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

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 Muscle Mass

Image result for muscles clipart

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

Benefits of HIIT

Image result for pictures of water exercise

HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is popular in all kinds of fitness formats. HIIT was named the #1 Fitness Trend for 2018 according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s world wide survey. During HIIT the goal is to work so hard that it becomes difficult to breathe in enough oxygen to supply the demands of the muscles. You are working at 80-90% of your maximum effort. Once you get to 90% effort, your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen supply available. This is called crossing the anaerobic threshold. Your body must now rely on energy sources that are stored in the muscles. Since there is only a limited amount of energy stored in the muscles, this level of intensity can only be sustained for a short time, ranging from a few seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your fitness level. The recovery period in anaerobic exercise is important. If the recovery period is shorter than the high-intensity period, then the body is unable to achieve full anaerobic recovery. Therefore, in most cases the recovery is longer than the work.

HIIT improves both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. It has also been shown to improve blood pressure, cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol profiles, and abdominal fat and body weight, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. HIIT burns more calories than continuous cardiorespiratory training, especially after the workout. This occurs because the heart and lungs work hard to supply oxygen to the working muscles and after the exercise ends, the body has excess oxygen to consume. About two hours are needed to use up the excess oxygen. This post exercise period adds around 15% more calories to the overall workout energy expenditure.

To increase intensity for interval training in water exercise you can increase the range of motion, increase the speed without decreasing the range of motion, go into the suspended position, and add acceleration by jumping or performing the exercise with power. (See my previous blog post: Make Your Heart Stronger with Intervals.) However to go into HIIT you will need to use two of the intensity variables at once, such as full range of motion with power, or speed with jumping. Try adding power while traveling. Another strategy is to work in two planes at the same time. You can do this by alternating one move in the frontal plane, such as a frog jump, with another move in the sagittal plan, such as tuck ski. A second way to work in two planes is to combine a leg move in one plane with an arm move in a different plane. Examples include kick side to side (frontal plane) with arms sweeping side to side (transverse plane); cross-country ski (sagittal plane) with rotation, hands together (transverse plane); and high kick (sagittal plane) clap over the leg (transverse plane) and under the leg (frontal plane). When you are working at 80% of your maximum effort you are able to grunt in response to questions but can only keep up the pace for a short time. At 90% of your maximum effort you will feel like you can’t do this much longer.

Since periods of high intensity are alternated with periods of recovery, HIIT provides the exerciser the opportunity to experience the extra benefits of intense exercise without creating an experience that is negative or unpleasant. However, not everyone in a class is willing or able to do HIIT. Some may have an injury that prevents them from performing certain moves. Some may have a condition that makes working at that level contraindicated. Some just may not be able to push it hard that day. For safety’s sake, participants should always modify the intensity to a level that is challenging for them rather than trying to keep up with other participants.

My book Water Fitness Progressions has information about HIIT along with sample lesson plans that include high intensity intervals with a variety of ways to configure the intervals. To order the book from the publisher, click on the title. The book can also be ordered from Amazon.com  

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander