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

Balance Training at Home

14 Exercises for Seniors to Improve Strength and Balance | Philips Lifeline

Although the pool is a great place to do balance training, with COVID-19 cases on the rise in many states, we are still being encouraged to shelter in place as much as possible. It is important to stay active during this time, and it’s a good idea to include balance training among your activities. It is especially important if you are older than 60 since balance training reduces your risk of falling.

Exercise Etc. Inc. offered a Balance & Fall Prevention webinar in 2019 describing a variety of balance exercises you can do at home. Some recommended strength training exercises include the following:

  1. Resisted rows for the upper back. If you don’t have a band, do a standing row. From a lunge position, with the R leg forward, pull a dumbbell (or water bottle) in your R hand from your knee up towards your hip, squeezing your shoulder blades. Then repeat on the L side.
  2. Toe scrunches to strengthen the toes.
  3. Standing heel lifts to strengthen the calf muscles.
  4. Deadlifts to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings. Keep your back straight. If you don’t have dumbbells, use water bottles.
  5. Chair squats to strengthen the quads.

In addition to strengthening the muscles that are important for balance, there are some specific balance training exercises you can do. First find your neutral alignment. Sit in a chair up against a wall and put a balloon behind your head. When you are able to maintain that position, try standing up against the wall with the balloon behind your head. Progress from there to walking with a book on your head.

The following exercises are done sitting in a chair:

  1. “The airplane” – Extend the arms to the side and lean slowly side to side.
  2. Alternating heel/toe lift – Lift your heels one at a time while pumping your arms with the elbows bent
  3. Seated crawling – Lift your knees one at a time while lifting the opposite hand as if you were crawling up a wall.

A one legged stand is another recommended exercise. There are a variety of ways you can practice it. At first you may need to hold on to a chair or the wall for support. Next try standing on one leg without holding on for a minimum of 5 seconds, or as long as possible. Always have support available in case you start to lose your balance. Progress to standing on one leg with one arm up. Next stand on an unstable surface, such as a one-inch thick piece of wood about the size of your shoe. You could also stand on a brick or a book. Finally try batting a balloon while you are standing on one foot on your unstable surface.

Besides strength training, practicing neutral alignment, chair exercises and one legged stands, it is important to practice walking fast. The faster you can walk, the lower your mortality rate. Shift your weight from your heel to the ball of your foot to the toes. Keep your spine in neutral and your head level. Your toes point forward and your feet are 3-5 inches apart. Your elbows are bent 90 degrees, your arms are close to your body and they pump for momentum and balance. Don’t forget to breathe! The following are some exercises you can do to improve your gait:

  1. Tap one heel at a time on the floor in front of you. Then tap the toes in front of you. This improves ankle strength and ankle range of motion.
  2. Walk with long steps to improve stride.
  3. Lift knees with arm pumps to improve your arm swing efficiency.
  4. Lift your heels up behind you towards your buttocks to improve hamstring strength.
  5. Walk with one foot in front of the other to improve stability.
  6. March to reduce shuffling.
  7. Walk with head rotations to improve balance.
  8. Walk with U-turns to strengthen hip rotators.
  9. Walk backward.
  10. Place 2 cones (or water bottles) 10-20 feet apart. Walk fast from A to B, pivot and walk fast back to A.
  11. Step sideways from A to B and back to A.
  12. Place a chair 10 feet from your cone (or water bottle); from a seated position stand up, walk to the cone, pivot and return to the chair.

All of this can be done in your living room. Pick several exercises to do at least 3 times a week, or even daily. You can also do some fast walking outside in your neighborhood. If you live in Texas, like I do, you will want to do this early in the morning since it gets too hot in our summer afternoons and evenings. Keep moving!

Chris Alexander

Chris Alexander

Keep Your Balance

See the source image

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

Why Exercise?

I have been teaching water fitness for 26 years. Clearly I enjoy exercising. But I know there are a lot of people out there who do not exercise. The excuses include not being motivated, not having enough time, being too tired, exercise is not fun, being too out of shape and not liking to sweat.

Motivation. Everyone wants to look younger and live longer. The secret to longer life is not a magic pill but exercise. Scientists can predict how long someone will live by how well they perform 5 simple tasks. How many times can you stand up from a chair and sit back down in 60 seconds? How long can you balance on one leg? How long is your stride length? How is your grip strength? How good is your posture? A good reason to exercise is to make improvements in these areas to improve your longevity and make the activities of everyday life easier.

