Make Your Heart Stronger

Your heart is a muscle. If you don’t use your muscles, they become weaker. This is true of your heart as well as your biceps! Inactivity is a failure to use your heart muscle. If you want to make your heart muscle stronger, you need to make it beat faster than normal.

One of the components of physical fitness is cardiorespiratory endurance. This is the ability of your heart to beat faster than normal in order to deliver oxygen to your working muscles for a sustained period of time. When you do aerobic exercise your muscles need oxygen to burn calories for energy. You breathe faster to take in the oxygen that you are using. There is a direct correlation between how fast you are breathing and how fast your heart is beating.

So how much time should you spend making year heart beat faster? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you get a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week to keep your heart strong. You can spread those 150 minutes out in various ways. You can take a 50-minute water fitness class three days a week. You can take a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week. You can even go for 10-minute bouts of exercise: climb the stairs at your office for 10-minutes instead of taking the elevator, ride a stationary bike for 10 minutes during your lunch break, and take the dog for a 10-minute walk after work. All that adds up to 30 minutes in a day.

How do you know if you are making your heart beat fast enough during your exercise? Since there is a direct correlation between how fast your are breathing and how fast your heart is beating, you pay attention to your breath. If you are able to carry on a conversation and even sing along with the playlist your fitness instructor is using, then your workout is light. Your heart is not really beating fast enough to get stronger. If you are able to talk but you are breathing too hard to be able to sing, then your body is telling you that you are working at a moderate level, that is, harder than your normal activity. This means your heart rate is into what is called the “target zone,” the level where fitness improvements occur. If you are breathing even harder so that you could talk if you had to but you’d really rather not, then you are working at a moderately hard level, and you are still in the target zone.

The target zone is different for everyone. A beginner may find herself breathing hard at a certain walking pace while an experienced exerciser will have to walk much faster to get her heart rate up to the same speed. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced exerciser, work hard enough so that you get the benefits of exercising your heart muscle. You may not get those benefits if you take a water fitness class and spend the time talking with your friends. Work hard enough that your breathing impacts your ability to carry on a conversation.

One hundred and fifty minutes of aerobic exercise a week may seem like a lot, but everyone wants a strong heart muscle! Cardiorespiratory endurance improves your longevity and quality of life, allowing you to participate in recreational activities, play with grandchildren and do all the walking you have planned for your vacation.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander


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What is fitness?

Frequently fitness is equated with a number on the bathroom scale, but fitness is much more than body mass index. Physical fitness has two components, the health-related components and the skill-related components. The health-related components are cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. The skill related components are agility, balance, coordination and power.

Cardiorespiratory endurance. This is the ability of your heart to deliver oxygen to your working muscles for a sustained period of time. Your muscles need oxygen to burn the calories you use during aerobic exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week to keep your heart strong. Obviously, everyone wants a strong heart muscle! Cardiorespiratory endurance allows you to participate in recreational activities, play with grandchildren and do all the walking you have planned for your vacation.

Muscular strength. This is measured by determining what is the heaviest weight you can lift one time. If the heaviest weight you can lift is 10 lbs. then you will have trouble carrying a 20 lb. sack of fertilizer to the front yard, bringing in the bag of groceries the sacker put all your heavy items in, or picking up your 18 lb. grandchild without injuring yourself. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 2-3 sessions of strength training every week. Failure to work on strength results in loss of muscle mass and increasing weakness.

Muscular endurance. This is the ability to lift a weight repeatedly or to hold that weight up for a sustained period of time. You need muscular endurance to continue using tools until your project is completed, to spread mulch in the flower beds, and to carry a child through the parking lot. To work on muscular endurance you lift lighter weights 12-20 repetitions; to work on muscular strength you lift heavier weights 2-10 repetitions. The good news is that improving strength also improves endurance and vice versa.

Flexibility. This is the ability of your arms and legs to move at the joints through a complete range of motion. Flexibility reduces the risk of injury. A decrease in flexibility makes it harder to move and perform the activities of daily living. To maintain flexibility, joints must be taken through their full range of motion on a regular basis. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching 2-3 days each week. Hold each stretch 10-30 seconds, then repeat each stretch 2-4 times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch. The best time to stretch is immediately following an exercise program.

Body composition. This refers to your percentage of fat as compared to lean tissue, that is bones, muscles and organs. You need an adequate amount of muscle to increase your stamina and boost metabolism. Too high a percentage of fat increases your risk of disease. Exercise can help improve body composition.

Skill related components of physical fitness. Agility is the ability to change body positioning in space quickly and accurately. You need agility when your cat or dog plops down in front of you and you have to suddenly maneuver to avoid tripping over him or stepping on his tail. Balance is the ability to maintain equilibrium both while standing and while moving. Poor balance leads to falls. Coordination allows you to use your vision and hearing in conjunction with your muscles to perform motor tasks. That’s why it is important to get your vision and hearing tested regularly. Power is the ability to react quickly when something happens. Improvements in agility, balance, coordination and power come with practice and repetition. In a water fitness class you are practicing these skills when you move from one exercise to another, change tempo from slower to faster, change direction of travel, perform one-footed moves and various other exercises.

Information for this article comes from AEA’s Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual (2018) and from the American College of Sports Medicine’s website https://www.ascm.org Water fitness exercises for all the components of physical fitness can be found in my books Water Fitness Progressions and Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography. To purchase the books from the publisher, Human Kinetics, click on the title or look for them on Amazon.com.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Why Exercise?

I have been teaching water fitness for 26 years. Clearly I enjoy exercising. But I know there are a lot of people out there who do not exercise. The excuses include not being motivated, not having enough time, being too tired, exercise is not fun, being too out of shape and not liking to sweat.

Motivation. Everyone wants to look younger and live longer. The secret to longer life is not a magic pill but exercise. Scientists can predict how long someone will live by how well they perform 5 simple tasks. How many times can you stand up from a chair and sit back down in 60 seconds? How long can you balance on one leg? How long is your stride length? How is your grip strength? How good is your posture? A good reason to exercise is to make improvements in these areas to improve your longevity and make the activities of everyday life easier.

Not Enough Time. Instead of trying to find time, try to make time. Some activity is better than none. Find a time during your day when you are free of commitments and schedule some exercise during that time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Start with 10 minutes and increase it by a minute a week. Soon it will become part of your routine.

The remaining excuses. Once your fitness starts to improve, you will find you have increased energy. If one type of exercise is not fun, try something active that you do enjoy. Here’s where I put in a plug for water exercise. Hanging out in the pool when we were children was so much fun that many of us find getting in the water to exercise is really enjoyable. The buoyancy of the water supports your weight so that it seems easier to exercise even if you are out of shape. And the water cools your body so that you are not aware that you are sweating.

Many of the simple tasks that predict longevity can be worked on in the pool. Squats can improve your ability to stand up from a chair and sit back down. The pool is the perfect place to work on balance because the water supports the body and reduces the fear of falling while at the same time water movement makes balancing more challenging. You can work on increasing stride length by water walking. Hand grip exercisers are best for improving grip strength, but gripping pool equipment helps some. You can also concentrate on exercising with good posture in the water to help improve posture on land.

Exercising regularly makes the activities of daily life such as climbing stairs, playing with grandchildren and carrying groceries easier. It also improves blood flow to the brain which decreases the risk of cognitive decline. We cannot stop from aging, but we can work to maintain our functional fitness well into our retirement years.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

How to Deal with Disruptive Class Participants

This is an article written by Angie Miller and well worth reading:

We’ve all been there. We’ve come to class prepared and eager to lead, only to discover that there’s that one person- the one who won’t stop talking to the people around them, who answers their cell during class, who takes our yoga, step, or strength training class, but does his/her own workout, or the one who wears headphones during cycle class and rides as if no one else is in the room. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of ways that members can be disruptive, some unknowingly, and some seemingly for attention, but either way, disruptive members disrupt the flow of the class. They compromise safety, hijack our concentration, suck up positive energy, and ironically, they often stand right in the front row ensuring that we couldn’t ignore them if we tried.

So, what do we do? Everyone has their own ideas on what works, based on their comfort zone and the members they teach. Some clubs even have policies to address disruptive members. After decades of teaching I feel like I’ve seen it all (though I know I haven’t), and here are a few things I’ve personally implemented, to manage a member who is disruptive.

  1. Ignore them. I know, I just said that they’re nearly impossible to ignore, but I try this as my first line of defense. If it is attention seeking behavior, as opposed to total oblivion, then I don’t want to reward negative behavior with attention. That’s the educator in me. If that doesn’t work, move on to number two.
  2. Make eye contact. If at all possible, try to make eye contact with them. Not in a confrontational manner, with a smile on your face and a professional demeanor. Eye contact can be a gentle reminder that you’re watching, and you’re reminding them to stay engaged. Ideally, we’re making eye contact with everyone in the room at least once throughout the workout, so this shouldn’t seem unusual. If that doesn’t work, move on to number three.
  3. Address the class as a whole. The key is to not target anyone individually, especially on a live mic. We’re better served to address the class as a whole and remind them: “We don’t have breath for conversation, we’re using our energy for the workout.” “Lets not chat, lets challenge each other to go the extra mile.” You’re addressing everyone in a professional, non-confrontational manner, hoping the culprit of the crime gets the message. If that doesn’t work, move on to number four.
  4. Proximity is key. Often all that’s needed is for us to move about the room as we always do, checking form and alignment, then proximally stand close to where they are and teach from there (only in the moment, not the whole class of course). Proximity is all about presence, which promotes accountability, and it’s a great way to motivate. When we move about the room, most members will step up their game. If that doesn’t work, move on to number five.
  5. Speak to them after class. Mic off, gently, with a professional tone we can ask, “Do you have a minute?” That’s when we say, “I noticed that you seem distracted and I’m wondering how you’re enjoying the workout?” From there, we can guide the conversation to behaviors that promote quality exercise and we can offer guidance on appropriate group fitness etiquette.

