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Karen Voight

Water Fitness Programs Are Making a Big Splash

May 15, 2000|Karen Voight

Think of water exercise, and you probably picture seniors treading slowly through a community pool, moving their limbs to an instructor's calls. For years, older, active adults have known the secret of this low-impact form of fitness. Serious athletes too have used water to recover from injuries or boost endurance.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Water-fitness programs have sprouted across the country, and people of all ages and fitness levels are realizing the benefits of water workouts. In Southern California, water exercise has become a hot fitness trend.

Active baby boomers are fueling this trend. Water workouts are a great way for aging boomers to maintain their cardiovascular levels while decreasing pressure on their joints. Water-fitness experts say classes are especially popular with people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

More than 10 million Americans participate in water exercise, according to the Aquatic Exercise Assn. And a growing number of health clubs, resorts and corporate fitness centers are offering water exercise programs, fitness experts say.

Why are such programs so popular? First, water provides 12 times more resistance than traditional land-based fitness programs, with a lot less stress on the body, according to the aquatic exercise group.

If you're pregnant, water helps reduce swelling in your joints and keeps you more buoyant at a time when gravity can make you uncomfortable. If you're overweight and running on land is too hard on your body, just jump in the pool. Depending on water depth, your body "weight" is reduced in the pool due to buoyancy, according to the aquatic association.

Finally, water helps regulate your body temperature during strenuous exercise, and prevents overheating--a common problem for many outdoor fitness buffs.

If you fear that you may be bored in water-based programs, you may be surprised by how much they've changed. Aqua-aerobics no longer offers a one-size-fits-all approach to exercise. Today, you can choose between deep and shallow aquatic courses, or take a combination of the two.

There is also a long list of traditional strength-building moves that are quite challenging when done underwater. To wind down, you can perform a variety of graceful stretches that improve flexibility, coordination and posture.

Carol Argo, a certified water-fitness instructor in Los Angeles, teaches basic workouts in pools, and also offers classes in water tai chi, water dance and water-based Pilates, a precise stretching and muscle-lengthening program. Argo says the movements of tai chi adapt naturally to water. The main difference between land and water tai chi is that movements done slowly and deliberately on land are executed more swiftly under water.

Here are several tips if you want to take the plunge:

* Remember to drink plenty of fluids while exercising. Even though you're in the water, you still need to keep your body hydrated.

* The pool temperature should be about 82 to 85 degrees, for optimum conditioning. If it's lower, your muscles will get cold. If it's higher, you risk overheating.

* For maximum effectiveness, perform the movements in chest- to waist-deep water.

* When doing vertical exercises, wear aquatic shoes for added cushioning and shock absorption during the bouncing movements. You'll also be more comfortable with movements that require pivoting on the ball of the foot.

This summer, why not try to get in some wet workouts? You'll tone your muscles and increase your stamina. And instead of making you hot and sweaty, these workouts will leave you refreshed and energized.


Cheryl Meyer, a freelance writer based in Orange County, contributed to this article.

* Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose column runs the first and third Mondays of each month. Her latest videos are "Ease Into Fitness" and "Yoga-Sculpt." She can be reached by e-mail at

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