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


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.

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

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

Why is good posture important in water exercise?

I suppose my classes sometimes get tired of hearing all my cues for good posture, good alignment, good form. After all, the main thing is that they are moving, right? Well, yes and no. Moving is definitely better than being sedentary. But the quality of movement is important too. The terms good posture, good alignment and good form all mean that the spine is aligned in its natural curves.

When the spine is aligned, the bones are evenly spaced and the discs between the bones are not pinched in any way. Our spines are designed to be able to bend forward (forward flexion) or to the side (lateral flexion), but during exercise it is important to have the spine in alignment. This places the least amount of strain on the supporting muscles and ligaments. It allows us to use our muscles correctly so that we can increase intensity without risking an injury. Good form prevents muscle strain, overuse disorders and back pain. Keeping the bones and joints in correct alignment decreases the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in degenerative arthritis and joint pain.

If we exercise with poor posture we create muscle memory that makes poor posture feel normal and good posture becomes harder to achieve. No one intentionally wants to train for poor posture! Let’s take a look at some examples of common mistakes in alignment during water exercise.

This is the classic image of good form/bad form in deep-water running. The runner on the right (with the big red X) is leaning forward, streamlining his body so that the water hits his chest and slides down his abdomen. He can travel faster than the runner on the left who presents a larger surface area to the water’s resistance, which is probably why so many people adopt this form. But the front part of the discs in his spine are compressed and he is causing abnormal wear of his joint surfaces. The runner on the left is able to work harder, run with more power, without risk of an injury.

High knee jog

In this photo I am demonstrating another common running mistake, bringing the knees up too high. People who adopt this form are usually trying to increase intensity. But the spine is out of neutral and the high knees risk aggravating the sciatic nerve. Bring the upper leg up no higher than parallel to the floor. Another running mistake is bobbing from side to side. It may feel like you are working harder because there is so much movement going on, but you are compressing the sides of the discs. The best way to increase intensity is to maintain the entire trunk in neutral alignment and add power to the movement of the arms and legs.

High kick

Another mistake is trying to get the leg up too high in a high kick. You are aiming for your full range of motion in this exercise, but you do not want to push it beyond normal. If you try to get your toes out of the water you end up arching your back and taking your spine out of neutral.

Rocking horse

Another exercise that is often performed with an arched back is the rocking horse in shallow water. The exerciser should rock from the back foot to the front foot without taking the spine out of neutral alignment. Arching the back is not a safe way to increase intensity.

Inner thigh lift

Mistakes are often made while performing the inner thigh lift and hopscotch. The exerciser tries to touch the ankle during the first exercise and the heel during the second one. If you can do that while maintaining neutral alignment, great! But if you have to bend forward to reach the ankle or lean to the side to reach the heel, then you are straining the muscles of the back. It is more important to keep the shoulders level. The purpose of the inner thigh lift is to work on hip flexibility and the purpose of the hopscotch is to work the hamstrings, and both objectives can be achieved without touching the ankle or the heel.

These are pictures of what not to do. For photos of the correct way to perform the exercises, see my books, Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography and Water Fitness Progressions. 

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander