Whether you are 6 or 106, overweight or fit, a couch potato or an Olympic caliber athlete, the pool has something to offer you. Your goal may be to lose weight, gain muscle strength, improve your balance, or recover from an injury. The pool can be a safe and fun way to help reach these goals.
Many professional athletes have discovered the benefits of “cross training” in the water as a means of improving their overall performance out of the water. For example, a runner may choose to incorporate deep water running and exercises in the pool, in order to maintain their highest level of fitness, while recovering from an injury, or even to prevent an “over training” injury.
The water allows fitness enthusiasts or athletes of all levels to still get in a “good workout” in the pool even though their backs, knees or ankles are too sore to do their normal routine on land. A runners body may not be able to handle “pounding the pavement” every day, and running in the pool is a great way to still receive a cardiovascular and strength training workout without stressing the weight bearing joints.
A pool program can be a wonderful way for an elderly person to improve his or her balance, flexibility, strength and endurance; not to mention the social benefits of being in a group of people your own age, with the same goals. It is possible to enjoy the benefits of exercising in water, even if you are not a strong swimmer.
Exercising in water does two main things. First, it supports the body and secondly, it provides resistance. The buoyancy or upward thrust of water is what allows us to float and “weigh less” in the water. Standing in chest deep water, you weigh approximately 10-30% of your normal body weight on land. So just imagine how much easier it will be for someone who is very weak or in a lot of pain from arthritis, to exercise. Because of the decrease in weight bearing in the water, someone following surgery may be able to begin certain exercises in the pool before they may safely do so on land. Pregnant women often enjoy the freedom and comfort of exercising in a weightless environment. “Water also acts like a cushion for your weight bearing joints, preventing injury, strain and reinjury common to other exercise programs.”1.
While water is supporting and cushioning the body, it also resists movement through it. Water is more dense than air, which means that it requires more work to move against it. The wonderful thing about exercising in water is that you can put as much or as little effort in to it as you want. For example, if you want a more gentle routine, you can move slowly through the water. If you want to exercise at a more intense level, you can move through water at a much faster speed. The harder you push through it, the more resistance you’ll get from it.
As physical therapists, we often see the results of over training. Repetitive injuries, such as shin splints, stress fractures, tendinitis and plantar fascitis are just some of the common overuse injuries to the lower leg and foot that could be prevented with proper training techniques. By modifying your training sessions to include pool workouts and in some cases, decrease your land-based routines, you will decrease your risk of an over training injury.
Not only is exercising in water a good way to condition and strengthen the body, it can also be a lot of fun. A pool program is something you can do on your own, or with a group. Many facilities offer a variety of classes to choose from. Water aerobics, flexibility classes, arthritis classes, deep water running classes (while wearing a flotation belt or vest), and even prenatal classes are just a few. As with any new exercise program, check with your doctor before beginning.
Once you’ve been cleared by your doctor, and your ready to have some fun and achieve all the benefits of exercising in water, here are a few ways to get started.
1. Join a health club or take a class from a trained instructor. Ask the instructor what their credentials and experience is.
2. Read a book that is written by a trained and knowledgeable person. Find one that can give you a specific guideline and list of exercise (with lots of pictures). See bibliography. Keep in mind that every person is different and if you have any injuries or illnesses, some exercises that may be good for one person may not be good for you.
3. Visit your physical therapist. If you have any injury, pain or illness, it is to your advantage to have an expert in exercise, evaluate your specific needs, limitations, strength, flexibility and pain level.
They can then design an individualized program that focuses on your particular goals.
TIME TO GET WET AND HAVE FUN!
1. Huey L & Forester R, PT. The Complete Waterpower Workout Book. Random House. 1993. Pg 3.