Home Workout

COVID-19 has most of us homebound these days with no definite end in sight. What are you doing to fill your time? There is probably a lot of Netflix movie and TV binge watching going on. But it is important to stay active as well. Here are some ideas to get you moving:

(1) Spring cleaning is probably not on the top of anyone’s list, but it is spring and house work is exercise. It is recommended that you regularly clean door knobs, light switches, faucet handles, toilet handles and seats, computer keyboards and cellphones, all of which you touch frequently. For the cellphones, use a wipe for cleaning glasses. Get more ambitious and clean the refrigerator, wash the curtains and deep clean the bathrooms. Since my grandchildren are not coming over during this time, I took the opportunity to wash all the toys in their toybox and replace all the batteries. Cleaning supplies can be hard to find. You can order safe, bio-degradable cleaning supplies online from Branch Basics at https://branchbasics.com/shop/

(2) If you enjoy gardening, that is another great way to get some exercise. You can create a container garden for your patio or work in your backyard garden. There has been a lot of rain in Plano, Texas which is good for the flowers; my verbena and bluebonnets are especially beautiful. The rain has been good for the weeds too, so weeding is one of my projects. If you want to plant something, Calloway’s allows you to make phone orders for curbside pickup.

(3) Walking is the perfect exercise for everyone and the spring weather has made walking around the neighborhood especially enticing. Explore those side streets that you usually just drive past in your car. Remember to maintain social distancing, since many of your neighbors have the same idea.

(4) You can do a strength training workout in your living room. I’ve got two home workout videos on YouTube that you can check out for ideas. The first video uses household items that you already have for equipment. Go to https://youtu.be/xtGvywsYY4g to view it. The second video uses bands. Go to https://youtu.be/DwXrroDRaOc to view that one. Other Plano instructors have also created videos. You can find them on the Plano Parks & Recreation Facebook page.

The pools may be closed but we still have to keep moving. Stay safe!

Chris Alexander

Keep Your Balance

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The components of physical fitness are cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition. The skill related components of fitness are balance, agility, coordination, and power. Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium both while standing and while moving. Balance is important for athletes in gymnastics, football, baseball and other sports, but it is also important for older adults who worry about injuries they may sustain from falling.

Fall risk is the result of deconditioning, not age. To assess your fall risk, stand on one leg without the support of the upper extremities and without bracing one leg on the other. Count the number of seconds you can maintain this position. Time is up when the foot touches the floor or an arm touches something for support. Your chance of falling and sustaining an injury is double if you are unable to perform the one legged stance for 5 seconds. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, balance training may reduce the risk of falling and fear of falling and probably reduces the number of falls. It is recommended that balance training be performed at least 3 times a week, and daily is better. Balance training can be performed either on land or in the pool.

A sample fall prevention strength program on land might include the following exercises: (1) Resisted row with a band, focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades together, to strengthen the upper back and core. (2) Toe scrunches to strengthen the toes. (3) Standing heel lifts to strengthen the calf muscles. (4) Deadlifts, focusing on avoiding bending the trunk, to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings. (5) Chair squats, that is sitting in a chair and standing back up again, and lunges, to strengthen the quads. Also work on walking fast. since the faster older adults can walk, the lower their mortality rate.

Ruth Sova wrote an article for Akwa magazine that described multiple exercises for improving balance in the pool. Here are a few examples: (1) Sit on a noodle like a swing with the feet on the pool floor; turn eyes to the right and hold 10 seconds, and then left. No head movement, only eyes. (2) Sit on a noodle like a swing with the feet on the pool floor and bend to the right further than is comfortable and recover. Notice what is used to recover (legs, head, jerking movement?) and try to use only the core muscles. (3) Sit on a noodle like a horse with the feet on the pool floor and walk forward with feet rolling heel to toe, and nothing moving but the legs. Stop and restart. Stop and walk backwards. (4) Squat with the feet together, with the feet apart, with one foot directly in front of the other, or in a lunge position. Add various arm movements using both arms or one arm. (5) Stand and lift your toes off the floor then roll up on your toes as the chin lowers. (6) Stand with your right heel on the floor and roll the outside edge of the foot to the tips of the toes while turning your head slowly to the left. Repeat with the left foot. (7) Weight shift from side to side and from front to back. (8) Walk on tiptoes, or on heels, or with toes out or toes in. (9) Use unpredictable commands, such as marching in place on tiptoes while circling the right arm. (10) Cross-country ski with the hands on the hips and travel sideways. If you are an AEA member, you can check out the article for more exercises.

The goal is not to be able to perform on a balance beam like Simone Biles. The goal is to avoid becoming one of the 2.8 million seniors who visit the emergency room each year because of a fall. And beyond that, balance training is good for the brain. Memory, language skills, problem solving and decision making are coordinated by the cerebrum. Balance, posture and fine motor skills are coordinated by the cerebellum. The cerebrum and cerebellum are connected by a direct neural link. When an older adult trains for strength and balance, cognition improves.

My resources for this article are Ruth Sova’s article “Seated and Standing, Static and Dynamic Balance” in the October/November 2019 issue of Akwa magazine and Exercise Etc. Inc.’s 2019 webinar “Balance & Fall Prevention.”

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Maintain Your Flexibility

Some of my water fitness class participants enjoy stretching at the end of class and a few leave the pool before we get to the stretches. Are they missing anything important?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends incorporating stretching exercises into your workouts 2-3 days a week but notes that daily stretching is most effective. They recommend that stretches be held for 10-30 seconds. Stretches that are held for 10-30 seconds are called static stretches. Stretching can also be dynamic. This means that you move a joint slowly through its full range of motion.

Stretching is a way to improve flexibility. Loss of flexibility results in a slower walking speed, smaller steps while walking, back pain and increased risk of falls. Improving flexibility reduces your risk of getting injured during physical activity. Muscles that are less tense are likely to have fewer aches and pains. You are less likely to have muscle cramps. Increasing your range of motion helps with balance. Flexibility and strength are two sides of the same coin. Stretching lengthens the muscles while strength training contracts the muscles. Performing both types of exercises makes you more physically fit.

There is a type of dynamic flexibility training that involves both stretching and contracting the muscle group being targeted. It is called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF for short. In PNF an arm or a leg moves in a diagonal pattern. In the first illustration above, the right arm starts at the upper left front corner (left shoulder) and moves to the lower right rear corner. In the second illustration, the right leg starts at the upper left front corner and moves to the lower right rear corner. The opposite motion from the lower left front corner to the upper right rear corner is also performed. PNF stretching improves range of motion and muscular strength at the same time.

Ai Chi is another form of dynamic stretching. It was developed in Japan in 1993 by Jun Konno and introduced to the United States by Ruth Sova. Typically performed in shoulder depth water, Ai Chi moves arms and legs through a full range of motion while focusing on breathing patterns. You can find a video of Jun Konno performing Ai Chi on YouTube. A number of variations of Ai Chi have been developed. I find Ai Chi wonderfully relaxing and created a variation to use with my deep water classes. Ruth Sova is compiling the variations, including mine for deep water, which she will publish later in 2020.

Static stretching, dynamic stretching, PNF and Ai Chi can all be performed in a water fitness class to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations on flexibility exercises. If you would like some ideas for stretches for various muscle groups to get you started, see pages 18-19 for shallow water and pages 175-176 for deep water in my book Water Fitness Progressions.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Keep Your Inner Core Strong

Muscles of the Inner Core

Most of the time when we hear the word “core” we think of our abdominals. And in fact it is important to keep the abdominals and all the other muscles of the trunk strong. These muscles work together to maintain good posture and to support and move the shoulders, the back and the hips. They are often referred to as the powerhouse of the body, stabilizing the trunk and allowing us to move our arms and legs powerfully and safely during exercise.

Beneath these core muscles are the muscles of the inner core and they have an important job to do. The brain is protected by the skull, the heart and lungs are protected by the rib cage, and the female reproductive organs are protected by the pelvic bone. But the remaining organs are protected by the inner core. The muscles of the inner core are the diaphragm at the top, the multifidus in the back, the transverse abdominis in the front, and the pelvic floor at the bottom. A weakness in the diaphram can lead to reflux. A weakness in the multifidus can lead to slipped discs, a weakness in the transverse abdominis can lead to a hernia. And a weakness in the pelvic floor can lead to incontinence.

Women are more likely than men to suffer from incontinence. However, in men sometimes an enlarged prostate exerts pressure on the urinary tract, controlling the flow of urine, and then the pelvic floor becomes weak. If the prostate is surgically removed, men will have a more serious issue with incontinence. Therefore, both men and women are encouraged to include pelvic floor exercises in their fitness routine. The Harvard Medical School recently published an article entitled “5 of the Best Exercises You Can Ever Do” which listed Kegel exercises as one of the five for both men and women. You can access the article at https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-of-the-best-exercises-you-can-ever-do

Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor are less often called Kegels because the research has changed the way the exercises are performed. To perform core contraction correctly, lift the pelvic floor and then gently draw in the transverse abdominis. There should be no change in your breathing. Incorrect core contraction involves strongly bracing the abdominals before lifting the pelvic floor, but this bracing puts downward pressure on the pelvic floor. Furthermore, you typically hold your breath during a strong brace of the core. Instead, keep your upper abdominals relaxed. Perform the exercise gently and slowly. Activate the pelvic floor smoothly. Draw in from the pubic bone. Use 30% effort when drawing in the transverse abdominis. Your breathing is gentle and continuous.

How long to hold the core contraction depends on the type of incontinence you are having a problem with (or wish to avoid). Stress incontinence is leaking when sneezing, coughing, etc. For this do 10 quick pelvic floor lifts 2 or 3 times a day. Urge incontinence is leaking on the way to the bathroom. For this do a maximum of 10 repetitions at a time, hold the contraction for 10 seconds at most, and take a 30 second break in between contractions.

My resource for this information is Marietta Mehanni, the pelvic floor ambassador in Australia, who presented a workshop entitled “Aquacise Your Pelvic Floor” for the Metroplex Association of Aquatic Professionals in Dallas on October 5, 2019. As you might guess, pelvic floor exercises can be done in a water fitness class.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Keep Your Muscle Mass

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Your muscles grow until around age 30 and after that they begin to decline. If nothing is done to prevent this loss of muscle mass, the end result is loss of grip strength, difficulty picking up heavier objects, trouble rising out of a chair, and an inability to get up off the floor. Who wants that?? The good news is that loss of muscle mass in not an inevitable part of aging. Like the saying goes, use it or lose it! Using it means strength training.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that every adult perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days a week. Adults over 65 should strength train two to three times a week. In other words, the older you get the more important strength training becomes.

You can strength train at home using bands. You can perform exercises that use your own body weight such as push ups, planks and wall sits. You can go to a gym and use free weights or weight machines. Most gyms have someone on staff who can show you how to use the weight machines. Or you can hire a personal trainer who can design a personalized strength training program. Ideally you will mix things up and do a variety of strength training routines. Lift the weight quickly but take 3-5 seconds to lower it. Choose 8 to 10 exercises targeting the major upper body, mid body and lower body muscle groups. Healthy adults should do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise with a weight heavy enough to be challenging but not so heavy that you have to strain to lift it. Older adults should do 10-15 repetitions using lighter weights.

You can also do your strength training in the pool. This requires some effort on your part. It is possible to do the exercises in your water fitness class by gently moving through the water, slicing your hand to minimize the resistance, possibly chatting with other exercisers at the same time. There may be benefits to this, but improving strength is not one of them. Instead of slicing, move your fist through the water, or even better, present an open hand with the fingers slightly cupped. Push hard against the water, with as much speed and power as you can. The harder you push, the harder the water pushes back. You want to create turbulence, making white water and waves. This kind of effort requires concentration but it is necessary to overload the muscles so that you can see gains in strength.

Equipment can be added to increase the resistance in water. Choose equipment that you can handle while maintaining good alignment. Then push and pull the equipment through the water with speed and power. Drag equipment, which does not float, can be pushed and pulled in any direction. Buoyant equipment, which floats, needs to be pushed toward the pool floor in order to be effective. The turbulence and waves you create with the equipment lets you know that you are overloading your muscles and improving your muscular strength and endurance.

There are other benefits to strength training. Improving your muscular strength and endurance can help prevent osteoporosis, decrease the risk of heart disease, reduce the risk of falling, and enhance the quality of life. It can postpone the day when you become frail to some time in the distant future. And that’s a very good thing! For more information and lesson plans that have strength training as their objective, see my book Water Fitness Progressions.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander