Back when I started teaching water fitness in the early 1990’s, the only equipment we had was milk jugs, which we held under our arms for support during suspended exercises.
What was wrong with that? Plenty! When the body is suspended from milk jugs, the shoulders are unacceptably loaded, the tendons are pinched, and nerve damage may occur in the arm pits (Ivens and Holder, Do No Harm, 2011). Fortunately, today we have better equipment options.
One of the oldest and most popular options is the pool noodle. It is inexpensive (around $3 to $5 each) which means most facilities can afford them, and there are many ways to use them. One way is to use them under our arms for support during suspended exercises, just as we did with the jugs. But if we hang from noodles under our arm pits, we risk the same shoulder, tendon and nerve damage that occurred with the milk jugs. To avoid that risk, position the noodle below the shoulder blades with the arms resting on top of the noodle in a position called “posterior sling.”
In this position, we can do kicks from the knees, flutter kicks, bicycle, leg press, seated jacks and ankle flexion. Alternate the legs or work only one leg. The kick from the knee, bicycle, leg press and ankle flexion can be performed with the legs in unison. For the core muscles, you can do a seated waist twist, and recline backward for crunches.
Sit on the noodle like a swing to do most of those same exercises, and you have added a balance challenge because this position is less stable. You can not do crunches sitting on the noodle like a swing, but you can hike the hip side to side to work the obliques. Try holding on to the noodle with both hands, with just one hand or with arms extended to the sides. Place the arms inside the noodle or outside the noodle for arm movements. Sweep one arm either out or in to turn in a circle.
When greater stability is desired, straddle the noodle as if riding a bicycle. All the leg movements you do with the noodle in a posterior sling can be done while straddling the noodle, including reclining for crunches. Squeeze the noodle between the knees to add resistance on the waist twist. Try crossing the ankles and using the arms only. Now you can row, do the breaststroke or reverse breaststroke, unison arm swing, clap hands, and rotator cuff sweep. Bicycle with both the arms and the legs. Bicycle races are a fun way to end a class.
More on noodles in my next post. See you in the pool!