High Intensity Interval Training in Deep Water

There are those who are passionate about deep-water exercise (and I am one of them). But for those who have never tried it, there is a degree of mystery about it. One of the concerns I hear most often is: “I don’t think I could tread water for an entire one-hour class.” You don’t have to! Everyone should wear a flotation belt in deep water. The second concern I hear is: “Can you get a workout in deep water as intense as the workout in shallow water? And the answer is definitely, yes!

Let’s back up to that flotation belt. It needs to be attached tightly around your waist so that it doesn’t slide up under your arm pits. And then you need some practice stabilizing, since your feet don’t touch the pool floor and there may be a tendency to tip forward or backward. The core muscles have to learn to contract to keep you upright, which is why most people see improvements in their core strength after taking a deep-water class for awhile. The second thing you need to learn is to continue to maintain that upright position in which you work against the water’s resistance with your entire body from the neck down, instead of trying to streamline by rounding forward, as in the drawing with the big X through it. In this position the bones of your spine are compressed on the front side, which is not good for the back.

Now, let’s talk about getting an intense workout in deep water. This means high intensity interval training (HIIT) where you work at 80-90% of your maximum effort for short periods followed by periods of active recovery. Achieving maximum effort requires focus. Your focus determines the number of muscle fibers that need to contract and the speed of those contractions. It’s important, then, that you are actively engaged, not reminiscing about vacation or chatting with another participant, when you are performing HIIT. The strategies for achieving high intensity in deep water are similar to the strategies in shallow water, but with some differences.

Step One: Start with the Base Moves. In deep water the base moves are jog, bicycle, kick, cross-country ski, and jumping jacks. These moves all have multiple variations. (1) Jog. You can jog with the feet hip distance apart or wide. You can cross the midline in front with an inner thigh lift or cross the midline in back with hopscotch. You can lift the knees in front or the heels in back. You can lean diagonally to the side or go all the way to side-lying. (2) Bicycle. Bicycle with the feet under you as if you are on a unicycle. You can bicycle tandem, with the feet pedaling in unison. You can lean diagonally to the side or go all the way to side-lying. (3) Kick. You can flutter kick, kick forward, kick across the midline, Cossack kick like a Russian dancer, or kick backward. (4) Cross-country ski. You can ski upright, add a tuck, lean diagonally to the side or go all the way to side-lying. (5) Jumping jacks. You can add a tuck or perform the jacks seated, with knees bent or in an “L” position. All the base moves can be varied by using different arm movements or different foot positions.

Step Two: Increase the Range of Motion. Large moves take more effort than smaller moves. Increasing the range of motion is one intensity variable. Get the knees high in your jog and pump the arms in big movements. Start your inner thigh lift with the feet wide apart and lift the inner thigh high. Start your hopscotch with the feet wide too. Bicycle in large round circles. Kick higher – front or back. Perform cross-country ski with your full range of motion, or do a helicopter ski, moving the legs in semi-circles around the body instead of in straight lines. Take your feet as wide as comfortably possible in your jumping jacks and cross the legs in the center. Focus on achieving your full range of motion. Depending your level of fitness, you may find large moves to be really intense. Alternate base moves with exercises using full range of motion for your intervals until that becomes easier.

Step Three: Add Speed. Faster moves increase intensity. The tendency, however, is to decrease the range of motion as speed is increased. You work much harder if you maintain the same full range of motion while speeding up. Pay attention to your exercises to avoid slowing down. Speed is a second intensity variable. Alternate base moves with faster exercises for your intervals until that becomes easier.

Step Four: Add Acceleration. There are two ways to do this. (1) Accelerate your leg movements toward center to lift your shoulders out of the water. This is called adding elevation. Examples are frog kick, breaststroke kick, cross-country ski, and tuck ski together (scissors kick). The body will rise and sink rhythmically. You can also use a scull to lift your shoulders out of the water with a jog, bicycle or flutter kick. Aim to stay elevated with your scull. (2) Accelerate against the water’s resistance, or add more force to the move. Take your jog to a steep climb by stretching out your arms and pressing alternating hands down while at the same time lifting the knees high and then pressing the heels down toward the pool floor, as if climbing a steep mountain with trekking poles. Lift your inner thigh with power as your press the opposite hand down forcefully toward the thigh. Bicycle with power as if you are climbing a hill in first gear. Perform a high kick powering the leg on the downward phase, or power both upward and downward. Kicks backward, cross-country ski and jumping jacks can all be performed with power. Be mindful about what you are doing because the harder you push against the water, the harder the water pushes back. Acceleration is a third intensity variable. Alternate base moves with accelerated moves for your intervals until that becomes easier.

