New Year’s Resolution: Exercise

According to the Statista Global Consumer Survey the Top New Year’s Resolution for 2023 is to exercise more. We all know that exercise is good for us, but we also know that New Year’s Resolutions are frequently broken. Why do people so often stop exercising? According to an article in Diabetes in Control, the reasons are (1) A perceived lack of time, (2) Exercise related injuries and (3) Exercise is not fun (which is often due to starting at an exercise intensity that is too high for their fitness level). Here are some suggestions to deal with each of these problems:

(1) A perceived lack of time. People who successfully incorporate exercise into their lives often dedicate a specific time in their schedule for working out. They plan to exercise at 9:00 AM 3 times a week, or at 6:30 PM after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then they don’t schedule anything else for those times. An easy way to do this is to sign up for a class that is offered at the time that is most convenient for you. People don’t often think of water exercise as an option in January, but exercising in an indoor heated pool has its advantages over going for a jog outdoors in cold weather in the dark. According to an article in Healthy Body at Home, it takes an average of 59-66 days to create a new habit, so make an effort to stick with your class for 2 months.

(2) Exercise related injuries. The hydrostatic pressure of the water slows movement down, which greatly reduces the risk of injury during water exercise. It also reduces the risk of falling. Accidents can happen anywhere though, so make sure your pool is staffed with lifeguards.

(3) Exercise is not fun. Do you remember how much fun you had playing in the water as a child? For many people, water exercise brings back that sense of fun. At the same time you can achieve intensity levels that allow you to meet your fitness goals. That means it is possible to start at an exercise intensity that is too high for your fitness level, which can be discouraging. Instead it is a good idea to start at a moderate level (you could do this for a long time), and progress to working somewhat hard (you are starting to feel it), and then hard (making an effort to keep up), before progressing to very hard with high intensity intervals.

Here are some guidelines to help you work through these progressions. 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. While performing these moves, your heart rate and breathing rate should increase noticeably. Your muscles will feel like they are working, but you could maintain this level for a while before having to stop. You may compare this to a brisk walk.

Increase the Range of Motion. When working at a moderate pace becomes easier, it’s time to go to the next stage. Large moves take more effort than smaller moves. Increasing the range of motion increases the intensity to somewhat hard. 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, pain-free range of motion. At this level your heart rate, breathing pattern and muscles are telling you that you are working hard. You have to breathe through your mouth since nose breathing is not enough to give you the oxygen you need. You are past the point of feeling like you could do the exercise all day.

Add Speed. When increasing the range of motion becomes more comfortable, it’s time to add speed. Faster moves increase the intensity level to hard. 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 what you are doing to avoid slowing down. Your heart is pounding, you are breathing hard and you would rather breathe than talk. You can only say 2-3 words before you have to take a breath. This intensity is not comfortable and cannot be maintained for a long time.

Add Acceleration. Once your body gets used to working hard, it’s time to push it up to very hard by adding acceleration to your moves. There are two ways to add acceleration. (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 apart. (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 alternate 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 you 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 must 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. Forget talking at this level. You may be able to belt out one word at a time, but you don’t want to because breathing is your goal. Your muscles are screaming for oxygen and therefore your breathing pattern and heart rate is rapid. This intensity level is reserved for shorter intervals, and you are so glad that there is a limit.

This description of aquatic exercise intensity levels comes from the Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual. Lesson plans that demonstrate how to progress through these intensity levels can be found in Water Fitness Progressions. Good luck with your New Year’s Resolution to exercise more. See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Mindfulness and Water Exercise

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. When you are attentive to the present, you are not thinking about events in the past nor stressing about the future. Mindfulness is an ability that we all naturally possess, but it is more readily available to us when we practice it. There are many situations in which mindfulness is beneficial. Dieticians recommend mindfulness during meals. When we pay attention to what we are eating, we are more aware of the taste of our food, we are more likely to chew thoroughly, and we are more alert to our body’s signals when we are full, preventing overeating and weight gain. The Department of Public Safety would like everyone to be mindful when they are driving a vehicle, aware of the other drivers on the road and able to anticipate what they might do in order to avoid collisions. Certainly texting while driving is not driving with mindfulness. Mindfulness while listening to music increases our appreciation of the piece by allowing us to hear the various musical instruments and how the musicians play off of each other and to enjoy the skill of the vocalist.

Certain forms of exercise, known as mind-body exercise, cultivate the practice of mindfulness. These include Yoga, Tai Chi, Ai Chi, and Pilates. Mind-body exercise focuses on breath, precision, control, and concentration. A mind-body exerciser is never oblivious to the exercises they are performing, nor do they read, watch television or videos, or wear headphones. They are mindful. Other forms of exercise, while not qualifying as mind-body exercise, can benefit from practicing mindfulness.

Water exercise classes involve a number of participants, and sometimes friends take the class together, therefore there is the temptation to chat during the class. However the benefits increase when participants perform the exercises with mindfulness. Movement in the water provides a different sensory experience from movement on land. Notice how the water feels against your skin, the resistance against different areas, and how it flows and ripples as you move. The water moves in response to your movement, which requires you to make an effort to maintain good posture, especially in deep water.

