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 30 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

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How to Fall Safely

More than one out of every four people 65 or older falls each year. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury. Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures. These statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are a concern for many of my water exercise class participants and for me. When I came across some articles on How to Fall Safely, I decided the information was worth passing on.

I found articles from several sources, including AARP, physical therapist blogs and wikiHow. The pictures in this Blog post come from wikiHow. The co-author of the post was Chris M. Matsko, MD.

Protect your head. Head injuries can be very serious. Make sure you prioritize protecting your head. Tuck your chin down to lower your head. If falling face first turn your head to the side. Use your arms for additional protection. Put them in front of your head if falling forwards or behind your head if falling backwards.

Turn as you fall. If you are falling either straight forward or straight backwards, try to turn your body so you land on your side. This reduces the risk of injuring your head, face, arms or back.

Keep arms and legs bent. It may be tempting to try and catch yourself with your arms. However, landing with your arms straight out can break your wrists and/or your arms.

Stay loose. Tensing up increases the chance of sustaining an injury. The tense parts of the body are more likely to break. Try breathing out as you fall to help keep your body relaxed.

Spread out the force of the fall. A big part of falling safely is to spread out the force of the impact over a large area of your body. This reduces the risk of a serious injury to a single part of the body.

Another suggestion is to roll out of the fall. This is difficult to do unless you have practiced beforehand. If you wish to learn the technique, you can ask a physical therapist to show you how, or practice falling and rolling in a gym with padded and cushioned floors.

Just as important as knowing how to fall is taking steps to prevent falls in the first place. Wear shoes with slip resistant soles. Pay attention when you walk. Be aware of uneven areas on the ground, curbs and stairs. Hold the hand rail when taking stairs. In the home, close drawers after you are done with them. Don’t leave cords in walkways. Keep the area well lit. Use non-slip bath mats. Remove small throw rugs.

Another way to reduce your risk of falling is to improve your strength and balance with exercise. The pool is the perfect place to work on both strength and balance. Because the water’s buoyancy and resistance helps support the body, exercises can be done without fear of falling. Options include the following:

Gait training. Gait training is walking practice. The goal is to lengthen the stride and improve confidence while walking.


Core Strength Training. Core strength training is training for the postural muscles of the trunk. This includes the Trapezius and Rhomboids, the Latissimus dorsi and the Erector spinae. Exercises to try are rowing, bowstring pull, and lat pull-down using the water’s resistance or drag equipment. Walking backward strengthens the Erector spinae.

Deep-Water Exercise. Deep-water exercise is performed, while wearing a flotation device, in water in which a person can remain vertical without the feet touching the floor. Exercisers must aggressively engage the stabilizing muscles of the core to remain upright.

Balance Challenges. Balance challenges are exercises performed with a narrow base of support, such as the feet together, one foot in front of the other, or standing on one foot. Slow movements are more challenging than fast ones.

Falling is scary, but learning how to fall and taking steps to prevent falls in the first place are things we can all do now to reduce the risk.

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Holiday Ideas for Your Class

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There is a lot to do during the holiday season: shopping, wrapping presents, decorating, baking, holiday parties and more. You know your water fitness class participants need to maintain their exercise routine to help them manage the holiday stress, but sometimes exercise moves near the bottom of their priority list. Try some of the following ideas to make your water fitness class more festive and encourage everyone to keep coming:

Holiday Music. Break out some holiday music to get everyone in a festive mood. All the fitness music companies have Christmas music playlists for sale. Check out:

(1) Super Happy Xmas Step (128-130 BPM) and Xmas Buzz (135 BPM) at Yes Fitness Music www.yesfitnessmusic.com.

(2) Tis The Season – Best of Christmas Hits Remixed (130 BPM) and Christmas Hits Remixed (135 BPM) at Power Music www.powermusic.com.

(3) Core Christmas Volume 2 (128 BPM) and Christmas in Motion 3 (135 BPM) at Muscle Mixes www.musclemixes.com.

Holiday Themed Games and Activities. Add fun activities at the end of your fitness routine to have everyone laughing and looking forward to the next class. Here are two ideas:

(1) Holiday Obstacle Course – Create an obstacle course with the pool equipment you have on hand, giving it a holiday theme. Station One: Have a participant begin by cross-country skiing to the North Pole, using either drag equipment or foam dumbbells. Station Two: Tie 3 noodles in a triangle to serve as a Christmas tree and have a bucket of small balls nearby. The participant throws the balls into the triangle to “decorate the tree.” Station Three: The participant picks up a paddle or a foam dumbbell and uses it to “stir up the Christmas cookie dough.” Station Four: The participant runs to 3 “elves” who are holding 3 balls. The participant helps in the toy shop by tossing the balls a set number of times back and forth to each elf. Station Five: The participant picks up 2 noodles and puts the ends of each noodle under an arm with the opposite ends sticking out in back. “Santa grabs the free ends and takes a seated position. The participant now takes the place of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and pulls Santa’s sleigh to the finish line. If your class is large, half of the participants can man the stations while the other half runs through the obstacle course; then the two groups
change places. If your class is small, have all your participants (but one) man the stations while the “contestant” runs the course. Then that person will take the place of another participant who will take a turn running the course.

(2) Sleigh Races – Have your class members partner up. One partner can be Rudolph and the other Santa. Rudolph then pulls the sleigh as in the obstacle course above, racing with all the other sleighs in the class. After one team wins the race, Rudolph will take a turn being Santa, and Santa will become Rudolph, and the teams race again.

Costumes. This is the perfect time to wear your red swim suit, a Santa hat, a Frosty the Snowman top hat, a red nose or a hat with reindeer antlers.

Holiday Gifts. Show your appreciation for your class by giving them each a small gift. If you are an H20 Wear AquaPRO, you can get coupons for your participants worth 10% off their first purchase of a swim suit. Contact them at H20_mail@h2owear.com to request coupons or to become an AquaPRO member. Some other gift ideas include a Clementine tangerine, a tree ornament, a peppermint candy cane, a Christmas cookie, a package of hot cocoa mix or some kind of homemade goodie. Here is an easy recipe if you would like to make your own treats:

Peppermint Crunch Puppy Chow

Ingredients: 5 cups Rice Chex, 10 ounces melting white chocolate, 1 cup crushed candy canes, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Pour the cereal into a large bowl. Melt white chocolate according to the package directions. Pour melted chocolate over cereal, stirring and folding until the cereal is completely covered. Fold in crushed candy canes.

Pour the confectioners’ sugar into a zipped-top bag. Pour the cereal mix in next. Seal the bag and shake until all the cereal is coated with the confectioners’ sugar. Discard excess powdered sugar.

Divide the puppy chow into individual bags and tie with a ribbon.

Merry Christmas!

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Chris Alexander

Rubberized Equipment

Bands and tubing, used for resistance training in land exercise, have made their way into the aquatic environment. Chlorine is hard on rubberized equipment, but chlorine resistant bands and tubing are now available. It prolongs their life to rinse them in fresh water after every use, but even so you have to inspect them for deterioration before using them with your class.

Many of the same exercises done with rubberized equipment on land can be done in the pool. The equipment has to be anchored to something and the resistance is in pulling away from the anchor point. In the water, the anchor is usually another body part, such as the opposite hand or a foot. When designing exercises you have to consider whether the body position is practical in the water (for example, a reclining position will not work), whether your participants can maintain good alignment with the exercise, and whether your participants are able to attach the band to a body part that is under water. Bands can be tied in a loop and placed around the ankles for leg exercises, but I am not a big fan of that. Some people have difficulty getting the loop around the ankles for one thing, and the instructor has to untie all the knots after class. You can buy a set of flat bands and a set of loops to solve one of those problems. If your participants have difficulty getting a loop around their ankles you can get tubing instead. It is fairly easy to put your foot through the handles of the tubing, and the tubing is also long enough that you can step on it while holding the ends in your hands. The down side is that tubing is significantly more expensive than the bands. I use the bands and focus mainly on exercises for the upper body.

When using bands for the upper body in shallow water, the participant is usually in a stable lunge or squat position. In deep water, often you have to perform a stabilizing leg movement, such as jog, cross-country ski or jumping jacks while focusing on the arms. Here are some band exercises you can try:

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 Bowstring Pull                                                                       Works the trapezius and rhomboids                         Lunge position in shallow water                                     Cross-country ski in deep water

 

Chris arm press-down band     Chris arm press-down band deep

One Arm Press-Down                      Works the latissimus dorsi and posterior deltoids                              Lunge position in shallow water         Jog in deep water

 

 

Chest Press                                                                                                                                        Put the band around the upper back, hold the ends in the hands and push forward   Works the pectoralis major                                                                                                                 Squat position in shallow water                                                                                                         Jumping jacks in deep water

Chris shoulder raise band     Chris shoulder raise band deep

Arm Lift to Sides                                Works the medial deltoids                   Stand on one foot with band under the other thigh in shallow water             Seated position with band under thighs in deep water

 

Arm Curl                                                                                                                                              In the same position as for arm lift to sides, hold the ends of the band with palms up Works the biceps

Chris open door band     Chris open door band deep                                                          Elbow Sweep Out                              Works the triceps                                 Squat position in shallow water    Jumping jacks in deep water – extend the elbow as the feet come together

 

 

Forearm Press                                                                                                                               Hold the ends of the bands with the elbows down by the waist and pull apart               Works the rotator cuff                                                                                                                    Squat position in shallow water                                                                                               Jumping jacks in deep water – pull the ends apart as the feet come together

For information about how to modify these exercises, see my book Water Fitness Progressions. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Amazon.com. Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there.

Chris Book Cover    IMG_4509

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

More about Noodles

Noodles from Book   Noodle Hydrofit

Noodles are popular in water fitness. Often we think of using noodles for support during suspended exercises in shallow water. Of course we can do those same exercises without a noodle in deep water because we are already supported by a deep water belt. In both shallow and deep water noodles can also be used as a piece of buoyant resistance equipment. Buoyant means that the equipment floats toward the water’s surface. Buoyant equipment is only offering resistance when you are plunging it toward the pool floor.

The colorful noodles available at most pools do not offer a great deal of resistance making them ideal for beginners and for whenever you plan to do many repetitions of an exercise.  When greater resistance is desired, some people tie the noodle in a knotNoodle Knot to increase its surface area. I am not a big fan of that because it makes the noodle curly and useless for any other purpose. A better option is to use the larger more dense foam noodles available from Hydro-Fit. You can also progress to using foam dumbbells instead of noodles.

Since the resistance of a noodle occurs only when you are plunging it toward the pool floor, you need to be aware that you can only work one muscle of a muscle pair with this equipment. Hold the noodle in both hands with the palms facing up and perform an arm curl. You might think you are training the biceps, because that is what you would be training with weighted dumbbells in the gym. But the noodle wants to float to the surface anyway, so you are not using the biceps at all. Pull the noodle down toward the floor as if you are lowering weighted dumbbells and you are using the triceps, because the noodle is resisting that downward movement. Since the “arm curl” works the triceps, I prefer to turn the palms down (which puts less stress on the fingers), press the noodle toward the floor and call the exercise a “triceps extension.” The triceps contract concentrically in this exercise. If you slow down the noodle’s flotation toward the surface of the water, the triceps work eccentrically. If you wish to work the biceps, you may need to use a different kind of equipment.

Noodle resistance exercises can be performed with the noodle held in both hands (make sure the hands are shoulder distance apart), with the noodle held in one hand, and with the noodle under one foot. Some examples of strength training exercises you can do in shallow water with the noodles are:

  1. The chest press is shown in the Hydro-Fit drawing above. The exerciser is performing a rocking horse along with the chest press.
  2. The lat-pull down is being demonstrated by the instructor on the deck. The noodle is held in one hand extended to the side and is pressed down toward the floor.
  3. The squat is shown in the picture with a Hydro-Fit noodle. The noodle is being held down with the hands while the squat is performed, resisting the downward phase of the squat.

Shallow-water exercises with noodles need to be modified for deep water. For example, you cannot perform a rocking horse in deep water. However, you can do a chest press while leaning forward 45 degrees. A flutter kick in this position may help you stabilize while focusing on the pectoral muscles of the chest. Jog while performing the lat pull-down. The noodle will force you to travel sideways creating a challenge for the core muscles to maintain neutral posture while the lats are being trained. You cannot do squats in deep water, but you can place the noodle under one foot and perform a standing leg press.

For a chart showing which muscles are being trained with various exercises using buoyant equipment, see my new book Water Fitness Progressions. The book also contains lesson plans using noodles for both shallow water and deep water classes. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Amazon.com. Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there. Another resource for exercises with noodles is The Noodle Workout which is available from Hydro-Fit. Click on the Hydro-Fit link to order the booklet.

Have fun with your noodles! See you in the pool!

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Chris Alexander