Step Five: Combine Intensity Variables or Work in More than One Plane. One strategy for continuing to perform HIIT once you have achieved your fitness goals is to combine intensity variables. Go for full range of motion with power, elevation with speed, or power with travel continuing to use force as you move across the pool. Another strategy is to work in two or three planes at once. You can do this by alternating one move in the frontal plane, such as a frog kick with another move in the sagittal plane, such as a tuck ski together. A second way to work in multiple planes is to combine arm moves in one plane with leg moves in another plane. Examples include jumping jacks (frontal plane) with clapping hands (transverse plane); cross-country ski (sagittal plane) with arms sweeping side to side (transverse plane); and high kick (sagittal plane) clapping over the kick (transverse plane) then under the kick (frontal plane). Continue to focus on what you are doing, and your periods of high intensity will leave you breathing hard. You will need those periods of active recovery to catch your breath. For more information on interval training in both deep water and shallow water, including lesson plans using these five steps, see my book Water Fitness Progressions.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

High Intensity Interval Training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is working at 80-90% of your maximum effort for short periods followed by periods of active recovery in which you work at a lower intensity. Achieving maximum effort requires focus. Your focus determines the number of muscle fibers that need to contract and the speed of those contractions. It’s important, then, that you are actively engaged, not reminiscing about vacation or stressing about your workday, when you are performing HIIT. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of high intensity exercise three days a week. That means that if you work at a high intensity, you meet your exercise goal in less time. For that reason, HIIT is popular in all types of exercise, both on land and in the water. Whether you are taking a water fitness class or working in your backyard pool, you may be wondering how to achieve high intensity in the water.

Step One: Start with the Base Moves. In shallow water the base moves are walk, jog, kick, rocking horse, cross-country ski, and jumping jacks. Walking is good for warming up and cooling down. Jog, kick, rocking horse, cross-country ski and jumping jacks all have multiple variations. (1) Jog. You can jog with the feet hip distance apart or wide. You can cross the midline in front with an inner thigh lift or cross the midline in back with hopscotch. You can lift the knees in front or the heels in back. (2) Kick. You can kick forward, kick across the midline, kick side to side, or kick backward. (3) Rocking horse. Rocking horse can be done front to back or side to side. (4) Cross-country ski, jumping jacks and all the base moves can be varied by using different arm movements or different foot positions.

Step Two: Increase the Range of Motion. Large moves take more effort than smaller moves. Increasing the range of motion is one intensity variable. Get the knees high in your jog and pump the arms in big movements. Start your inner thigh lift with the feet wide apart and lift the inner thigh high. Start your hopscotch with the feet wide too. Kick higher – front, side or back. Lift your knees high in front and your heels high in back with your rocking horse. Perform cross-country ski with your full range of motion. Take your feet as wide as possible in your jumping jacks and cross the legs in the center. Focus on achieving your full range of motion. Depending your level of fitness, you may find large moves to be really intense. Alternate base moves with exercises using full range of motion for your intervals until that becomes easier.

Step Three: Add Speed. Faster moves increase intensity. The tendency, however, is to decrease the range of motion as speed is increased. You work much harder if you maintain the same full range of motion while speeding up. Pay attention to your exercises to avoid slowing down. Speed is a second intensity variable. Alternate base moves with faster exercises for your intervals until that becomes easier.

Step Four: Add Acceleration. There are two ways to do this. (1) Accelerate off the pool floor, or jump. Take your jog to a leap and your wide jog to a frog jump. Perform your inner thigh lift and hopscotch with a rebound. Rebound with your kicks as well. Jump and tuck your feet under you with cross-country ski. With jumping jacks, jump and touch your heels together before landing with your feet wide. (2) Accelerate against the water’s resistance, or add more force to the move. Take your jog to a steep climb by stretching out your arms and pressing alternating hands down while at the same time lifting the knees high and then pressing the heels down toward the pool floor, as if climbing a steep mountain with trekking poles. Lift your inner thigh with power as your press the opposite hand down forcefully toward the thigh. Perform a high kick powering the leg on the downward phase, or power both upward and downward. Kick side to side with arms and legs opposite, adding power to the move. Instead of rebounding as you kick side to side, you can stay grounded, and you might be surprised at how hard it is. Karate front kicks and side kicks also involve using force against the water. Kicks backward, cross-country ski and jumping jacks can all be performed with power. Try the cross-country ski low in the water so that more of your body has to push against the water’s resistance. Be mindful about what you are doing because the harder you push against the water, the harder the water pushes back. Acceleration is a third intensity variable. Alternate base moves with accelerated moves for your intervals until that becomes easier.