One Final Note: One of the best ways to ensure healthy group fitness etiquette is to talk about it at the beginning of class, during our introduction. It’s when I get ahead of any behaviors I’ve witnessed in the past, and I address them before they have potential to compromise my class. It’s when I remind all members: Safety is key, and that means we want to be considerate to those around us: Cell phones off. Save conversations for after class. We’re here to build energy, be engaged, and make the most of every moment.

Keep doing what you love and loving what you do.
~Angie

About Angie:

Angie Miller, M.S., is a health and fitness educator, speaker, and licensed counselor. She teaches at Northern Illinois University in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and presents at mental health and fitness conferences worldwide. Angie owns her own fitness company, Angie Miller Fitness, and she is a Master Instructor for NASM, AFAA, and Kettlebell Concepts. She writes for fitness journals and digital communities and publishes a weekly blog where she covers fitness and lifestyle topics. You can learn more about Angie on her website, http://www.angiemillerfitness.com

Thanks, Angie! See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Water Exercise Resources

Water fitness instructors need resources in order to teach their classes. It would be nice if there was a single website where we could go to find all the resources we need. Well, there is! It is https://maapdfw.com the website of the Metroplex Association of Aquatic Professionals. This is an organization of water fitness instructors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If you live in this area your membership entitles you to free Master Workouts and discounted Continuing Education Training. But even if you don’t live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Resources page has links to everything you might need to be successful as an instructor.

First of all you need a certification. The Aquatic Exercise Association has updated their certification so that it can now be completed online. If you join AEA you get access to the members only section of their website and you get a print or an online version of Akwa magazine which has articles written by aquatic professionals from around the world. My articles appear in the magazine a couple of times a year. https://www.aeawave.com/

The United States Water Fitness Association also offers a water fitness instructor certification. They send you study materials and an open book test which you complete and mail back. In addition they offer Aquatic Fitness Personal Trainer, Aquatic Wellness Coach, Aquatic Director certifications and more. http://www.uswfa.com/

A third organization which offers a variety of certifications is SCW. Most of the certifications are for land based exercise but they do have an Aquatic Exercise and an Aqua Barre certification. The certifications are online but they include a live course at a Mania convention for free. There are Mania conventions in California, Florida, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, the Midwest, Boston, DC and New York City. http://scwfit.com/

Once you get a certification, you’ll want some resources to help you plan your classes. Water Fitness Progressions (2019) and Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography (2011) by Christine Alexander are my two books published by Human Kinetics. They contain lesson plan ideas for many types of aquatic fitness classes. Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography has 36 shallow-water lesson plans and 36 deep-water lesson plans. Water Fitness Progressions shows how to add intervals to a lesson plan and then progress the intensity from easy to moderate to HIIT. In addition there are strength training lesson plans that progress from using the water’s resistance to using various types of equipment. You can buy the books from the publisher (click on the name of the book above) or from Amazon.com.

Of course you’ll need a professional looking swim suit and water shoes. In the area north of Dallas we can go to Xtreme Swim to look for swimwear. There are lots of places to shop online as well, such as Dolfin Swimwear, H20Wear, Speedo, and Swimsuits for All. Some vendors offer discounts for AEA members or water fitness instructors that you can pass on to your class participants. The swimsuits that last the longest are made of polyester. For those who don’t like or can’t wear polyester there is a new fabric, Xtra Life Lycra, which is supposed to rival polyester for durability. Choose well-fitting, supportive water shoes that you can use to teach on the deck or wear in the water.

This is only a sample of the links you will find a https://maapdfw.com There are links to National Aquatic Organizations, Greg Keyes’ new book Aqua-I-Cue, the streaming videos at Fitmotivation, places that sell shoes and apparel, online stores for aquatic equipment including sound systems, locations to download music for your classes, and websites where you can find online continuing education.

Check it out! See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander