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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
Some states are loosening restrictions put in place because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In Texas, restaurants are allowed to welcome more diners, schools are opening for in-person instruction and water fitness classes are resuming. This does not mean, however, that the pandemic has ended. COVID-19 is still out there and the basic measures to protect yourself are still important: wash your hands frequently, maintain a social distance of 6 feet, and wear a face mask.
James H. Dickerson, PhD wrote an article published in the October 2020 issue of Consumer Reports on Health entitled “How to Make Mask Wearing Easier” with some timely advice.
Position the mask so that it covers your mouth and nose. This will prevent virus particles from escaping your breath and will also prevent some virus particles from other people’s breath from landing on you. If you leave either your nose or your mouth uncovered, you have removed the protective barrier.
Use a mask with two layers. This improves the mask’s ability to filter out particles no matter what kind of fabric was used to make the mask. Higher thread counts filter a little better than lower thread counts. Another way to improve filtration is to insert cotton batting in between the two layers. Disposable mask filters can also be purchased if your mask has a pocket for them. If you choose to use a vented mask, make sure it has a filter or else the breathing valve will allow you to exhale particles into the air as well as inhale other people’s germs.
If your glasses fog up while wearing your mask, try washing your glasses with soap and water, and then letting them air-dry or drying them with a soft cloth before putting the mask on. You can also try putting your mask on closer to the bridge of your nose to prevent your breath from escaping out the top of your mask. Then make sure the glasses rest on the top edge of your mask.
Try not to touch the mask while you are wearing it. If you need to adjust the mask, touch only the strings or elastic, or at the worst, touch only the outermost edges. The same goes for when you remove the mask. Wash your hands after you handle the mask. Wash your mask in the laundry with laundry detergent or by hand with laundry detergent or soap. Dry it in the dryer or hang it in the sun or lay it flat to dry. Be sure the mask fully dry before wearing it again.
Latex gloves aren’t considered very useful outside of healthcare settings unless you are caring for or cleaning up after someone who is ill. Instead, wash your hands regularly, including after going out in public, and handling mail and packages.
Until we have a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, mask wearing and social distancing will continue to be important. As for hand washing, that’s a good habit to keep going even with a vaccine. Stay safe!
Christine Alexander is the author of 2 books on water exercise each published by Human Kinetics.
Water Fitness Progressions (2019) was written for water fitness instructors and aquatic personal trainers. It describes how to use periodization to help class participants and clients progress in their level of fitness. It contains lesson plans that illustrate how to progressively increase intensity for both cardiorespiratory endurance and strength training.
Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography (2011) was written for water fitness instructors. It has 36 class ideas for shallow water exercise and 36 class ideas for deep water exercise. Individuals may find the exercise descriptions and photos useful for building a personal exercise routine.
The activities of daily living, or ADLs, are self-care tasks. These tasks are:
Bathing and showering
Functional mobility, or the ability to walk, get in and out of bed, and in and out of a chair
It goes without saying that we all want to be able to do these tasks as long as possible. It is not true that frailty is an inevitable part of aging. Frailty is the result of inactivity. Exercise is the magic pill that will keep us enjoying the activities of life that are important to us. Certain types of exercise can target ADLs. Your exercise program should include these exercises, especially after age 62 when age related slowing typically begins. But it is never too late to begin! The ADLs have been broken down into the following movement patterns:
Bend at the hips
Brace (hold still) and balance
Pelvic floor exercises
Push. We push a grocery cart or a stroller. We push the door shut. We push away from the table when we are finished eating. We push when we use our arms to get up from any position. We push our arms into the sleeves when we get dressed. Exercises that involve pushing include the chest press machine in the gym, dribbling a basketball, and push ups. If the traditional push ups on the floor are too difficult, place your hands on a sturdy bench or couch to perform incline push ups, or try standing push ups against a wall or counter top. In a water fitness class any action where the arm moves against the water in any direction away from the body is a push. A chest press toward the pool floor can be performed in a lunge position using buoyant dumbbells. An incline push up can be performed using a noodle.
Pull. We pull weeds. We pull a wagon. We pull the car door shut. We pull when we pick something off the floor. We pull laundry out of the washing machine. We pull clothes out of the closet. Exercises that involve pulling include the rowing machine in the gym, biceps curls with weights, and pulling resistance bands. Wrap the band around a banister or sit on the floor with the band around the bottom of your shoes and pull the ends. In a water fitness class any action where the arm moves the water towards the body is a pull. Jogging arms with cupped hands and jumping jacks with the arms moving toward the midline are examples. You can row with drag equipment, such as paddles or Aqualogix bells.
Rotate. Any throwing or hitting action requires torso and arm rotation. Walking and running involve torso rotation. We rotate to look behind us when we are backing the car out of the parking space, and we rotate to get out of the car. An exercise that involves rotation is to sit in a chair with both hands on one hip and then turn to look over your shoulder. Limit the range of motion if you have osteoporosis. A stretching routine called Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) uses rotation to improve mobility. To find out more, see Dr. Larissa Armstrong-Kager’s YouTube videos. In a water fitness class you can increase the intensity of a cross-country ski or a high kick by rotating the upper body with the arm swing. Crossing the midline of the body with the arms and crossover kicks involve rotation.
Bend at the Hips. We bend at the hips when we pick something small up off the floor. We bend when we tie our shoes. We bend when we put our pet’s food on the floor. We bend when we towel off after a shower. An exercise that involves bending is a deadlift. With weights in your hands and arms down, bend forward from your hips keeping your back straight and bending your knees slightly; then return to an upright position. We also bend at the hips when doing a hamstring stretch. In a water fitness class we bend at the hips during the up action of a straight leg front kick and during the down action of a straight leg back kick. We also bend from the hips when performing suspended exercises in shallow water, and when performing exercises in the “L” position in deep water.
Squat. We squat every time we sit down in a chair, or on the toilet. The best way to lift something heavy off the floor is to squat and grab the item with both hands and then stand up using the legs. Squats are functional exercises. Stand with your chest lifted and shift your weight to your heels as you lower your hips, as if sitting in a chair. Try not to let your knees go forward past your toes. Then push through your heels to return to standing. Another version of squatting is to sit down in a chair and stand back up again. In water fitness squats do not work the same muscles because the water’s buoyancy makes it easy to return to standing. Standing on an aquatic step so that more of your body is above the water makes the squat more effective. You can work the same muscles with rebounding moves that involving jumping with both feet, such as a tuck jump, a jumping jack and a cross-country ski.
Lunge. You lunge when you step in any direction, or transfer weight from one leg to the other. Walking and running involves lunging. You lunge when you vacuum the floor. To perform a lunge exercise, take a big step forward with your hands on your hips, and slowly lower your body. Make sure that your front knee does not extend past your toes. If your knees bother you on the lunge, you can lean forward slightly from the waist to reduce the stress on the joints. Press through your heel to bring your front foot back to the starting position. If the lunge is too difficult, take a smaller step forward, or don’t bend your knees as far. You can place one hand on a wall or chair to help you balance. In a water fitness class you work the same muscles by jogging, kicking side to side and doing a rocking horse.
Brace (hold still) and Balance. Bracing involves contracting the core muscles to maintain a position. It is important in maintaining balance. The ability to balance greatly reduces the risk of falling. For exercises to improve balance, see my previous Blog post Balance Training at Home. Many of these same exercises can be performed in the pool as well. Another pool balance exercise is the Yoga plank while holding a noodle in the hands under the shoulders.
Pelvic floor exercises. Incontinence is often a problem as we age and the solution is pelvic floor exercise. These used to be called Kegels, but research has changed the way the exercises are done. Keep your shoulders relaxed and breathe normally as you smoothly raise your pelvic floor. Hold for 10 seconds then relax for 30 seconds before performing the next pelvic floor exercise; repeat up to 10 times. Or do 10 quick pelvic floor exercises in succession. For a more detailed description of pelvic floor exercise, see my Blog post Keep Your Inner Core Strong. Pelvic floor exercises can be done in a water fitness class as well as at home.
There is a Functional Core Strength lesson plan and a Balance lesson plan for shallow water as well as a Functional Core Strength lesson plan and a Balance lesson plan for deep water in my book Water Fitness Progressions. The lesson plans demonstrate options for teaching a class focusing on maintaining the ability to perform ADLs. To order the book, click on the link. Many pools are getting ready to reopen following closures because of COVID-19. I hope to see you in the pool soon!