Step Five: Combine Intensity Variables or Work in More than One Plane. One strategy for continuing to perform HIIT once you have achieved your fitness goals is to combine intensity variables. Go for full range of motion, speed and jumping, or full range of motion, speed and power all at the same time. You can also continue to accelerate while traveling, either by rebounding and jumping or by continuing to use force as you move across the pool. Another strategy is to work in two or three planes at once. You can do this by alternating one move in the frontal plane, such as a frog jump with another move in the sagittal plane, such as a tuck ski. A second way to work in two planes is to combine arm moves in one plane with leg moves in another plane. Examples include kick side to side (frontal plane) with arms sweeping side to side (transverse plane); cross-country ski (sagittal plane) with palms together sweeping side to side (transverse plane); and high kick (sagittal plane) clapping over the kick (transverse plane) then under the kick (frontal plane). Continue to focus on what you are doing, and your periods of high intensity will leave you breathing hard. You will need those periods of active recovery to catch your breath. For more information on interval training in the pool, see my book Water Fitness Progressions.

High intensity interval training is also done on land, and it’s always a good idea to cross train if possible, doing some of your workouts in the pool and some on land. For those who are not comfortable training in a gym, you can still do HIIT at home. If you enjoy walking in your neighborhood, try picking up the pace to a fast walk for short periods, again being mindful of what you are doing, followed by periods of walking at your normal speed for active recovery. As you continue to practice, you will find that the pace of your fast walking increases. If you prefer to run, try HIIT running. There is some great information on HIIT running at home on Garage Gym Reviews at https://www.garagegymreviews.com/hiit-running-workouts

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

How to Adjust Your Fitness Routine When You-re Stuck at Home

Stuck at home? Dreaming of the days early last year when you were killing it at your local aquatic center? Well, you’ve come to the right place. With a little tweaking of your routine, a willingness to try new things, and the determination to see it through, you can stay in shape until you feel safe enough to return to the pool.

Water Fitness Lessons is dedicated to aquatic fitness. For guidelines on how to safely swim during the pandemic as well as other helpful insight, be sure to bookmark my blog!

Exercising When You Can’t take an Aquatic Fitness Class. If your favorite physical activity is water exercise or swimming, and you’re still not ready to get into the water, there are other ways to stay active until it’s time to jump back in the pool:

Finding Effective Home Workouts. In addition to biking or running, look to at-home workouts to switch up your routine and keep your muscles guessing:

Staying Motivated. It’s important to find ways to stay motivated, so find some tried and true ways to make these new routines stick:

Yes, sticking with your aquatic fitness routine is great, but until you can get back there, find other ways to take care of yourself. Exercise, eat right and stay well.

This guest Blog post was written by Anya Willis. Check out her website at FitKids

We hope to see you back in the pool soon!

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

Shelter in Place

COVID-19 still has most of us homebound these days with no definite end in sight. With my water exercise classes cancelled, I need projects to keep me busy. I’ve done the spring cleaning, hand washed my heavy sweaters and weeded my garden, so now what?

One project has been creating exercise videos and learning how to post them on YouTube (with the help of Jim, my husband). I did one exercise routine using for equipment items that we all have around the house (canned goods and a chair) https://youtu.be/xtGvywsYY4g.

I did a second video using exercise bands https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwXrroDRaOc&feature=youtu.be

And now I have a third video with stretches. Our muscles are organized in pairs, and in order to stretch one muscle we have to contract the opposing muscle. Therefore a stretching program improves not only flexibility, but also strength. Besides that, stretching feels really good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oebXv3aByiI&t=33s.

Others are also making workout videos. Some of the best I’ve seen are from Rotha Crump at https://www.yourtimeandyourway.com/videos. She’s got five Balanced Bodies routines, plus aerobics, strength training and Yoga. Wave Makers have a number of videos including Balance Training Exercises for Fall Prevention, a Daily Core Strength Routine, Yoga for Core and Hips, and the Best Warmup Exercises to Do before a Walk. Walking is of course one of the best ways to exercise, and Jim and I are doing lots of walking around the neighborhood, crossing the street when necessary to maintain social distancing. Once we saw a woman on a bicycle with a cockatiel on her shoulder!

Of course we all need some entertainment to take our minds off the news once in awhile. If you like country music, check out WUSJ 96.3 FM in Jackson, Mississippi on Tune In radio, where my son “Fisher” is on the air from 3:00-7:00 PM Monday-Friday. Deejays have to acknowledge the difficulties our country is facing during the pandemic, share some personal experiences to let his audience know that he is in this with them, and still keep it light. Fisher does a good job of walking that fine line.

If you are into birds, the BBC series “The Life of Birds,” available on Amazon Prime, covers the history of birds, flight, migration, feeding and mating habits, bird calls and more. And the photography is so amazing, you’ll be left wondering how in the world they got those shots! This is spring and if you ever wished you could secretly watch birds raising chicks in their nests, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has bird cams that let you do just that. You get a close of view of several nests as well as bird activity at feeders on one of their web pages. Click on Bird Cams to view.

No one knows how long we will have to remain homebound, but I hope you will find projects to keep you busy, ways to continue exercising, and entertainment to make you smile. I’m looking forward to when we can get back in the pool!

Chris Alexander