What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Dumbbells up clip art

Here we have a clip art picture of three smiling people in the water holding dumbbells in the air. What better way could there be to promote water exercise? First of all they are happy and second they are using equipment, suggesting that they are serious about improving their fitness. So what could be wrong with that?

The problem is that the dumbbells used in water fitness are made of foam. They are designed to use the buoyancy of the water for resistance. Weights which are used on land use gravity for resistance. Foam dumbbells are pushed down underwater to work the muscles of the upper body. Weights used in strength training on land are lifted up to work the muscles of the upper body. The two kinds of equipment are used in opposite ways. These happy women are lifting foam dumbbells which weigh a few ounces into the air as if they were weights. This is a misrepresentation of water exercise.

Okay, this is just one little clip art picture. But if you Google “pictures of water exercise” you will find dozens of photos of smiling people holding foam dumbbells in the air.

Maybe it makes a better photo to wave foam dumbbells in the air where the camera can see them as opposed to photos of people using the equipment underwater as intended. But it makes water fitness instructors and participants look like they don’t know what they are doing, at least to those of us who actually participate in water fitness.

Although waving foam dumbbells in the air is the most commonly seen problem with photos of water exercise, it’s not the only one. There are also photos of people doing contraindicated exercises, exercises that risk injuring the person performing them. You can find photos of people suspended from dumbbells held to the sides, for example.

The shoulder joint is like a golf ball (the head of the humerus) sitting on a tee (the glenoid cavity). This allows the shoulder to be extremely mobile, but the shoulders are not designed to be weight bearing. The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint. Impingement is the pinching of the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder area. Impingement occurs when you hang from foam dumbbells with the arms abducted to the sides, as in the above photos. Repeated impingement injures the rotator cuff.

Hanging from walls also puts the shoulder joint under extreme stress. It puts stress on the elbows and wrist as well.

Holding on to the wall in a prone position causes hyperextension of the low back and the neck, risking an injury to those areas.

I look for photos of water exercise often and I would love to see a collection of pictures of smiling people performing safe and reasonable exercises in the water online. But until that happens, it is important to use good judgment when selecting photos to promote water fitness. If you are not sure whether a photo shows a safe and reasonable exercise, you might want to check out Do No Harm, a notebook and DVD by Pauline Ivens, MS and Catherine Holder, PT which can be purchased at www.aquaaerobics.com for $125. It is a comprehensive guide to exercises that might hurt water fitness participants.

My books, Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography and Water Fitness Progressions contain many pages of safe and reasonable exercises. The books can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) (just click on the name of the book you wish to order) or from Amazon.com.

Water Fitness Lesson Plans   Chris Book Cover    IMG_4509

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

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