Not Enough Time. Instead of trying to find time, try to make time. Some activity is better than none. Find a time during your day when you are free of commitments and schedule some exercise during that time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Start with 10 minutes and increase it by a minute a week. Soon it will become part of your routine.

The remaining excuses. Once your fitness starts to improve, you will find you have increased energy. If one type of exercise is not fun, try something active that you do enjoy. Here’s where I put in a plug for water exercise. Hanging out in the pool when we were children was so much fun that many of us find getting in the water to exercise is really enjoyable. The buoyancy of the water supports your weight so that it seems easier to exercise even if you are out of shape. And the water cools your body so that you are not aware that you are sweating.

Many of the simple tasks that predict longevity can be worked on in the pool. Squats can improve your ability to stand up from a chair and sit back down. The pool is the perfect place to work on balance because the water supports the body and reduces the fear of falling while at the same time water movement makes balancing more challenging. You can work on increasing stride length by water walking. Hand grip exercisers are best for improving grip strength, but gripping pool equipment helps some. You can also concentrate on exercising with good posture in the water to help improve posture on land.

Exercising regularly makes the activities of daily life such as climbing stairs, playing with grandchildren and carrying groceries easier. It also improves blood flow to the brain which decreases the risk of cognitive decline. We cannot stop from aging, but we can work to maintain our functional fitness well into our retirement years.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

How to Fall Safely

More than one out of every four people 65 or older falls each year. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury. Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures. These statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a concern for many of my water exercise class participants and for me. When I came across some articles on How to Fall Safely, I decided the information was worth passing on.

I found articles from several sources, including AARP, physical therapist blogs and wikiHow. The pictures in this Blog post come from wikiHow. The co-author of the post was Chris M. Matsko, MD.

Protect your head. Head injuries can be very serious. Make sure you prioritize protecting your head. Tuck your chin down to lower your head. If falling face first turn your head to the side. Use your arms for additional protection. Put them in front of your head if falling forwards or behind your head if falling backwards.

Turn as you fall. If you are falling either straight forward or straight backwards, try to turn your body so you land on your side. This reduces the risk of injuring your head, face, arms or back.

Keep arms and legs bent. It may be tempting to try and catch yourself with your arms. However, landing with your arms straight out can break your wrists and/or your arms.

Stay loose. Tensing up increases the chance of sustaining an injury. The tense parts of the body are more likely to break. Try breathing out as you fall to help keep your body relaxed.

Spread out the force of the fall. A big part of falling safely is to spread out the force of the impact over a large area of your body. This reduces the risk of a serious injury to a single part of the body.

Another suggestion is to roll out of the fall. This is difficult to do unless you have practiced beforehand. If you wish to learn the technique, you can ask a physical therapist to show you how, or practice falling and rolling in a gym with padded and cushioned floors.

Just as important as knowing how to fall is taking steps to prevent falls in the first place. Wear shoes with slip resistant soles. Pay attention when you walk. Be aware of uneven areas on the ground, curbs and stairs. Hold the hand rail when taking stairs. In the home, close drawers after you are done with them. Don’t leave cords in walkways. Keep the area well lit. Use non-slip bath mats. Remove small throw rugs.

Another way to reduce your risk of falling is to improve your strength and balance with exercise. The pool is the perfect place to work on both strength and balance. Because the water’s buoyancy and resistance helps support the body, exercises can be done without fear of falling. Options include the following:

Gait training. Gait training is walking practice. The goal is to lengthen the stride and improve confidence while walking.


Core Strength Training. Core strength training is training for the postural muscles of the trunk. This includes the Trapezius and Rhomboids, the Latissimus dorsi and the Erector spinae. Exercises to try are rowing, bowstring pull, and lat pull-down using the water’s resistance or drag equipment. Walking backward strengthens the Erector spinae.

Deep-Water Exercise. Deep-water exercise is performed, while wearing a flotation device, in water in which a person can remain vertical without the feet touching the floor. Exercisers must aggressively engage the stabilizing muscles of the core to remain upright.

Balance Challenges. Balance challenges are exercises performed with a narrow base of support, such as the feet together, one foot in front of the other, or standing on one foot. Slow movements are more challenging than fast ones.

Falling is scary, but learning how to fall and taking steps to prevent falls in the first place are things we can all do now to reduce the risk.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander