise each leg 45 degrees to your side and slowly lower. Use the water's resistance to push your palms down, forward, back.

Jump. Do jumping jacks in the shallow end, or in the deep end with a proper flotation device.

Use your noodle. Those are the colorful foam-looking things that are ubiquitous around pools. Take one into deep water and put it under your arms with its ends behind you. Slowly pull your knees up to your chest. Or, do bicycle kicks.

"They can be done fast to be a strenuous exercise or slowly to give yourself a nice stretch," physical therapist Lisa Boudreaux says.

Getting your feet wet

Water exercises can be done in a group class or on your own. You might find it helpful to take a class first, then try the exercises on your own.

Here are a few tips and techniques. For more ideas, log onto www. prevention.com.

* March. Take high steps from one end of the pool to the other. Raise each leg 45 degrees to your side and slowly lower. Use the water's resistance to push your palms down, forward, back.

* Jump. Do jumping jacks in the shallow end, or in the deep end with a proper flotation device.

* Use your noodle. Those are the colorful foam-looking things that are ubiquitous around pools. Take one into deep water and put it under your arms with its ends behind you. Slowly pull your knees up to your chest. Or, do bicycle kicks.

"They can be done fast to be a strenuous exercise or slowly to give yourself a nice stretch," physical therapist Lisa Boudreaux says.

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