In fact, posture is one of the most important things to pay attention to when exercising in deep water. There is no floor under your feet which means you have to be alert to whether your shoulders are over your hips and your hips are over your feet. Once alignment has been achieved, bracing the core and sculling helps maintain neutral posture. Are you performing the exercises correctly? With a knee-high jog, press your heels down toward the floor and avoid bending forward. With a heel jog, keep the knees down and lift the heels in back. With a kick forward do not lean backward to make the kick higher, and conversely with a kick backward, do not lean forward to make the kick higher. Start an inner thigh lift and a hopscotch with the legs wide so that the exercise does not become the same as a knee-high jog or a heel jog. With a cross-country ski make sure your legs extend as far to the back as they do to the front. With a jumping jack making the arms and legs opposite will keep you from bobbing up and down.

Next pay attention to the movement of the water. Slicing hand positions move the least amount of water, fists move a little more water, and cupped hands that face the direction of movement move the most amount of water. Sculling is an important skill in deep water. Scull with the palms down and the hands in front of your chest or out to the sides to stabilize and prevent drifting. A propeller scull in a figure eight with the arms down by your sides makes you travel forward. A propeller scull in a figure eight with the fingers up and the hands in front of the chest makes you travel backward. Movements of the arms that pull the water toward the body make you travel forward, and movements that push the water away from the body make you travel backward. Leg movements can also assist with travel – movements to the back move the body forward and movements to the front move the body backward.

The ability to manipulate water effectively helps with stability and travel and allows you to use the water’s resistance to increase intensity. The next step is to focus on adding acceleration to your movements. Intensity increases when you push and pull and drag the water with power. Use power to increase turbulence during stationary moves or to increase speed of travel. Power the arms and legs toward center to propel the body upward, lifting the shoulders out of the water, for example with cross-country ski and frog kick. Power movements allow you to push your heart rate into the anaerobic zone for brief periods.

Mindfulness improves your water exercise experience in both deep water and shallow water. If you are an instructor, you can use periodization to help train your participants to exercise with greater mindfulness. Periodization divides the year into four seasons – Preseason, Transition Season, Peak Fitness and Active Recovery. It is also possible to use periodization for shorter time frames, such as six months, three months, or even one month. In the Preseason ask your participants to focus on their posture and cue them to perform the exercises correctly. In the Transition Season encourage your participants to focus on how their arm and leg movements manipulate the water. In the Peak Fitness Season tell them that they are ready for powerful movements that push them to the highest level of fitness they will achieve in this period. In the Active Recovery Season they will give their bodies time to repair any microtrauma caused by the months or weeks of continuous training so that the microtrauma does not lead to a cumulative injury. Options for active recovery include low intensity cardio, core strength training and fun activities such as modified synchronized swimming and games.

My book Water Fitness Progressions has information about periodization for both deep and shallow water, including lesson plans with variations for Preseason, Transition Season and Peak Fitness; strength training lesson plans without equipment and with buoyant, drag and rubberized equipment; and lesson plans and activities to use for Active Recovery.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Water Fitness Progressions is Included in the Human Kinetics Library

The Human Kinetics Library is a digital hub for sport and exercise studies featuring more than 150 eBooks and a range of videos. Human Kinetics teamed up with Bloomsbury Digital Resources to build on their mission to increase the knowledge, enhance the performance and improve the health and fitness of all people around the world. This collection is dedicated to the research, teaching and understanding of the kinesiology and exercise science disciplines. It is marketed to institutional libraries to be used by university faculty, staff and students.

The Human Kinetics Library covers a range of subjects including:

  • Active aging
  • Anatomy and biomechanics
  • Exercise and sport science
  • Exercise prescription, instruction, and assessment
  • Fitness and health
  • History, sociology, and philosophy of sport
  • Motor behavior
  • Nutrition and healthy eating
  • Physical activity and health
  • Physiology of sport and and exercise
  • Recreation and leisure
  • Research methods, measurement and evaluation
  • Sport management and sport business
  • Sport and activities

Institutions and universities that purchase the platform have access to market-leading content including textbooks, supplementary monographs, and materials for practitioners. With a growing collection of products on offer, libraries can create a rich package that best serves the research needs of their users. The platform is user friendly with an engaging, easy-to-navigate interface and sophisticated indexing and searching tools. New e-Books and videos are added annually. New titles added in 2022 include:

  • Water Fitness Progressions
  • Heart Rate Training, Second Edition
  • Understanding Sport Organizations
  • Aquatic Center Marketing
  • Complete Conditioning for Soccer
  • The Warm-Up
  • Methods of Group Exercise Instruction, Forth Edition

I am honored to have my book, Water Fitness Progressions, included in the library. For more information on the collection go to the Human Kinetics Library. Librarians interested in purchasing or subscribing to the Human Kinetics Library can visit the Human Kinetics Library Platform.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander