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Water Aerobics – Making a Splash!

-By Brett Qualls, PT, DPT, OCS

We are quickly approaching pool season in the desert!  While the pool is a great place to relax and enjoy an adult beverage, its also a great place to get some really good exercise.  Aside from swimming laps, there are many great ways to get in some exercise while cooling off in your pool. 

Water Depth:

One of the major benefits of aquatic or water-based exercise comes from the concept of buoyancy.  The concept of buoyancy is based on the principle that an upward force is exerted by the water that is displaced when you are in the pool.  Basically the principle of buoyancy is what makes something float in the water.  This buoyancy allows us to do things like exercise in water, while effectively taking some of our own body weight off of our joints.  This means that we can do things like walk in water, while removing some of the “weight” from our knees, for example.  

If you are  swimming laps, the water needs to be deep enough so that you aren’t scraping your knees on the bottom of the pool.  When planning to do aquatic exercises, then it is important to select your water depth according to your goal.  In an effort to reduce the stress to your joints, deeper water is more favorable.  Being chest-deep in the pool will remove up to 50% of your body weight from the joints in your lower legs.  Being in a more shallow end of the pool, at waist depth, will remove only 25% of your body weight.  For those with arthritic knees, starting at a deeper level will allow them to do more with less pain.

Cardio Exercise:

Swimming laps is considered a great cardiovascular exercise and  to burn quite a few calories while doing it.  There are, however, other ways to elevate your heart rate if swimming laps is not for you.  The secret to logging a great cardio workout, is to keep moving!  Great cardio movements in the pool include: leg kicks hanging onto the edge of the pool, bicycle kicks floating in the deep end, or jumping jacks in waist depth water.  The options are really endless when it comes to different ways to move in the water.  

Strength Training: 

The pool is not a great way to build bulky muscle mass, but is a great way to work on endurance training. You can increase your muscle tone and build endurance with doing water-based exercises.  There are a variety of products on the market that you can wear on your ankles, wrists, or hands that can be used to increase resistance to you movements.  The concept of buoyancy can also be used to create resistance.  Moving something like an empty milk jug through the water can create a muscular challenge, again working against the buoyancy of the bottle in the water.

The aquatic environment is an excellent place for beginners to start with some light strength training.  Many movements can be used that do not require special equipment. Movements such as squats, lunges, and regular walking can use be used as initial exercises.  Varying the depth of the water is one way to make these movements easier or harder.  It really boils down to movement, and moving in the water environment is often times more comfortable than on dry land. 

The time is now to start making your plans for how to put your pool to good use.  I know what you are thinking…the pool is not quite warm enough yet.  My thought: this is the perfect temperature to start your exercise routine.  Nobody wants to be sweating to the oldies in a hot swimming pool always!  Time to bust out the water wings and hit the pool!

*Copyright Havasu Living Magazine

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