Primal Movements

Functional fitness is training with exercises that look like movements you do in daily life. This type of exercise uses large muscle groups as opposed to focusing on an individual muscle. It makes sense to include this type of exercises in your fitness routine so that you can continue to get up and move and do all the things you enjoy. There are a variety of functional fitness exercises. Seven of them are called primal movements because they are the basis of every movement that you do. They are: squat, lunge, push, pull, rotate, hinge, and gait. Below are primal movements that you can do in the pool, along with how they relate to movements you do in everyday life.

Squat. A squat is a movement pattern where you plant both feet on the ground, then bend your knees to lower your body. Squats use your upper legs, particularly the quadriceps muscles. You can squat with feet hip distance apart, close together, wide apart, with toes pointed out, or toes pointed in. In deep water you mimic the squat by tucking and pressing the legs down or you can squat standing on a noodle. Squatting is the same as sitting down and getting up from a chair.

Lunge. A lunge is a single leg movement pattern that requires one leg to step forward and bend. Lunges strengthen your back, hips and legs while improving mobility and stability. You can do stationary lunges, in which you step forward and return to the starting position, or you can do walking lunges. Take a large step, lunging low in the water, followed by a step and lunge with the opposite leg. In deep water a tuck ski is a similar move. In daily life you lunge to pick something off the floor. You also do a lot of lunging if you play tennis or pickle ball.

Push. This is a movement pattern in which your upper body pushes you up from the ground, or pushes things away from your body. Pushing uses the chest, shoulders, triceps and forearms. The classic push exercise is a push-up, which you can perform in the pool, in either shallow or deep water, using a noodle or foam dumbbells. In shallow water you can balance on your toes while doing your push-ups, but you can also do them suspended. To push things away from your body, stand upright and push the water away. Increase the intensity by using drag equipment, such as webbed gloves, paddles or kickboards. In daily life you need the ability to push yourself up off the floor. You also push doors open, push shopping carts and baby strollers, and push (and pull) a vacuum cleaner. Which brings us to the next movement.

Pull. Pulling is the opposite of pushing. It requires your upper body to pull things toward your body, or pull your body towards an object, as in a pull-up. Pulling works your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and biceps, in other words, the muscles of your upper back. Common lifestyle habits, such as sitting at a desk all day, often results in rounded shoulders. Therefore, strengthening these muscles is important for maintaining good posture. You cannot do pull-ups in the pool, but you can perform pulling movements with rows, the crawl stroke and bow string pulls. Increase the intensity with webbed gloves, paddles, kickboards, elastic bands or rubber tubing. In daily life you pull carry-on luggage from the overhead bins in the airplane, pull the car door open, and pull (and push) the vacuum cleaner.

Rotate. Rotation, or twisting, is a core activated movement. It means reaching across the midline of your body. Since the right side of your brain controls the left side of your body, and the left side of the brain controls the right side of your body, crossing the midline of your body requires using both brain hemispheres, causing more neurons to fire and making more connections. Rotation works the abdominals and obliques, as well as involving the abductors and adductors in the legs. Pool exercises that involve rotation include upper body twists, cross-country ski with rotation, and crossover kicks. In daily life we rotate when we walk, run, swim, throw, kick. turn to look at someone, or reach for something that is not directly in front of us. People with osteoporosis may need to limit the range of motion when they rotate to avoid microfractures in the spine.

Hinge. Hinging or bending is a movement that involves bending at the hips while keeping your back in a neutral position (flat). Hinging uses the gluteus maximus, hamstrings and erector spinae. In the pool you do a hip hinge when you stretch your hamstrings. In deep water, abdominal pike and spine extension involves hinging at the hips. Sometimes when you pick up items from the floor in daily life, you use a lunge or a squat. But often when you drop something small, you just bend forward to pick it up. You may also find yourself leaning forward when climbing stairs or a steep hill, which is a slight hip hinge. Proper hinging maintains good posture, and strengthens the lower back.

Gait. Gait means walking. It is the most commonly used movement of all. Walking is a complex movement pattern using multiple muscle groups in both the lower body and the upper body. Any exercise where you have to put one foot in front of the other involves gait, and that includes not only walking, but jogging, running, sprinting, jumping and leaping. You can do all of these in the pool. In deep water you don’t jump or leap, but you do travel with cross-country ski. You use your arms in a natural arm swing, pulling with more force as speed increases. There is also a slight rotational movement as one arm swings forward and the other arm swings back. A strong gait improves posture and boosts the health of your lower body. A weak or shuffling gait puts you at risk for falling.

Include these primal movements in your fitness routine to keep your body functioning well so that you can continue to do all the activities of daily living that you enjoy. For more information on functional fitness check out the article “How to Exercise with Functional Training” from WebMD. For more information on primal movements see Stephanie Thielen’s article “7 Primal Movements” in the April/May 2017 issue of Akwa magazine. Log in to the members section of the AEA website at For lesson plans that include functional fitness exercises, see my book Water Fitness Progressions.

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

How to Do Deep Water Exercises

All exercise is properly performed with the spine in neutral alignment. In deep water, good posture is more challenging to achieve because the feet do not touch the floor. Beginning exercisers may find themselves curling forward, flailing the arms, and drifting. There are some things you can do to stabilize. The most important is to wear a deep-water flotation belt. Without it, you will find yourself sinking when you attempt to achieve upright neutral alignment. Use a stabilizing scull, sweeping the hands in and out, to control flailing and reduce drifting. Webbed gloves further increase stability. Learn to brace the core muscles. Include tucks in the warm up (tuck ski or jacks tuck) to engage the core. With practice, the core muscles will engage continuously and discreetly throughout the workout, which is why deep water exercisers so often see improvements in their posture. Below is a list of basic deep water exercises with descriptions. Click on the name of the exercise to see a short video demonstration.

Scull. Sculling is an important skill in deep water. Besides assisting in stabilization, you can use a propeller scull (a figure 8 hand motion) to travel. Hold the hands up in front of you and propeller scull to travel backward. Hold the hands down by your sides and propeller scull to travel forward. Extend the hands out to the sides and use the scull to lift the shoulders out of the water. This works great with jog, heel jog, bicycle, and flutter kick. Maintain the elevation for 30 seconds or more to up the intensity.

Knee-high Jog, Sprint, and Power Run. Jogging is one of the most basic of all moves. Lift the knees until the thighs are parallel to the floor in a knee-high jog. Lifting the knees higher than that tends to make you curl forward and puts a strain on the low back. To increase intensity, go into a sprint by adding speed. To increase intensity even further, go into a power run, which uses large, powerful arm movements that pull the water, and longer, more powerful leg movements.

Heel Jog. Instead of lifting the knees in front, heel jog lifts the heels in back, working the hamstrings. Check to make sure that the knees are staying down.

Skate Kick. A kick backward with straight legs works the gluteus maximus, a muscle that tends to be weaker from sitting too much. Watch that you are not bending the knees and turning the exercise into a heel jog.

Crossover Kick. The midline of the body is an imaginary line that goes through the nose and the bellybutton. Crossover kick crosses that midline. Since the right side of your brain controls the left side of your body, and the left side of the brain controls the right side of your body, crossing the midline of your body requires using both brain hemispheres, causing more neurons to fire and making more connections. It’s a good idea to include some exercises that cross the midline in every session.

1. Skate Kick
2. Crossover Kick
3. Sweep Out
4. Center

Skate Kick, Crossover Kick, Sweep Out and Center. I love this exercise! It challenges coordination, crosses the midline, and engages the core. One leg kicks back, then kicks across the midline, sweeps out to the side and returns to center. Perform the move alternating right and left legs.

Cross-country Ski. Cross-country ski is the ultimate deep water exercise! It uses long levers, works both the upper body and the lower body, and gets the heartrate up. Plus, there are multiple variations! In a neutral position the arms and legs should go forward and backward evenly. If the glutes are weak, it may be difficult to get full hyperextension of the hips. If you tilt the trunk back and focus too much on hip flexion, you end up just kicking forward. Check out your form by skiing with your back to the pool wall; your heels should tap the wall. Try shortening your range of motion so that your forward flexion is not greater than your backward hyperextension. As the glutes get stronger you can increase your range of motion.

Cross-country Ski Travel Backward and Forward. Traveling backward with cross-country ski is a challenge. You cannot propel yourself backward by pushing off the floor. Instead your push yourself backward with a powerful forward arm swing. This takes upper body strength! Turn your palm to face forward when you swing the arm forward, and slice on the swing backward. Do the opposite to travel forward. Turn the palm to face back when the arm swings backward, and slice when the arm swings forward.

Tuck Ski. Instead of tucking your knees up, tuck your feet under your body. That way when you go into the ski your flexion (with the front leg) and hyperextension (with the back leg) will be equal. Watch that you don’t power pop the knees when you lengthen the legs. Tuck ski is a good exercise for the warm up or for active recovery between intervals.

Cross-country Ski
with Rotation

Cross-country Ski with Rotation. This is another exercise that crosses the midline of the body. The rotation is in the upper body, and therefore the arms reach across the midline, while the legs move toward the corners. This is a difficult exercise for some people to master. They end up doing a crossover kick while sweeping both arms side to side, or a crossover kick reaching with the arm on the same side of the body. It looks and feels awkward. But once the move is mastered, you can really up the intensity because the range of motion is so large, the movement is in multiple directions, and you are creating lots of turbulence.

Cossack Kick. My class likes this move. Begin with the heels together and the knees apart, in a diamond position. The shoulder blades are contracted with the elbows bent and the hands out to the sides, thumbs up. Now kick the legs out to the sides and at the same time reach the arms out to the sides. It looks a little like a marionette dancing.

Jumping Jacks. If you perform jumping jacks in deep water the same way you perform them on land, you will find yourself bobbing up and down. Performing them with arms and legs opposite solves the problem. Think of making a capital letter T with your body followed by a capital letter A.

Jumping Jacks Travel Sideways. If you want to travel sideways with jumping jacks you need a different arm and leg motion. Use only one side of your body. If you are traveling to the right, your right arm and right leg reach out to the side, then pull them both straight to center. Use the left arm and leg to travel to the left. Be sure to keep the leg straight, working the inner thigh. A common mistake is bending the knee, since short lever moves are easier than long lever moves. But this turns the move into a Cossack kick and works the hamstrings instead of the inner thigh.

Jacks Tuck. For this exercise tuck your knees up and bring your arms down to the sides. Then abduct the hips (bring the legs out to the sides) while lifting your arms to the side toward the surface of the water. Jacks tuck is another good exercise for the warm up or for active recovery between intervals.

Inner Thigh Lift. Begin with your legs wide apart. Lift one inner thigh toward the surface of the water while the opposite hand reaches down to touch the inner thigh. You can also touch the lower leg or even the ankle if you can reach it, but watch that you do not lean forward to accomplish this. It is more important to keep the spine in neutral than to touch the ankle. Work in your feel good range of motion. It is okay to bring the legs closer together if wide apart is uncomfortable for you, but if the legs are too close together the exercise becomes a knee-high jog.

Accelerate the Legs to Center Elevating the Shoulders. Elevation is a power move that begins with the legs apart, either front to back or side to side, followed by a forceful acceleration of the legs to center. As the straight legs come together the shoulders lift out of the water. There are four exercises that use this technique: cross-country ski with elevation, tuck ski together, frog kick, and breaststroke kick. All of them are great exercises to use in interval training.

Cross-country ski
with Elevation

Cross-country Ski with Elevation. Use your full range of motion for this ski, then forcefully pull the straight legs to center. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Tuck Ski Together. Begin by tucking the feet under your body before going into a full range of motion ski then bringing the straight legs to center. Add some speed and perform the move smoothly. If you are a swimmer you will recognize this as a vertical scissors kick. For non-swimmers, a common mistake is going back into a tuck before the straight legs come together; this takes the power and elevation out of the move.

Frog Kick. This is another move swimmers will be familiar with. Begin by lifting the knees wide to the sides. Straighten the legs into a full range of motion jacks position. Then forcefully accelerate the straight legs to center. Again, a common mistake is tucking the knees back up before the straight legs come together, and then the move is essentially a jacks tuck.

Breaststroke Kick. Instead of lifting the knees wide to the sides as in the frog kick, lift the heels up in back. Then straighten the legs into a full range of motion jacks position and forcefully accelerate the straight legs to center. Both the breaststroke kick and the frog kick are lateral moves, but in the breaststroke kick the legs lift in back first and in the frog kick the knees lift to the sides first.

Side to Side. Begin by tucking your feet under you. Then extend both legs to one side in a side-lying position. Tuck again and extend both legs to the other side. Try to keep the feet close together. Foam dumbbells held out to the sides assist with stabilization for this exercise. It can be performed without dumbbells; in that case stabilize with a scull.

Abdominal Pike and Spine Extension. This is my favorite move for working the abdominals and erector spinae. Begin by tucking your feet under you. Then go into a pike, or a capital letter “L” position. Tuck again and extend both legs 45 degrees to the back. Try to keep the feet close together. Foam dumbbells held end to end on the surface of the water assist with stabilization; keep them on the surface of the water and let your abdominals do the work. This exercise can be performed without dumbbells; in that case stabilize with a scull.

Burpee: 1. Plank
2. Tuck
3. Drop the legs
4. Elevate

Burpees. This is a fun move! You need to use a noodle, preferably one of the denser more buoyant ones. Begin in a plank position. Tuck the feet under you and then drop the legs down to neutral, letting the noodle rise toward the surface. Push the noodle back down and flutter kick to lift the shoulders out of the water. Tuck your feet under you again and go back into a plank position.

Once you get comfortable in deep water you can really get a great workout. I enjoy the freedom of moving without my feet touching the floor. The late John Spannuth, the founder of the US Water Fitness Association, compared deep water exercise to flying. If you would like to know more about deep water exercise, check out my books. Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography has lots of photographs and cues that tell you what muscles you are working. Water Fitness Progressions tells you how to progress your exercises from basic to high intensity interval training, plus lesson plans using various types of equipment.

See you in the deep end!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Take Care of Your Hands and Feet

The hand is truly amazing! There are 27 bones in the hand. There are 15 muscles in the forearm that control the movements of the hands and fingers. We can turn the palms down and up, flex and extend the wrist, wave the wrist side to side, flex and extend the fingers, pull the fingers apart and bring them together, circle the thumb, and don’t forget the movement of the opposable thumb. Most of the things that we do with the hands require the strength of several muscles doing various movements simultaneously.

We probably think less often about our feet than we do about our hands, but the foot is amazing too. There are 26 bones in the foot. There are 29 muscles associated with the foot: 10 originate outside the foot but cross the ankle joint to act on the foot, and 19 muscles are inside the foot. All of these muscles work as a team. The ligaments in the ankle, which attach the bones together, contain receptors that give feedback to the brain about where the body is in space. We can dorsiflex the foot (pull the foot up toward the shin) and plantarflex the foot (point the toes). Inversion of the foot means rolling to the outside edge of the foot; eversion means rolling to the inside edge of the foot. We can lift the toes or curl the toes down. One of the most important things our feet do is transmit force both toward and away from the ground in weight bearing activities.

One thing we should do to take care of our hands is to wash them frequently. Plain soap and water washes away the viruses that cause the common cold, flu, COVID, and RSV. Remember to wash for 20 seconds, including between the fingers, the fingernails and the tops of the hands. Using hand cream will help prevent the skin from drying out. Some problems that may cause hand pain include arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, ganglion cysts, tendonitis, and trigger finger. For more information on these problems and treatments for them, check out the article on hands from John Hopkins Medicine. The pool is a great place to exercise the hands because the hands are constantly underwater, and therefore resisted. The Arthritis Foundation has a list of exercises for the wrists and fingers:

  • Hand and wrist wave – elbows are near the waist with the thumbs up, wave the hands side to side
  • Wrist stretch – the arms are near the surface of the water with palms together, then bring the hands toward the chest with fingertips pointing up.
  • Wrist rotation – circle the wrists
  • Finger curl – make a fist and extend the fingers
  • Cat’s claw – bend the fingers at the middle joint to simulate a cat’s claw
  • Piano – bend and straighten the fingers as if playing a piano
  • Finger flicks
  • Finger O – touch the thumb to the tip of each finger
  • Finger walk – slide one finger at a time toward the thumb
  • Finger spread – spread the fingers apart and move them back together
  • Finger lift – rest the palms on the thighs and lift the thumbs and then the fingers one at a time
  • Thumb bend – touch the thumb to the base of each finger
  • Thumb circles

You can also shake out the hands to release tension and help relax the muscles of the hands. Even though these exercises come from the Arthritis Foundation, they are beneficial to include in any water fitness class.

Some problems that may cause foot and ankle pain include heel spurs, corns, bunions, hammertoes, ankle sprains, fractures, planar fasciitis, Achilles tendon injuries and diabetes. For more information on these problems and treatments for them check out the article on feet from John Hopkins Medicine. Some exercises to do in the pool for the ankles and feet from the Arthritis Foundation are:

  • Point and flex the foot
  • Heel-toe lift – rock back on your heels then rise onto the toes
  • Ankle circles – or write your name with your foot
  • Ankle in/ankle out – roll the foot in to tap the big toe on the floor then roll it out to tap the little toe on the floor
  • Toe curl – lift the toes off the floor then curl the toes as if picking up a pencil

You can also walk on your toes and on your heels. Put one foot on the toes of the opposite foot and try to lift the the toes of the bottom foot.

Avoid gripping dumbbells with the wrists not in neutral. Avoid too much rebounding for the feet.

In addition to doing exercises for the hands and feet, there are some cautions for your water fitness class. Grip strength is important, but you want to be sure to relax the grip between sets with foam dumbbells. It’s a good idea to stretch the fingers or wiggle them or do one of the hand exercises above before beginning another set. Holding the dumbbells with the wrists extended can aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome. Be sure to keep the wrists in neutral, which avoids excessive strain and fatigue in the hands and wrists. To protect the feet, avoid excessive rebounding. When you tell your class to start jogging, they will automatically rebound. If you do not vary the impact forces, your class could easily rebound for 50 minutes. Include exercises in the neutral position with the hips and knees bent and the shoulders below the surface of the water (Level II), suspended exercises (Level III) and grounded exercises keeping one foot on the pool floor. When you do rebound, teach how to land. Landing toe-ball-heel will diffuse the shock. When landing toe-ball-heel, the heel barely makes contact with the pool floor before lifting off again, so do not cue to keep the heels down. Avoid repetitive impact on the ball of the foot because the metatarsal fat pad on the bottom of the foot frequently degenerates in women over 50. Offer modifications to jumping and rebounding for those who have plantar fasciitis. Aqua shoes are recommended because they can help protect the feet. Deep water exercise is best for anyone recovering from an ankle sprain.

Resource: Pauline Ivens, MS and Catherine Holder, PT, Do No Harm, 2011

You use both your hands and your feet constantly, so take good care of them. See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Take Care of Your Knees

Royalty Free Human Joint Clip Art, Vector Images & Illustrations - iStock

The knee joint is the largest and probably the most stressed joint in the body. It is a hinge joint that allows flexion (bending) and extension (straightening) and a slight amount of rotation side to side. The bones of the knee joint are the femur (the upper bone), the tibia (the lower bone), and the patella (the kneecap). The smaller lower leg bone, (the fibula) is not part of the knee joint. Ligaments connect the femur and tibia and hold them in place. Two menisci cover the top of the tibia and serve as shock absorbers. Knee pain can be caused by a torn ligament, fractures, a torn meniscus, knee bursitis, patellar tendonitis, a loose body in the knee, a dislocated kneecap, osteoarthritis and other causes. For more information on knee pain symptoms and causes see the article on knees from the Mayo Clinic. The most common cause of chronic knee pain is arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or posttraumatic arthritis), A Healthline Report in 2020 says that approximately 600,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed every year in the United States.

It is not always possible to prevent knee pain, but you can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping the muscles that support the knees strong and healthy, since weak muscles are a leading cause of injury. The muscles that support the knees are the 4 muscles of the quadriceps on the front of the thighs and the 3 muscles of the hamstrings on the back of the thighs. The pool is a great place to do exercises for the quadriceps and hamstrings because the buoyancy of the water lifts and supports the body, reducing the stress on the knees. Some good exercises that can be done in the pool for the knees include quad kicks (kicks from the knee), hamstring curls, squats, and lunges. We squat every time we sit down in a chair. Squats can stress the knee if done too deeply, but that is very unlikely in the pool! Vary the squat by having the feet wide apart, hip distance apart or together. You can also have one foot forward more than the other foot. In the pool you can do one-legged squats. To activate the deep core muscles before squatting, use the Heavy Concept. Imagine that you are trying to squat but are not able to. You will feel both your abdominals and the hamstrings contract isometrically. Use the same concept to return to standing. If you imagine that you are not able to stand up, you will feel both your abdominals and quadriceps contract isometrically. For an additional challenge, do your squats standing on a noodle. Lunges can be performed forward, to the side, to the back, or diagonally.

1. & 2. Quad Kick. 3. Hamstring Curl. 4. Squat. 5. Squat on a Noodle. 6. Lunge.

In addition to strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings, there are some cautions to help you avoid an injury in your water fitness class. Rebounding is good for the knees, but landing with the knees turning inwards causes abnormal forces through the knees. The middle of the knee should align with the second and third toes when landing from a jump. Ballistic hip abduction (cheerleader jumps) puts a lot of pressure on the outside of the knees, and knees are not designed for this stress. Don’t include this exercise in your routine. Avoid forcefully throwing the knee during a kick. Cue to press your kicks rather than power popping your kicks. Eggbeater kicks have a circular motion that puts a lot of torque on the knees. They are not recommended for a group exercise class.

1. Do Not Power Pop the Knees. 2. Eggbeater Kicks Put Torque on the Knees.

It is a good idea to stretch the quadriceps and hamstrings at the end of class. Cue the quad stretch properly: the thighs are close together and the knee points down to the floor, then lift the abdominals, press the hip forward and take the knee slightly back until a stretch is felt in the muscle. Do not cue to bring your heel to your buttocks, as this forceful end range of motion can cause a meniscus tear. A hamstring stretch can be done by lifting the knee, then extending the leg, which is easy to do with the help of the buoyancy of the water. Do not round out the back to increase the stretch. A hamstring stretch can also be done by placing the foot on the pool wall. Exercising your legs to keep your quadriceps and hamstrings strong will reduce your risk of knee problems later on.

Resources: Ruth Sova, MS – Feet Ankle Knees Mini Session 10-06-22

Pauline Ivens, MS and Catherine Holder, PT, Do No Harm, 2011

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander

Take Care of Your Hips

Iliac Crest Pain - Causes, Treatment and Prevention

We use our hips all the time to sit down, stand up, and walk. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint that allows us to move our legs and at the same time gives us the stability necessary to bear the body’s weight. Unlike the shoulder joint, the socket part of the hip joint is extremely strong and dense with surrounding ligaments to keep the head of the femur (the ball part of the hip joint) in place. You rarely hear about a hip dislocation. To watch a short video describing the anatomy of the hip joint check out the John Hopkins Medicine website. Even though our hips are designed be be weight bearing, the extra pressure on the joints does make them more likely to develop arthritis. Other potential problems include bursitis and injuries because of a fall. Problems with the hip may show up as problems with gait, that is walking. Examples of gait/hip problems include:

  • Reduced step length (the distance you cover when you take one step)
  • Reduced stride length (the distance you cover when you take two steps, one with each foot)
  • Reduced walking speed; a slower gait increases the risk of developing a disability
  • Foot angle out of the line of progression (the toes point out or in instead of forward)
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Transferring body weight from side to side
  • Quad dominance (the thigh muscles are overactive and take over for the glutes and hamstrings during squatting, lunging, running and standing)
  • Gluteal Amnesia (the muscles on the back of the hip are weak and not activated during squatting, lunging and running)
  • Difficulty with sideways movements caused by weak hip abductors

For all of these reasons, it makes sense to do exercises that keep our hips heathy and strong. There are 22 muscles that act on the hip joint. These muscles allow the hip to flex (lift forward) and extend, abduct (lift to the side) and adduct, rotate to the midline and rotate to the side. Since the muscles that lift the leg forward (hip flexors) are strong and often tight from sitting too much, it is important to emphasize extension over flexion. Here are some exercises for your hips to include in your water fitness class:

  • Squats
  • Lunge in all directions, using a clock face
  • Walking in all directions
  • Shallow water running and deep water running
  • Crossover walk
  • Knee-lifts (emphasize extension)
  • Leg curls
  • Cross-country ski
  • Cross-country ski with rotation
  • Jumping jacks
  • Kick forward (emphasize extension)
  • Kick to the side
  • Kick backward
  • Inner thigh lift

In addition to strengthening the muscles of the hips, there are some cautions to help you avoid an injury:

Do jumping jacks with the toes pointed out in the upright position

Ballistic Hip Abduction. These are known as cheerleader jumps, but since very few activities requires forceful hip abduction, this move is not functional. Instead do jumping jacks. Make sure that the feet are parallel so the move is hip abduction. It is okay to change foot positions when doing jacks upright, but if the toes point out when performing suspended jacks, you are changing the move to hip flexion.

Ballistic Karate Kicks. When karate kicks to the side are thrown forcefully, there can be an injury in the labrum of the hip. Cue “control and press” so that the throwing action is eliminated.

Prone Flutter Kicks. Flutter kicks strengthen the hips and legs, but prone flutter kicks while holding on to the wall compromise the hands, hyperextends the neck, hyperextends the lumbar spine, and compresses the spinal discs. Performing the exercise with foam dumbbells does not improve these issues. The neck and spine are still hyperextended, and the spinal discs are still compressed. Instead, perform flutter kicks in deep water in a vertical position with neutral postural alignment wearing a deep water belt.

Abdominal pike and spine extension

Prone to Supine Abdominal Exercises use the hips to change positions, but they require accurate cueing. Going all the way to prone involves too much spinal extension and going all the way to supine involves too much spinal flexion. I have heard this exercise called by the amusing name of Sun Tan/Superman. But using this cue encourages going supine all the way and prone all the way. I prefer to call the exercise Abdominal Pike and Spine Extension. Bring the legs forward to a 90-degree angle in front, then tuck and extend the legs diagonally back, as in the pictures above. Wear a belt to do the exercise in deep water; do not do the exercise using just foam dumbbells.

Supine Crunch does not work the abs Limit the “L” Position

Crunches are not functional, but they do work the abdominals. The problem in the water is that we are not horizontal as are crunches on land. Instead we are in a reclined sitting position with the legs close to the surface of the water. Most people pull their knees to the chest, which is repeated hip flexion with lumbar spine flexion. This compresses the front edges of the discs of the spine. Also, placing a noodle under the armpits impinges the shoulder joint and risks damaging the nerves in the arm pit. Instead work the muscles of the core in a vertical position. See the previous posts Take Care of Your Shoulders and Take Care of Your Spine.

“L” Position. This position is a long lever in hip flexion and it is difficult to hold the torso in neutral. Limit the amount of time used in this position.

Kick too high

High Kick with Compromised Posture. Some participants try to increase the intensity of a high kick by getting the toes to the surface of the water. This causes too much spinal flexion and too much hip flexion. Instead, lower the kick so that the lumbar spine does not slip into flexion. Emphasize hip extension, the downward movement of the leg.

Finally, there are some good stretches you can do in the the water for your hips. Side steps lengthen the inner thigh muscles. Forward steps lengthen the gluteal and hamstring muscles of the forward leg and stretch the hip flexors of the back leg. Slow motion walking is good for balance and coordination. Swing one leg forward and back to stretch the hip flexors. Bend the knee when the leg swings back to lengthen the quadriceps. Crossover steps lengthen the outer thigh. Hip figure 8’s are good for hip mobility. Use a range of motion that is controlled and pain free. Take care of your hips so that you can continue to sit down, stand up and walk without difficulty into your golden years..

Resources: Ruth Sova, MS – Hips Mini Session 9-22-22

Pauline Ivens, MS & Catherine Holder, PT Do No Harm 2011

See you in the pool!

Author/Instructor Photo
Chris Alexander