A few inexpensive props can broaden your water repertoire, make workouts more intense and add an element of fun.
Some pieces of equipment are probably familiar, such as the foam noodle; others may be more obscure. To get a handle on essential gear for water workouts -- and how to use it -- we asked Doris Dodge-Thews and Katina Brock for some tips.
Don't be afraid to experiment, but do take precautions. Use gear for the first time only in shallow water, and exercise only when others are in the pool.
Foam noodle (less than $10): The common cylindrical pool toy makes you buoyant while exercising. Some ideas: Sit on it and work the upper body; place it along your back with arms outstretched to work the legs and abs; place it in front and rest your arms on it while working legs; wrap it around your waist; or straddle it. Pressing the noodle into the water creates resistance for the arms and legs. "The noodle can be a million things," says Dodge-Thews. "The more you play with it, the more fun it can become."
Buoys (about $22 to $30 per pair): Usually shaped like dumbbells, these are made out of foam and plastic, come in different sizes and offer muscle resistance. For a biceps curl, for example, hold the buoy in one hand, arm bent, with the buoy just above the water. Pull it down, keeping the elbow steady, and let it up slowly, fighting the urge to allow the buoyancy to carry it up. Or, hold the buoys out in front of your chest, arms straight, and push down toward your thighs, engaging the core.
Webbed gloves (about $15 to $30 per pair): These wrist-length, lightweight gloves are typically made out of neoprene or similar stretchy material and either cover the whole hand or leave the top part of the fingers exposed. The spaces in between the fingers are webbed, offering more drag when hands move through the water. That, Brock says, makes muscles work harder, increasing cardiovascular function.
Kickboard or paddle board (about $8 to $20): This flat, foam arch-shaped piece is generally used by swimmers to work on kicking technique, but Dodge-Thews says it's also handy for warm-ups before an aquatic fitness workout -- revving up the cardiovascular system. Grab the board with hands outstretched, or hug it to your chest and kick. Rotating the body from side to side engages the core.
On the Web
For more information and videos on water workouts:
The Aquatic Exercise Assn. at www.aeawave.com targets certified aquatic fitness instructor members, but the website features articles on aquatic fitness and health, plus instructional DVDs.
Hydro-Fit is a commercial website offering aquatic exercise gear, but it also offers a "choreography library" of easy to follow line drawings explaining a number of exercises: www.hydrofit.com/home/hyf/smartlist_40/choreography_library.html
EHow offers several high-quality aquatic exercise videos: www.ehow.com/topic_856_exercises-water-aerobics.html
Tips from a pro
Want to become a strong -- really strong -- swimmer?
A swimming coach outlines easy ways to kick off a swimming workout at latimes.com/pooltechniques, even if the last thing you lapped was an ice cream cone.
Nancy Kirkpatrick-Reno, head masters coach at Conejo Simi Aquatic Masters and a former masters swimming world champion, covers everything from what kind of suit to wear to how to maintain proper form in the water. Novices and experienced swimmers learn what to eat and drink before and after training, and how to build on various drills to improve strength and endurance. A video tutorial reveals techniques for swimming and drills.