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Eager to test the waters

After months of relative inactivity, a former competitive swimmer is lured back to the pool -- by aqua aerobics.

June 02, 2003|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

It had been years since my days as a competitive swimmer, and I longed to find an activity that would keep my head out of the water while still enjoying the pool.

But I wanted nothing to do with the type of swim workouts that I used to endure -- or an actual swim coach. I'd long wondered about aqua aerobics, so I made a date to give it a try.

I met with a group of four other women, all aqua aerobics loyalists who attended class at least once a week. Jumping into the (too cold) water at 24-Hour Fitness in Torrance, I felt out of shape: For months, it seemed, my only exercise was bending down to pick up toys scattered by my 2-year-old.

Our instructor, Monica Higgins, turned on her radio. But the women would have none of the music -- some kind of acid metal band was roaring out of the speakers. Higgins reluctantly changed the station -- more heavy rock that failed to inspire this group.

"Can't you find something good to play?" complained one.

Higgins, who sported several tattoos on her shoulder blade and lower back, a nose ring and a belly button ring, only rolled her eyes and smiled patiently at the women.

"What do you want to hear?" she asked.

"How about some soul?" I ventured to ask.

"There ain't no soul here," she said, with a smile.

After a short discussion, she turned off the radio and we got to work.

We pushed our kickboards down under the water and moved them forward and backward, feeling the resistance of the water.

We ran sideways, from one edge of the pool to the other, but though I wanted to move faster, I found I was blocked between one woman to my right and another to my left. Not wanting to be rude and mow them over, I just restrained my enthusiasm.

We got back to work following Higgins' lead. We pushed foam weights underwater and made circles. We grabbed the deck and kicked for one minute. The resistance from the water felt good against my legs. For once, I felt I was getting a little bit of a workout, toning a bit of my body, which had become less than optimal since I had my baby.

I felt disappointed, however. The workout was easy -- too easy, really. Seeing that I was wearing a heart-rate monitor, Higgins asked what my heart rate was. I told her I had barely hit 90.

I just didn't feel that sense of accomplishment when your muscles ache and you are flushed from the workout. Unfortunately, aqua aerobics was not what I was looking for.

It was, however, exactly what Inna Ingram needed. She had been in a serious automobile accident the year before and suffered from paralysis on her right side. In August, she started doing aqua aerobics three times a week and now she can move her arm over her head and walk without pain.

"This has helped me come back to life," said Ingram, 56. "This is my physical therapy. It really, really works."

As for myself, I'll have to consider other forms of exercise in the water, perhaps plain old lap swimming or water polo. And there are more strenuous forms of aqua aerobics throughout Southern California than the class I found: aerobics with aqua belts, which provide more resistance, and aqua sport, a higher-impact aerobics class. If that's not strenuous enough, there's always aquando, a combination of kickboxing and aqua aerobics in the water.

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