Water Excercise Program
Exercising in the water can help a wide range of people. Conditioned athletes wade in to build endurance and strength.
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Tailoring a Water Exercise Program
Exercising in the water can help a wide range of people. Conditioned athletes wade in to build endurance and strength. People with arthritis and back pain find it an ideal place to stretch and obtain an aerobic workout.
"Your backyard swimming pool is your home fitness center," says John R. Spannuth, president and CEO of the United States Water Fitness Association in Boynton Beach, FL. He recommends finding a nationally certified water fitness instructor or trainer to learn the right techniques.
"In a pool, you can get a tremendous workout," agrees Luis R. Mejia, M.A.P.T., rehabilitation manager for physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Florida Spine Institute in Weston, FL.
He cautions to build up the routine gradually. "From a fitness standpoint, any aquatic exercise is very beneficial. If there are medical conditions, folks need to get the advice of a professional, so they can be successful at it."
Medical experts have long recognized that regular aerobic activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease. To achieve a cardiovascular workout, aquatic exercisers must move fast and work hard, such as running in deep water while wearing a flotation vest, to reach their target heart rate.
"Your workout heart rate should be 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate," says Richard A. Goldberg, D.O., director of rehabilitation medicine at the Orthopedic Specialty Center in Willow Grove, PA. "
To calculate your maximum heart rate, start with 220 (beats per minute) and subtract your age. Multiply that number by the percentage 70 to 85 percent. For example, a 45-year-old person would have a maximum heart rate of 175. At 80 percent of that maximum, the goal would be to workout at and maintain 140 beats per minute for 20 minutes.
People may find that exercising in water makes it more difficult to achieve their target heart rate. In that case, Goldberg advises setting the goal a little lower, perhaps at 70 percent of the maximum, instead of 80 percent.
Swimming can also produce an aerobic workout. Metabolic demand is high and it works the entire body, Mejia explains. But swimming can aggravate shoulder or spinal conditions.
Strength Training and Endurance
"Look at the pool as a great resistance machine to do weight training," advises Carol A. Kennedy, M.S., of the Indiana University Fitness Specialist program. "Initially, for the first four to six weeks, the water offers enough resistance, and then you have to add overload equipment."
Incorporating items, such as swim fins, into the routine helps build strength by increasing the load, Goldberg explains. For example, a tennis player practicing his or her stroke in the water might begin by using the water's natural resistance, and eventually incorporate a swim fin to help increase strength.
"When you increase the size of the resistance material, you are moving more water and, therefore, you are doing more work," Goldberg continues.
Buoyancy equipment, such as noodles and stretch bands, create resistance only in one direction, necessitating a second exercise to balance the workout. Other drag equipment delivers multidimensional resistance.
"Increasing the force of movements is another way to up the intensity and create a greater workload on the muscles," says Greg Peterson, an aquatic training specialist with the Aquatic Exercise Association and founder of Hydropower Water Workouts, Eagle, CO.
Peterson recommends varying the intensity of a workout. For instance, work at high speed for 45 seconds, follow with 15 seconds of less strenuous effort and repeat the cycle three times.
Toning It Down for Arthritis
More than 43 million Americans suffer from arthritis. Between 30 percent to half of those people limit their activities due to the disease. In a May 2006 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites aquatic and other exercise programs as being of value in decreasing such limitations.
Stronger muscles, which serve as an internal brace, take pressure off the joints and handle some of the load created by an activity, Mejia explains. In general, water's buoyancy makes aquatic exercise easier on the joints than land programs. Water pressure on the body can even help decrease joint swelling.
Typically, routines designed for people with arthritis do not include equipment since it can create more stress on the joints. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that pool water be warm, from 83 to 88 degrees. The Cleveland Clinic recommends up to 92 degrees, especially for older adults. Exercisers should always allow time to relax the muscles before and after a routine.
The Arthritis Foundation advises moving the body part slowly and gently through a complete range of motion, without forcing movement. Actions should be repeated three to eight times. The foundation also encourages folks to begin and end with easy exercises.
People with chronic arthritis also find stretching and performing range of motion exercises in a hot tub beneficial. Those with an acute injury, however, should elevate the limb and apply cold.
Overcoming Back Pain
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that 80 percent of adults will suffer significant back pain sometime during their lives. Aquatic exercise can help strengthen core muscles that support the back and prevent injuries.
"We believe in taking patients and putting them in a weightless environment and allowing them to exercise efficiently," says John W. Booher, a physician assistant at Cleveland Clinic Florida Spine Institute. "The lack of effective gravity on the patient alleviates a lot of their presenting symptoms and allows them to get muscle strength and function back."
Back pain patients at the institute begin walking on an aquatic treadmill in a seated position and then progress to standing in chest deep water, walking forward, backward and side-to-side. They may also walk, kick legs and perform crossover moves in deep water, remaining vertical, while wearing a flotation vest. Hanging from a noodle or vest also produces traction and stretches the spine.
"Walking helps to turn on all the smaller muscles around the pelvis and develop core stability," says Booher, who suggests gradually working up to about an hour daily in the water, but stopping if pain or fatigue develops.
Benefits derived from working out in water, no matter the purpose, transition to improved functioning on land. Marathoners run faster, and people with arthritis and back pain can participate in more activities.
"It improves endurance," Mejia says, "so the person can increase activity levels, which promotes a healthy lifestyle."
NOTE: Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
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