Breathe!

Breathing clipart human breathing, Breathing human breathing ...

We usually breathe without thinking about it. It may come as a revelation to learn that there is more than one way to breathe and that how we breathe affects our posture and mobility. There are also a variety of breathing techniques that can be utilized. Most people use a chest-oriented breathing pattern. They take a deep breath by expanding their rib cage. They pull their stomach in and breathe only into their rib cage, lifting it up as they inhale. This type of breathing recruits the chest, neck, shoulder and upper back muscles, which leads to poor posture and chronic tension, which in turn reduces mobility.

The most efficient and effective way to breathe is diaphragmatic or lower abdominal breathing. In the clip art image to the left, the top of the diaphragm is represented by the curving red line at the bottom of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing is sometimes referred to as belly breathing. Try placing the edge of your hands alongside the lower rib cage where the red line is and take a breath. If you experience a noticeable lateral expansion of the rib cage, you have taken a diaphragmatic breath. Now exhale by squeezing an imaginary sponge upwards in the stomach. Another way to make sure you are breathing diaphragmatically is to put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. This stimulates your vagus nerve ending, which is involved in the regulation of breathing, and causes diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits. It decreases blood pressure, decreases stress, decreases heart rate, and decreases pain and pain awareness. It also increases circulation, increases blood flow to the muscles, improves digestion, and improves ability to focus. Combining diaphragmatic breathing with extension exercises in the water is one way to decrease pain. Try walking backward and breathing diaphragmatically, lifting the crown of your head each time you inhale. Next press your shoulder blades down on inhalation. Relax completely during exhalation. Point your thumbs out to externally rotate the shoulders on inhalation and again relax completely during exhalation. For more information on diaphragmatic breathing, see the article written by Ruth Sova, the founder of the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute, “Pain and Our Breathing Patterns” in Akwa June/July 2019 and her article “Aquatic Therapy Implementation” in Research to Practice Newsbytes Vol. 1 No. 2 Find the articles by logging onto the members only section of the AEA website.

The use of diaphragmatic breathing during exercise helps you increase your aerobic capacity, since it increases circulation and blood flow to the muscles. This is important for exercisers wishing to improve or maintain their levels of fitness. Elite athletes wishing to improve their performance may take the extra step of having the maximum amount of oxygen their bodies can utilize during exercise, or VO2 Max, measured in the lab. For more information on VO2 Max, see the article written by Dr. Luis Javier Pena-Hernandez, MD, FCCP in Garage Gym Reviews.

There are also breathing techniques to facilitate a variety of outcomes. The USMD Health System encouraged a 4-7-8 breathing exercise that is proven to help people relax. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds with gusto! Dr. Nick Shroff, a urologist and Yoga teacher in Plano, Texas, did a presentation on breathing at a Yoga festival on June 16, 2022. He also described the 4-7-8 breathing technique, adding that it helps to put your hand on your belly and push the hand out as you inhale (diaphragmatic breathing), then relax the shoulders as you hold your breath, and finally push the belly in and relax the jaw as you exhale. He said it not only relaxes you but it also helps you fall asleep. Pursed lip breathing increases lung capacity. Breath in for 2 seconds, the breathe out for 4 seconds with pursed lips, as if you are blowing out a candle. An intentional breath hold improves fitness, calms the nervous system and decongests the nose. Take a small breath in and exhale a small breath, then hold your breath until the first sign of breath hunger. To make breathing more efficient during rest, close the mouth and inhale through the nose, then open the mouth and exhale as if you are trying to fog a mirror, whispering “ahhh!” Humming Bee breathing increases oxygenation to tissues, soothes the nervous system, and ventilates the sinuses. Inhale through the nose, then do a prolonged exhale with a humming sound. Press your ear flaps with your fingers to focus on the humming vibration. .If someone is hyperventilating, they are quickly taking in oxygen but not exhaling enough CO2. Breathing in a paper bag makes them inhale their exhaled CO2 and restores balance. Finally Dr. Stroff said that observing your breath anchors your mind in the present. (See my blog post on Mindfulness.) Laurie Denomme, the founder of WECoach, an organization that trains and supports water fitness instructors, described a breath optimizing strategy developed by Carl Stough, the founder of the Institute of Breathing Coordination. His strategies were used with emphysema patients and later by Olympic athletes to handle greater workloads. He called one breath strategy “whisper counting.” First inhale, then as you exhale, in a low whisper count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 quickly and as many times as you can until you naturally run out of air. Then take a breath.

I find this fascinating and I’m looking forward to practicing diaphragmatic breathing with my classes. See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Mindfulness and Water Exercise

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. When you are attentive to the present, you are not thinking about events in the past nor stressing about the future. Mindfulness is an ability that we all naturally possess, but it is more readily available to us when we practice it. There are many situations in which mindfulness is beneficial. Dieticians recommend mindfulness during meals. When we pay attention to what we are eating, we are more aware of the taste of our food, we are more likely to chew thoroughly, and we are more alert to our body’s signals when we are full, preventing overeating and weight gain. The Department of Public Safety would like everyone to be mindful when they are driving a vehicle, aware of the other drivers on the road and able to anticipate what they might do in order to avoid collisions. Certainly texting while driving is not driving with mindfulness. Mindfulness while listening to music increases our appreciation of the piece by allowing us to hear the various musical instruments and how the musicians play off of each other and to enjoy the skill of the vocalist.

Certain forms of exercise, known as mind-body exercise, cultivate the practice of mindfulness. These include Yoga, Tai Chi, Ai Chi, and Pilates. Mind-body exercise focuses on breath, precision, control, and concentration. A mind-body exerciser is never oblivious to the exercises they are performing, nor do they read, watch television or videos, or wear headphones. They are mindful. Other forms of exercise, while not qualifying as mind-body exercise, can benefit from practicing mindfulness.

Water exercise classes involve a number of participants, and sometimes friends take the class together, therefore there is the temptation to chat during the class. However the benefits increase when participants perform the exercises with mindfulness. Movement in the water provides a different sensory experience from movement on land. Notice how the water feels against your skin, the resistance against different areas, and how it flows and ripples as you move. The water moves in response to your movement, which requires you to make an effort to maintain good posture, especially in deep water.

In fact, posture is one of the most important things to pay attention to when exercising in deep water. There is no floor under your feet which means you have to be alert to whether your shoulders are over your hips and your hips are over your feet. Once alignment has been achieved, bracing the core and sculling helps maintain neutral posture. Are you performing the exercises correctly? With a knee-high jog, press your heels down toward the floor and avoid bending forward. With a heel jog, keep the knees down and lift the heels in back. With a kick forward do not lean backward to make the kick higher, and conversely with a kick backward, do not lean forward to make the kick higher. Start an inner thigh lift and a hopscotch with the legs wide so that the exercise does not become the same as a knee-high jog or a heel jog. With a cross-country ski make sure your legs extend as far to the back as they do to the front. With a jumping jack making the arms and legs opposite will keep you from bobbing up and down.

Next pay attention to the movement of the water. Slicing hand positions move the least amount of water, fists move a little more water, and cupped hands that face the direction of movement move the most amount of water. Sculling is an important skill in deep water. Scull with the palms down and the hands in front of your chest or out to the sides to stabilize and prevent drifting. A propeller scull in a figure eight with the arms down by your sides makes you travel forward. A propeller scull in a figure eight with the fingers up and the hands in front of the chest makes you travel backward. Movements of the arms that pull the water toward the body make you travel forward, and movements that push the water away from the body make you travel backward. Leg movements can also assist with travel – movements to the back move the body forward and movements to the front move the body backward.

The ability to manipulate water effectively helps with stability and travel and allows you to use the water’s resistance to increase intensity. The next step is to focus on adding acceleration to your movements. Intensity increases when you push and pull and drag the water with power. Use power to increase turbulence during stationary moves or to increase speed of travel. Power the arms and legs toward center to propel the body upward, lifting the shoulders out of the water, for example with cross-country ski and frog kick. Power movements allow you to push your heart rate into the anaerobic zone for brief periods.

Mindfulness improves your water exercise experience in both deep water and shallow water. If you are an instructor, you can use periodization to help train your participants to exercise with greater mindfulness. Periodization divides the year into four seasons – Preseason, Transition Season, Peak Fitness and Active Recovery. It is also possible to use periodization for shorter time frames, such as six months, three months, or even one month. In the Preseason ask your participants to focus on their posture and cue them to perform the exercises correctly. In the Transition Season encourage your participants to focus on how their arm and leg movements manipulate the water. In the Peak Fitness Season tell them that they are ready for powerful movements that push them to the highest level of fitness they will achieve in this period. In the Active Recovery Season they will give their bodies time to repair any microtrauma caused by the months or weeks of continuous training so that the microtrauma does not lead to a cumulative injury. Options for active recovery include low intensity cardio, core strength training and fun activities such as modified synchronized swimming and games.

My book Water Fitness Progressions has information about periodization for both deep and shallow water, including lesson plans with variations for Preseason, Transition Season and Peak Fitness; strength training lesson plans without equipment and with buoyant, drag and rubberized equipment; and lesson plans and activities to use for Active Recovery.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

3 Pool Safety Tips Every Parent Should Know

Image via Pexels

Plus Extra Resources So Your Summer Goes Swimmingly. Thanks to guest blogger, Jason Lewis from Strong Well.

Having a backyard swimming pool makes your house the place to be during the warm months. However, pools can be dangerous places if you don’t instill rules and use the right safety equipment. Here is a refresher and some additional guidance on how you can help your kids be safe swimmers and how you can make your pool a less dangerous place.

Raising Confident Swimmers

When your children feel confident in the water, they can become stronger and safer swimmers.

  • Teach your kids the basics of swimming at home. Start with kicking and blowing bubbles.
  • Or, you can sign your children up for swim lessons. The City of Plano offers lessons for ages 6 months-3 years, ages 3-5 years, and ages 6-12 years at Oak Point Recreation Center, Carpenter Park Recreation Center, and Tom Muehlenbeck Recreation Center. The Plano Aquatic Center offers lessons for ages 3-5 and 6-12. Registration opens May 7 at 8:00 AM for Plano residents. Registration begins May 9 at 5:00 AM for non-residents. Go to the Plano Parks & Recreation website and click on the Plano Recreation Catalogue to sign up.
  • When your kids are ready, get them comfortable with deeper water.
  • Make sure your kids know what to do in case another swimmer is in distress.

Prepping Your Pool

No matter how well your kids can swim, pools need a variety of maintenance and equipment in order to be safe environments.

  • Opening your pool for the season is no easy task, so consider hiring a pro.
  • If you don’t have one already, hire a local fence company to install a fence to prevent kids from falling in. 
  • If you live in a cooler area, consider getting a pool heater.
  • Keep in mind that if you make any significant changes to your yard, pool, or house, you could increase the appraisal value of the property.

Laying Down the Rules

Securing your pool and ensuring your kids are strong swimmers is a good start. However, to make your pool as safe as it can be, it’s also necessary to lay out the ground rules.

Swimming pools can be safe places as long as you take precautions and ALWAYS supervise your kids when they’re having fun. It also helps to make sure your kids are confident in the water and know how to stay safe.

If swimming becomes your child’s passion, consider signing him or her up for a swim team, The City of Plano has swim teams for both recreational swimmers and serious swimmers. They also offer lifeguard training and water safety instructor training for those who would like to teach swim lessons. Classes are offered throughout the summer. And while your child is participating in swim activities, you might want to consider taking an adult swimming conditioning class or a water aerobics class yourself. Sign up for sessions in the Plano Recreation Catalogue.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Water Fitness Progressions is Included in the Human Kinetics Library

The Human Kinetics Library is a digital hub for sport and exercise studies featuring more than 150 eBooks and a range of videos. Human Kinetics teamed up with Bloomsbury Digital Resources to build on their mission to increase the knowledge, enhance the performance and improve the health and fitness of all people around the world. This collection is dedicated to the research, teaching and understanding of the kinesiology and exercise science disciplines. It is marketed to institutional libraries to be used by university faculty, staff and students.

The Human Kinetics Library covers a range of subjects including:

  • Active aging
  • Anatomy and biomechanics
  • Exercise and sport science
  • Exercise prescription, instruction, and assessment
  • Fitness and health
  • History, sociology, and philosophy of sport
  • Motor behavior
  • Nutrition and healthy eating
  • Physical activity and health
  • Physiology of sport and and exercise
  • Recreation and leisure
  • Research methods, measurement and evaluation
  • Sport management and sport business
  • Sport and activities

Institutions and universities that purchase the platform have access to market-leading content including textbooks, supplementary monographs, and materials for practitioners. With a growing collection of products on offer, libraries can create a rich package that best serves the research needs of their users. The platform is user friendly with an engaging, easy-to-navigate interface and sophisticated indexing and searching tools. New e-Books and videos are added annually. New titles added in 2022 include:

  • Water Fitness Progressions
  • Heart Rate Training, Second Edition
  • Understanding Sport Organizations
  • Aquatic Center Marketing
  • Complete Conditioning for Soccer
  • The Warm-Up
  • Methods of Group Exercise Instruction, Forth Edition

I am honored to have my book, Water Fitness Progressions, included in the library. For more information on the collection go to the Human Kinetics Library. Librarians interested in purchasing or subscribing to the Human Kinetics Library can visit the Human Kinetics Library Platform.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Is Aquatic Exercise a Fitness Trend?

Choosing An Aquafit Class for You | Fix.com

Every year the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) does an international survey to determine the health and fitness trends for the coming year. Respondents to the survey come from a variety of health and fitness professions, including personal trainers, medical professionals, exercise physiologists, professors, health and wellness coaches and a few group exercise instructors. Here are the top twenty fitness trends:

  1. Wearable technology (fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors, etc.) This has been in the top 3 since 2016.
  2. Home exercise gyms. These became popular because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Outdoor activities. Also popular because of COVID-19.
  4. Strength training with free weights.
  5. Exercise for weight loss. This increased in popularity because of perceived (or real) weight gain during quarantine.
  6. Personal training.
  7. High intensity interval training.
  8. Body weight training. This includes things like push-ups, burpees, and planks.
  9. On-line live and on-demand exercise classes. This was the number one trend last year, but dropped to number 9 as gyms re-opened.
  10. Health and wellness coaching.
  11. Fitness programs for older adults.
  12. Exercise is medicine. Doctors referring patients to fitness professionals appeared as a trend 2017.
  13. Employing certified fitness professionals.
  14. Functional fitness. This involves strength training to improve the activities of daily living.
  15. Yoga. This includes a wide variety of Yoga styles.
  16. Mobile exercise apps.
  17. Online personal training. This refers to one-on-one sessions, as opposed to online group exercise classes.
  18. Licensure for fitness professionals. This is a trend to pursue regulation of fitness professionals.
  19. Lifestyle medicine. This is the practice of helping individuals and families adopt healthy behaviors for life.
  20. Group exercise training. This dropped dramatically in popularity because of COVID-19.

Aquatic exercise is not included among the trends! That is probably because the American College of Sports Medicine is not involved in aquatics. But as anyone who has recently checked out a pool schedule knows, aquatic exercise classes are on the menu. Water fitness participants were among the first to return to their workouts after lockdowns were lifted, possibly because chlorinated water is known to kill the Coronavirus, as confirmed by a 2021 study in the U.K.

So, what are the fitness trends in aquatics? I decided to do an informal survey by checking out the classes at the International Aquatic Fitness Conference (IAFC) being held May 1-6 at Daytona Beach, Florida and Florida Mania Fitness Pro Convention being held May 20-22 at Orlando, Florida. IAFC has presenters and participants from around the world. Florida Mania is one of seven conventions for personal trainers and group exercise instructors in various cities in the United States. If I understood the class descriptions correctly, the most frequent sessions on the schedule for these two events were:

  1. Strength training – 11 sessions at IAFC and 2 at Mania
  2. Interval training – 8 sessions at IAFC and one at Mania
  3. Cardio – 5 sessions at IAFC and 4 at Mania
  4. Functional fitness – 7 sessions at IAFC and 2 at Mania
  5. Mind-body exercise (Yoga and Pilates) – 8 sessions at IAFC

There were also 2-3 sessions each on Zumba, Barre, Combat, Circuits and a combination of swimming and water exercise. Other topics covered include water walking, choreography, multi-depth classes, ballet, Ai Chi, pelvic floor, core, post natal, cognition and stretching. There are always sessions on various kinds of aquatic equipment to give participants an opportunity to try them out. Some of these are adapted from land fitness classes:

  1. Hydrorider (aquatic bicycle) is the most popular with 7 sessions at IAFC.
  2. Aqua Pole – 3 sessions at IAFC and 2 at Mania
  3. Noodles remain popular with 4 sessions at IAFC
  4. Trampoline – 3 sessions at IAFC
  5. Aqua Drum Vibes – 3 sessions at IAFC
  6. Aqua Board – one session at IAFC (participants exercise on a board that floats on top of the water)
  7. Bands – one session at IAFC
  8. Aqua Ohm – one session at IAFC
  9. Liquid Star – one session at Mania

This gives you an idea of the wide variety of options for an aquatic fitness class. Maybe some day aquatic fitness will be included in ACSM’s list of top twenty fitness trends.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander