The Benefits of Water Exercise

Here we are at the beginning of 2021 and not sorry to see the end of 2020. Many of us had to give up our fitness routines last year because COVID-19 closed the gyms and we were sheltering in place. And many of us lost some level of fitness and gained weight as a result. Now we have vaccines, and although we have to continue to wear masks and social distance for awhile longer, we can look forward to the day when it will be safe to get back to working out as we did before COVID. Even if your fitness routine did not previously include water exercise, there are many good reasons to consider working out in the pool. The properties of water provide these benefits.

Buoyancy. Buoyancy is the upward vertical force of water. This force allows you to float and decreases the compression of your joints. As a result, you are able to exercise with greater range of motion, which improves flexibility. People with joint issues experience decreased pain, which is why water exercise is so popular with people who have arthritis. Buoyancy reduces the body’s weight by 90% in neck deep water, by 65-75% in chest deep water, and by 50% in waist deep water. People who cannot exercise on land, where they must bear their full weight, are able to exercise comfortably and vigorously in the water. Water exercise is ideal for the obese who tend to drop out of other forms of exercise because it is too uncomfortable. Buoyancy is responsible for the feeling of fun many people experience in the water, even when they are working hard. It is the reason why so many people who try water exercise end up staying with the program.

Drag Resistance. It is often said that the resistance of water is 12-14X greater than the resistance of air on land. In fact, the resistance depends on how much force you are using when you move your limbs through the water, since the harder you push, the harder the water pushes back. Drag resistance slows movement down. This allows you to perform rebounding moves and other sports-based activities without risk of injury, while at the same time improving skills. Drag is experienced with every movement in every direction, which means you have a constant muscle load provided by water. People who exercise in water see improved muscular strength and endurance. Both of the muscles in opposing pairs are worked equally, which promotes muscle balance. It used to be thought that water exercise was not a good option for maintaining or improving bone density. But when researchers looked at water exercise as resistance exercise instead of weight bearing exercise, they designed experiments in which participants performed strength training exercises with maximal effort and without shortening the range of motion. The results were increased bone formation in post-menopausal women. Similar results were obtained in a study that looked at aquatic high intensity interval training. The key for both is maximal effort and full range of motion.

Hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure exerted by the molecules of water on an immersed body. This pressure is exerted equally on all surfaces of the body, and it increases with depth. Hydrostatic pressure decreases swelling, especially in the lower extremities which are immersed more deeply. This is one reason why aquatic physical therapy is often prescribed for certain injuries and conditions. Hydrostatic pressure is exerted on the chest cavity, which helps condition the muscles of respiration to inhale deeply and forcefully.

Water exercise improves cardiovascular fitness. Immersion relaxes the blood vessels so that they can carry more blood while presenting less resistance to the heart, which is pumping that blood. This decreases blood pressure. Decreased blood pressure lingers for awhile after you get out of the pool. With regular aquatic exercise, the vessels themselves become more pliant and supple. Since stiffening of the blood vessels is a primary factor that causes blood pressure to increase with age, keeping them pliant reduces the risk for hypertension. The hydrostatic pressure of the water pushes blood out to the extremities, and in combination with more supple blood vessels, stroke volume and cardiac output increases. This means that the heart becomes more efficient, pumping more blood with each stroke. Blood flow to the muscles during water exercise can increase an amazing 250%. With this kind of blood flow, heart rate is lowered. Target heart rates while exercising in shallow water average about 7 beats per minute lower than the same intensity exercise on land. The exact number of beats depends on many factors, including the fitness level of the individual. An added benefit of increased cardiac output is that a greater blood volume is pushed through the kidneys, which in turn improves kidney function and increases urine output.

The working muscles and kidneys are not the only beneficiaries of improved cardiac output. Blood flow to the brain increases progressively with immersion from zero depth to shoulder depth. The blood flow persists throughout the exercise period, delivering oxygen and nutrients which the brain uses to repair and regenerate brain and nerve cells. It is reasonable to assume that this would help slow the deterioration of age-related brain performance.

Conclusion. Water’s properties of buoyancy, drag resistance and hydrostatic pressure have many benefits. Water exercise improves flexibility, decreases pain, allows you to exercise comfortably, slows movement down reducing the risk of injury, improves muscular strength and endurance, promotes muscle balance, increases bone formation in post-menopausal women, reduces swelling, conditions the muscles of respiration, improves cardiovascular fitness, decreases blood pressure, improves cardiac output, improves kidney function, and slows the deterioration of age-related brain function. As if that weren’t enough, most people perceive water exercise as fun. When it is time for you to resume a pre-COVIC exercise routine, I hope to see you in the pool.

Resources: Information for this article comes from Dr. Bruce Becker, Director of the National Aquatics & Sports Medicine Institute and other researchers https://www.playcore.com/programs/water-immersion-works and the Aquatic Exercise Association’s Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual (2018) https://aeawave.org/Shop/Books For more information on water exercise, see my book Water Fitness Progressions available from Amazon.

Author/Instructor Photo

Chris Alexander

Squats

An important exercise to add to your fitness routine is the squat. A squat is a functional movement because you use it whenever you sit in a chair, get into the car, use the toilet, or pick up a basket of laundry. Practicing the squat will enable you to continue to perform these activities of daily living much longer. Squatting uses your hips, knees, ankles, glutes, quads and core. Strengthening these muscles in your lower body will also make you more stable and help prevent falls.

Sit down and stand up

So how to get started? Begin by sitting in a chair and standing up. If this is difficult, then hold on to a table or counter while performing the move. Progress to sitting down and standing up without holding on. When you are comfortable with this, see how many times you can sit down and stand up in 30 seconds. The goal is 12 repetitions.

Incorrect Squat
Correct Squat

The next progression is to squat without a chair. How deeply you squat is not important, but make sure your knees are not projecting forward over your toes, as in the first picture. Instead, bend forward from your hips while keeping your knees aligned over the toes, and your weight on your heels, as in the second picture. You will feel it mostly in your quads and glutes. There are several ways to vary the squat. Try squatting with the feet close together or wide apart. You can also try the squat with one foot in front of the other. A lunge is essentially a one-legged squat, with the weight on the front leg and the back leg assisting with balance. Another progression is to hold weights while squatting. If you have a bar you can hold onto, you can take your squats deeper. To see a video with additional information about squats, check out the Being Balanced website at https://www.beingbalancedmethod.com/fitness-videos

Feet Close Together
Feet Wide Apart
One Foot in Front
Lunge

Squat on Step
Squat One Foot on Step
Lunge on Step

Take Your Squats to the Pool. When you squat on land, gravity assists as you lower your body, and the quads and glutes do the work as you rise. The dynamic is different in the water. There buoyancy assists you to rise, and the hamstrings do the work to lower your body toward the floor. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You can increase the work for the hamstrings by holding buoyant equipment, such as foam dumbbells, down by your sides as you squat. One way to work the glutes and quads in the pool is to do squats and lunges on an aquatic step. In this way, more of your body is out of the water and therefore gravity comes more into play. Another way to work the glutes and quads is to perform rebounding moves in which you push off from the floor with both feet. Examples are cross-country ski, jumping jacks and various kinds of jumps, as in the pictures below.

Tuck Jump
Split Jump
Skateboard Jump

Squats and jumps are not options in deep water, but there are other exercises that can be used to work the glutes and quads. One option is to focus on pressing the heels toward the pool floor during a knee-high jog. You can perform a seated leg press, an action similar to using a leg press machine, or rock climb, leaning forward and moving the arms and legs as if climbing a rock wall. Glutes can be worked individually with a cross-country ski or skate kick; and quads can be worked individually with a seated kick. All the underwater photos are from my book Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography.

Seated Leg Press
Rock Climb
Cross-Country Ski

Recommendation: To be able to continue to do important activities of daily living such as sitting in a chair and standing up, driving your car and using the toilet, be sure to include squats in your fitness routine or work your glutes and quads in the pool or do both!

Author/Instructor Photo

Chris Alexander

Yoga in the Pool

There are many physical and mental health benefits that you can enjoy from doing yoga. Physically, you can increase flexibility, tone your body and strengthen targeted muscle groups. Mentally, you can find peace of mind, decrease stress and anxiety, and use yoga to find your inner balance. It is not always easy to correctly perform yoga poses, especially if you have flexibility issues or injuries. This is problematic because yoga is most effective when you are able to hold the poses in the correct position. If you find performing yoga to be difficult for physical reasons, consider using water as your next yoga “weapon”!

How Does Water Help with Yoga?

Water helps the body stay upright and balanced, so if you have any joint problems, you can do standing poses more easily. What’s more, water naturally helps soothe the joints, reducing the pain you might feel while doing these poses. The water needs to be about chest height so that you will be able to enjoy the cushioning and buoyant effects all around your body.

3 Yoga Poses to Do in Water

  1. Padangusthasana

This is known as the Big Toe pose. Stand at the side of the pool and extend one arm to hold onto the edge of the pool. Bend your outer leg and bring your knee up to your chest. Grab your big toe and straighten the leg to the side as much as possible without losing the straightness of your body. As you move your leg, make sure to keep your hips and shoulders forward. When your leg reaches the side of your body, hold this pose for 10 seconds before letting go and placing your foot back on the ground. Repeat with the other side.

2. Arda Chandrasana

This is know as the Half Moon pose. Again, stand at the side of the pool facing the edge. Extend your right arm to the edge (rather than to the floor as in the photo) and place your left arm on your hip. Slowly bend forward at the hips while raising your left leg behind you, keeping both legs straight. Flex your foot as your leg raises up. When your left leg becomes parallel to the ground, move your hips to the left and raise your left arm straight upwards. Hold this pose 10 seconds and release. Repeat with the other side.

3. Vrksasana

This is known as the Standing Tree pose. While the tree pose might look simple, it can be difficult to do if you have issues with balance. Stand upright and plant both feet firmly on the ground. Raise one leg to the side and bend it at the knee, placing your sole on the inside thigh of your other leg. Place your hands above your head in a prayer position. Hold this pose for 15 seconds and release. Repeat on the other side.

Performing yoga poses in water is a great way to learn new poses or perfect ones that you have trouble doing. The more you perform yoga in water, the more it will strengthen your body and condition your muscles. Over time you’ll be prepared to perform these poses on land.

Want to know more about yoga, health and wellness? Our friends from Lotus Kitty would be happy to help. Go to www.lotuskitty.com for more tips.

Thanks to Lotus Kitty for this guest blog post!

Author/Instructor Photo

Chris Alexander

Mask Wearing Made Easier

Some states are loosening restrictions put in place because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In Texas, restaurants are allowed to welcome more diners, schools are opening for in-person instruction and water fitness classes are resuming. This does not mean, however, that the pandemic has ended. COVID-19 is still out there and the basic measures to protect yourself are still important: wash your hands frequently, maintain a social distance of 6 feet, and wear a face mask.

James H. Dickerson, PhD wrote an article published in the October 2020 issue of Consumer Reports on Health entitled “How to Make Mask Wearing Easier” with some timely advice.

  1. Position the mask so that it covers your mouth and nose. This will prevent virus particles from escaping your breath and will also prevent some virus particles from other people’s breath from landing on you. If you leave either your nose or your mouth uncovered, you have removed the protective barrier.
  2. Use a mask with two layers. This improves the mask’s ability to filter out particles no matter what kind of fabric was used to make the mask. Higher thread counts filter a little better than lower thread counts. Another way to improve filtration is to insert cotton batting in between the two layers. Disposable mask filters can also be purchased if your mask has a pocket for them. If you choose to use a vented mask, make sure it has a filter or else the breathing valve will allow you to exhale particles into the air as well as inhale other people’s germs.
  3. If your glasses fog up while wearing your mask, try washing your glasses with soap and water, and then letting them air-dry or drying them with a soft cloth before putting the mask on. You can also try putting your mask on closer to the bridge of your nose to prevent your breath from escaping out the top of your mask. Then make sure the glasses rest on the top edge of your mask.
  4. Try not to touch the mask while you are wearing it. If you need to adjust the mask, touch only the strings or elastic, or at the worst, touch only the outermost edges. The same goes for when you remove the mask. Wash your hands after you handle the mask. Wash your mask in the laundry with laundry detergent or by hand with laundry detergent or soap. Dry it in the dryer or hang it in the sun or lay it flat to dry. Be sure the mask fully dry before wearing it again.
  5. Latex gloves aren’t considered very useful outside of healthcare settings unless you are caring for or cleaning up after someone who is ill. Instead, wash your hands regularly, including after going out in public, and handling mail and packages.

Until we have a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, mask wearing and social distancing will continue to be important. As for hand washing, that’s a good habit to keep going even with a vaccine. Stay safe!

Author/Instructor Photo

Chris Alexander

Welcome

Author/Instructor Photo

Christine Alexander is the author of 2 books on water exercise each published by Human Kinetics.

Water Fitness Progressions (2019) was written for water fitness instructors and aquatic personal trainers. It describes how to use periodization to help class participants and clients progress in their level of fitness. It contains lesson plans that illustrate how to progressively increase intensity for both cardiorespiratory endurance and strength training.

Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography (2011) was written for water fitness instructors. It has 36 class ideas for shallow water exercise and 36 class ideas for deep water exercise. Individuals may find the exercise descriptions and photos useful for building a personal exercise routine.