Summertime is upon us and in full swing. For many, summer is synonymous with swimming. And for those living in especially hot locales, few things are as refreshing an escape from scorching temperatures than a dip in the backyard or community pool.
Some people, however, use the swimming pool more as a form of therapy than just a quick cool-off. For people with neuromuscular diseases and disorders, the pool can be a wonderful escape from the mental and physical discomfort of actions many take for granted, such as standing and walking.
For these people specifically, but also anyone in general, the swimming pool provides a habitat free of the constrictions of gravity, and the water a grace of movement not possible on dry land. In addition, it also offers a wonderful exercise opportunity. The muscles stimulated and challenged receive a treatment and conditioning impossible within the confines of land-based workouts.
And the best thing about water exercise is that those who regularly engage in muscle coordination and strengthening in the water help themselves to become stronger and more balanced when on dry land. The following tips/exercises can be employed by anyone, young or old, physically fit or disabled, to add a bit of health and fitness to an otherwise lazy day lounging poolside.
Walking in Water
One of the most effective strengthening and coordination exercises, especially for those living with neuromuscular diseases or disorders, or anyone who suffers from balance and coordination difficulties, is the water walk. Walking against the resistance provided by both the water itself, as well as any currents present, provides an invaluable opportunity for coordination strengthening that dry-land cardiovascular and weight-training exercises cannot.
Water walks can be performed in either a bent-over or standing fashion. Each variation offers different opportunities for coordination strengthening, so it is preferable to rotate both into a workout.
For the bent-over water walks, choose a depth in the shallow end of the pool, where the water surrounds your shoulders when you are postured with your rear end stuck out backwards, chest forward, and arms straight out in front of your body with your hands pressed together and fingers straight ahead.
The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate the legs and torso to assume the bulk of the workload through the balancing of the body around them. Walk the length of the pool, turning around at the far wall, and then walking back. Keep your hips, legs, and feet, and steps taken, small and tight at all times, forcing the torso to flex or tighten continuously.
For those who have difficulty balancing with their arms out in front, a tightrope-balancing stance with arms out towards the side can be used — it’s just as challenging. Repeat laps as necessary until the body is tired — a radio is always helpful to either pace oneself by the rhythm or duration of the music.
For standing water walks, pick a depth corresponding to the shoulder/neck area of the body. Make sure you are standing straight up and either flat-footed or on tippy toes. The same straightforward arm/hand posture can be employed as with the bent-over walks, or tightrope fashion, instead. For this particular exercise, tightrope-balancing fashion is easier, but can still be very challenging, especially if pool currents are pushing your body down towards the deep end of the pool.
Just as with bent-over walks, repeat until the body is tired, and then rest for several minutes or until you feel up to going again. For anyone with higher fitness/coordination levels, add leg or arm weights for greater strength training potential.
Additional Interval Exercises
Jumping jacks in a depth corresponding to the mid-upper torso are also great strengthening/calisthenic exercises. Perform these the same as you would on land, with your legs extending away from the body and outwards as your arms leave the water and hands clap overhead — or a snow-angel motion.
For the downward motion, bring your arms and palms down flat against the water, and push down through the water plane until your palms rest at your side against your hips and legs. Bring your arms back up and out of the water with the same flat palm posture, and rotate overhead to clasp your hands together at the top end of the motion. Water jumping jacks are wonderful for strengthening your shoulders and back, as the water’s resistance offers a challenge that land jacks just do not. Using attached water weights on the arms and/or legs adds significant difficulty and is recommended for those with higher fitness/coordination levels.
Additionally, treading water, or doggy paddling, can be used in between the water walks and along with the jumping jacks and regular lap swimming to provide an all around great workout. Although seemingly easy, try to flail your arms and legs outward from the body while staying in the same physical position in the pool for 30-second to 1-minute intervals. Count out loud or to yourself and give yourself an equal amount of time for rest. For many, half a dozen intervals provide significant muscular and cardiovascular exhaustion.
It’s all About Being Active
A good pool workout varies depending on fitness level. But several sets of walks, both bent-over and standing, with lap swimming interspersed between and/or treading water and jumping jacks for a total of 45 minutes to an hour is a more than acceptable amount of time for a pool calisthenics routine.
Some may want more exertion and some, of course, less. Therefore, vary the duration of repetitions, sets, and the overall exercise session as desired and tolerable. And be sure to keep a bottle of water close by, as all the water in the pool around you will still not prevent dehydration and even heat exhaustion/stroke.
In the end, being healthy is simply about being active. Whether this activity takes place in a gym, a pool, or just on a morning walk, raising one’s heart rate and causing the body calisthenic stresses is essential for fitness of the body and mind. It needn’t be uncomfortable or embarrassing, just simple, fun, and right for you.
However, wherever and whenever you find your fitness, find it for yourself, keep it for life, and have a wonderful time with it!