Buoyant Equipment: Dumbbells

markgrevelding_mug   Foam dumbbells

Nearly every pool has foam dumbbells and participants love to use them! In some places they use dumbbells for every class. Often they grab the largest dumbbells available. Is this a good thing?

The Metroplex Association of Aquatic Professionals hosted Mark Grevelding at a Continuing Education Training on April 21. One of his workshops was a Noodle & Buoy Circuit.  Mark discussed exercise safety with dumbbells. He says that the main thing people do with dumbbells is push them forward and plunge them down.

Every time you submerge foam dumbbells under water, your shoulder stabilizers contract. When you push dumbbells forward you are using them like drag equipment. Your latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius contract isometrically to hold the dumbbells under the water. You get some work for the targeted muscle groups (chest and triceps), but these are not the muscle groups that get most of the work. Plunging the dumbbells down uses the shoulder stabilizers and works the triceps. It is easy to see that too much of this will put undue stress on the shoulders, which can lead to a shoulder injury.

Not only do some people use the dumbbells for every workout, but they also select the largest dumbbells available. They may not be able to keep the shoulders neutral with equipment this buoyant, so the shoulders are elevated. They may not be able to control the dumbbells without throwing their body weight into the exercise. They may have to reduce the range of motion as a result of this loss of control. It is easy to see that too much of this will put undue stress on the shoulders, which can lead to a shoulder injury.

So what are foam dumbbells good for? Well, I’d love to show you some pictures of exercises with the dumbbells, but when I Googled pictures of water exercises with foam dumbbells, all they had were pictures of pushing them forward and plunging them down! So you’ll have to use your imagination. Choose a size that you can manipulate while keeping the shoulders relaxed and the spine in neutral alignment. Relax your shoulders and fingers between each set. Use the dumbbells for only part of a class.

  1. Chest. In a lunge position, lean forward 45 degrees and perform a chest fly, like clapping your hands, or a chest press, pushing at an angle toward the floor.
  2. Lats. In an upright lunge position, perform a lat pull-down, like jumping jacks arms.
  3. Triceps. In a squat or lunge position, with elbows by the waist, perform a triceps extension. Or plunge the dumbbells down at the sides.
  4. Squats and lunges. Hold the dumbbells down at your sides while you perform these exercises to add resistance as you lower the body toward the floor.
  5. Calf raises. Hold the dumbbells down at your sides while you rise up on your toes to add resistance as you lower your heels back to the floor.
  6. Plank and side plank. Hold both dumbbells directly under the shoulders for the plank and one dumbbell directly under the shoulder for a side plank.

There are a lot of muscle groups missing from this list, like the upper back, shoulders and biceps. That’s because foam dumbbells only add resistance when you are pushing them toward the pool floor. The buoyant dumbbells want to float to the surface of the water, which means there is no resistance for any exercise that involves lifting them. Another thing missing from this list is using the buoyant dumbbells for support in a suspended position. When the body is suspended from dumbbells held in the hands or placed under the arms, the shoulders are unacceptably loaded, the tendons are pinched, and nerve damage may occur in the arm pits (Ivens and Holder, Do No Harm, 2011).

The bottom line is that foam dumbbells are a lot of fun and they offer some good resistance for a limited number of exercises. For more information on using dumbbells, including a chart showing which muscles are being trained with various exercises using buoyant equipment, see my new book Water Fitness Progressions. The book also contains lesson plans using dumbbells for both shallow water and deep water classes. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Amazon.com. Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there.

Mark Grevelding wrote about my book in his Blog. Check out his post at https://fitmotivation.com/blog

See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander


The Benefits of Water Exercise for Your Bones

BonesIt may seem strange to talk about the benefits of water exercise for your bones. The prevailing opinion for years has been that weight bearing exercise is required to improve bone density, and since the buoyancy of the water offloads the joints, water exercise is not a good option for anyone wishing to maintain or improve their bone density. Research has been ongoing to determine if this is true or not.

Tsukahara et al. did a study in 1994, which found that participants who had done water exercise for an average of 35.2 months had bone density significantly greater than beginning exercisers or sedentary controls. The study did not prove, however, that water exercise was the reason for the results.

The prescription for osteoporosis includes both weight bearing exercise and resistance training. When researchers began to look at water exercise, not as weight bearing, but as resistance exercise, they found the reasons for the improvement in bone density in Tsukahara’s study. Bone is living tissue that continually breaks down (called resorption) and builds up (called formation). One study by Moreira et al. in 2013 concluded that performing strength training exercises in water with maximal effort and without shortening the range of motion, resulted in increased bone formation in post-menopausal women.  The water has resistance in all directions and the harder you push against it, the harder it pushes back. Performing strength training exercises in water with maximal effort is effective resistance training for building bone density. Limbs can be mindlessly floated through the water or they can be moved with power. Aim for power.

Moreira continued along the same lines in 2014, this time looking at high intensity interval training (HIIT). He divided 108 women into an aquatic exercise group or a sedentary control group.  At the end of 24 weeks, the aquatic exercise group had less resorption (15%) than the control group (29%). Only the aquatic exercise group experienced formation (15.8%). The bone mineral density of the control group decreased 1.2% whereas there was no change in the aquatic exercise group.

HIIT requires the exerciser to work hard enough to make the heart beat faster. Since heart rate slows quickly when you stand still in water, stopping to take your pulse is an ineffective way to tell how much faster your heart is beating. But there is a correlation between how fast your heart beats and how fast you are breathing. If you are working at 80% of your maximum intensity, you will not be able to carry on a conversation. You will only be able to grunt in response to a question and you can’t keep that pace for very long.  Use the same strategies for interval training that you use for strength training, a full range of motion with maximal effort. You can accelerate against the pool floor (jump), or you can accelerate against the water’s resistance in power moves. Follow the work period in your interval training with a recovery period that is long enough for you to catch your breath before you begin another work period.

Moreira’s studies duplicated the results of an earlier study done by Rotten, et al. in 2008. The findings that both strength training with maximal effort and high intensity interval training can be used to maintain bone mineral density and prevent the expected yearly decline should not be overlooked.

To learn more about the research on the benefits of immersion and water exercise, go to www.playcore.com/WaterImmersionWorks.htm To see a quick summary of the benefits of water exercise, check out the Benefits link on my website at www.waterfitnesslessons.com

See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander


The Benefits of Water Exercise for Your Brain

Walk with arms to sides

It seems logical that water exercise is beneficial for your heart, but it may be surprising to hear that water exercise is also beneficial for your brain. The buoyancy of the water creates a feeling of weightlessness and most people perceive that as fun. The fun factor is why so many people enjoy working out in the water. At the end of class the feeling of weightlessness can promote a sense of relaxation. So certainly we can say the water has mental benefits.

The water also has physiological benefits for the brain. Immersion increases cardiac output throughout the entire body by relaxing the blood vessels so that they can carry more blood. With regular aquatic exercise the vessels themselves remain pliant and supple, counteracting age-related stiffening of large vessels. The working muscles are not the only beneficiaries of this improved cardiac output. The brain also benefits from increased blood flow. A recent study placed healthy subjects into a tank and measured blood flow through the major arteries that supply the brain. As the subjects were progressively immersed from zero depth to waist depth to shoulder depth, blood flow to the brain increased substantially. Blood flow increase persisted throughout the exercise period, compared to land exercise of the same intensity. This blood flow delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the brain which uses it to repair and regenerate brain and nerve cells. It is reasonable to assume that this would help slow the deterioration of age-related brain performance.

No formal studies have been published on the impact of aquatic exercise on dementia. However, there are case reports of people with Alzheimer’s disease who showed improved speech and language function, improved balance and agility, and improved cognitive and memory function not only during immersion, but even persisting afterwards. Your aquatic exercise today might just be preserving your brain function for many years into the future.

Additional research has been done on neurogenesis, or building new brain cells. Rotha Crump presented a Master Workout for the Metroplex Association of Aquatic Professionals on February 25, 2017 entitled Water Workout Wisdom. She described the brain cell building technique. First the heart rate must be elevated, although it does not need to be greatly elevated, which makes the technique perfect for the cool down portion of a water fitness class. Second the arms and legs must do something complicated – an arm movement unusual for a particular leg movement, such as cross-country ski arms with jumping jacks, or each arm performing a different movement, such as crawl stroke with the right arm and breaststroke with the left arm while jogging. Finally the participants are asked to do a mentally challenging task, such as counting or spelling backwards or making a list, out loud. It does not matter if the task is performed correctly. It is the act of doing the mental task out loud that is important. The technique has been proven to actually create new brain cells.

To learn more about this technique, check out the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by Dr. John Rately and Eric Hagerman. To learn more about the research on the benefits of immersion and water exercise, go to www.playcore.com/WaterImmersionWorks.htm To see a quick summary of the benefits of water exercise, check out the Benefits link on my website at www.waterfitnesslessons.com

See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander


IMG_4468This seems like a good time to talk about change. I have been teaching MWF deep-water classes at 8:00 and 9:00 AM and a MW shallow-water class at 6:30 PM at Oak Point Recreation Center since 2002. That will go away on February 3 when Oak Point closes for renovation. The facility is expected to be closed until sometime this fall. My class participants and I have to deal with this change. What will we do?

I have agreed to teach a MWF deep-water class at 9:30 AM and a TTh 9:30 AM deep-water class at Rowlinson Natatorium on 1712 Avenue P starting February 6. Rowlinson is much smaller than Oak Point and their parking lot is small. There will be a shallow-water class going on at the same time as my deep-water class. My participants are concerned about not being able to get a parking space and about the pool being crowded. Those who come at 8:00 like getting their workout done early in the day so that they have time left in the morning for other things. By the time they get home from a 9:30 class and get showered, their morning will be almost over. In order for the TTh class to make, some participants will have to switch from a class that meets 3X a week to one that meets twice a week. How many participants will decide to switch? How many will decide to stop taking a class? So far, ten have signed up for MWF and four have signed up for TTh. We need six to make the class.

I have also agreed to teach a TTh shallow-water class at 7:30 PM at the Plano Aquatic Center at 2301 Westside Drive starting February 7. My MW class participants and I not only have to deal with switching our schedules to a different day, but we also have to come an hour later. The Plano Aquatic Center is on the other side of I-75, which is a barrier to some. How many participants will decide to stop taking a class? I don’t know how many are signed up so far, but we need six to make the class.

We might as well admit it. This change is messing up a routine that works for us and that we are comfortable with and we don’t like it! Acknowledging our feelings is a first step in dealing with change.

The second step is to do our research. Many of us have gone to Rowlinson to check out the facility and the parking lot and to scout additional places to park. We’ve looked at the pool to see how big the deep end is. Four participants in the night class are familiar with the Plano Aquatic Center and said they plan to sign up there.

The third step is to look at all the options. My participants have to figure out how to change their own routines but I have thought about all the possible scenarios for me.

  1. The MWF 9:30 class has made so I am sure I have that. If the other classes don’t make, then I go from 8 classes a week to three. Since Rowlinson is smaller, I might be able to take my class into the shallow water for strength training occasionally. I will still be able to work out at the gym on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and I will have my evenings free. I will accept as many sub classes as possible.
  2. If the MWF and TTh classes at Rowlinson make but the night class does not I won’t be able to work out on Tuesday and Thursday mornings as I do now, but I might have time to do a shortened workout before class two days a week. I will be teaching 5 classes a week.
  3. If the MWF class at Rowlinson and the TTh class at the Plano Aquatic Center make but not the TTh deep-water class, then my regular workout is back on. I will have 5 classes as in the previous scenario.
  4. If all the classes make, then I am close to having the same number of classes as I now have, only less compactly. I probably won’t be able to accept any sub classes.

These are not the only changes coming to my schedule, since Rowlinson will not be available for classes in the summer. At that point I will have a 9:00 AM class 5 days a week (if they all make!) at  Jack Carter Pool on 2601 Pleasant Valley Drive.  Jack Carter is an outdoor pool so it is only open during the summer months. But the pool is new and attractive and this might be fun. The classes at the Plano Aquatic Center will not change in the summer.

The fourth step in dealing with change is to try to avoid negative feelings. This is only a temporary situation after all. We will be back to the original schedule when Oak Point reopens in the fall. And when it does, the weight room upstairs will be greatly expanded and we will have a nice large locker room which we will all enjoy very much!

If you are interested in signing up for one of my classes, check my website at www.waterfitnesslessons.com  I will post updates on what classes I’m teaching when that information is available.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander





Free Choreography #2

Water fitness class

This is the second in a series of Blog posts on choreography. As I mentioned last time, choreography is your lesson plan, and it does not have to be complicated. Writing choreography involves taking your list of exercises and organizing them in the order in which you plan to teach them. Your class will be more successful if you make a plan ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself struggling to come up with exercises to fill the time.

To help you remember your choreography you need to organize the exercises in a way that is logical to you. One way to organize your exercises is linear choreography. See the last Blog post for a sample lesson plan using linear choreography. Another way to organize your exercises is pyramid choreography. In pyramid choreography you perform each exercise a certain number of repetitions and then your repeat those same exercises either reducing or increasing the number of repetitions.

The following is an example of pyramid choreography for a shallow-water class using the same 6 basic exercises used in the previous lesson plan. The 6 exercises are:

  1. Knee-high jog
  2. Run tires (like running through tires at football practice)
  3. Jumping jacks
  4. Cross-country ski
  5. Kick forward
  6. Heel jog

The logic of using the exercises in this order is that it is easy to transition from one to the next. From the knee-high jog you move the legs farther apart to go into running tires. Next you bounce center and apart in jumping jacks. From the center bounce you transition into cross-country ski. Stay in the sagittal plane to go into a kick forward. Finally switch the leg movement from front to back in a heel jog.

  • (A set)
  • Knee-high jog 16X
  • Run tires 16X
  • Jumping jacks 16X
  • Cross-country ski 16X
  • Kick forward 16X
  • Heel jog 16X

(B set) Perform each exercise 8X

(C set) Perform each exercise 4X

(D set) Perform each exercise 2X

Now you can reverse the process, going 2X, 4X, 8X and 16X.

Or you  can start at the top again but change the impact option. The first time the exercises were performed with rebound. The second time perform them grounded 16X, 8X, 4X, 2X.

  • Knee-lift
  • Wide knee lift
  • Squat
  • Alternating lunge
  • Leg lift
  • Heel lift

A third impact option is the neutral position 16X, 8X, 4X, 2X:

  • Knee-high jog neutral position
  • Frog jump neutral position
  • Jacks tuck neutral position
  • Tuck ski neutral position
  • Kick forward neutral position
  • Donkey kick neutral position

A fourth impact option is performing the exercises suspended 16X, 8X, 4X, 2X:

  • Leg press suspended
  • Frog suspended
  • Jumping jacks suspended
  • Cross-country ski suspended
  • Kick forward suspended
  • Bicycle suspended

Depending on the length of your class time, you may be able to use all 4 impact options in your pyramid choreography. If not, select 2 or 3 options. Be sure to include a warm up at the beginning of class and a cool down at the end, followed by 5 minutes of stretching.

Next Blog post: Add-on Choreography.

See you in the pool!