Jump in and get wet to stay physically fit

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

If you had asked me five years ago if I’d ever start teaching water aerobics, I would have said no. My workout routine had always been on land and included high school and college softball and basketball. After college, I heard about the new craze of aerobic dance and loved it. Since then I’ve taught multiple styles of land classes, including high/low impact, body sculpt, Pilates, BodyFit, step, spin, Senior Fun Fit and SilverSneakers MSROM. However, this has all changed now.

I took a water aerobics class with a great instructor about a year ago and picked up some great pointers on how to transfer my knowledge of land fitness to the water. I then subbed a water aerobics class and continue to teach water aerobics every week. I wanted to learn more about the water environment and decided to take the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) water instructor certification last fall. The AEA training discussed the benefits of water exercise for all populations and explained how to create a water aerobics class that improves the fitness levels of all participants by using different arm, hand and leg movements and by using different “toys” in the pool.

Many benefits can be attributed to exercising in the water. These include increased cardiovascular fitness, muscle endurance and flexibility. Increased metabolism, improved balance and range of motion, and relieving tension and stress are also gained. Because water exercising is so adaptable, it can be adjusted to meet individual abilities. Therefore, it is a perfect program for all even if you do not know how to swim as most exercises can be done in chest high level water. You need not even get your hair wet!

Water (hydrostatic pressure) provides buoyancy and support for your body so the possibility of injury is minimal. You will be less likely to feel sore after exercise due to the support of the water.

Water exercise strengthens and tones muscles because of the resistance provided by the water. This helps to improve cardiovascular fitness levels. You can expend a lot of energy by exercising in water due to its resistance. In some cases you can expend more than similar land classes. Increasing or decreasing the amount of energy you expend in the pool can be accomplished by changing hand, arm and leg movements.

Hand movements such as a slice is less challenging to perform than the cup or web. Arm movements such as the push, pull, sweep, scoop, press, raise or plunge create turbulence in the water in multiple directions so all muscles in the upper body are working. Leg movements can be done in short or long lever positions and at varying speeds to decrease or increase the energy expended. Performing only leg movements with the arms in neutral position (e.g. arms folded in front, hands on hips, arms held out of the water) can make your core work harder as the arms are not assisting or impeding lower body movements. Toys for the pool such as noodles, aqua gloves, barbells or kickboards can increase the variety of exercises performed in the pool and when used properly can increase resistance, aid in balance and provide for support for individuals with physical limitations.

With less strain on your joints due to the support of the water, flexibility also improves. This support permits you to move into positions that would be impossible on land and still maintain your balance.

With summer just around the corner, more people will prefer the sunny climate of the outdoors for exercise. Because water exercise is cooler and more comfortable than exercising on land, an outdoor pool or beach is a great site for an exercise program that is not only fun but promises numerous health benefits. This is true for seniors who are healthy and it is especially good news for those seniors who have certain medical conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and hip and knee replacements. If you have a medical condition, always check with your physician prior to starting an exercise program.

Although swimming laps and water walking and jogging require little training, you may wish to enroll in a class to learn the proper techniques for some exercises. Many recreation centers and your local YMCA offer water aerobic classes and swim lessons for youth and adults.

Adding water aerobics to my workout routine has been a great change for me both mentally and physically. It reminds me of the many Sunday afternoons my father took me and my four siblings to the YMCA to play basketball and swim. We jumped off the diving board, played games in the pool and wore each other out chasing each other in the pool. I have my father to thank for those wonderful memories.

We may not have a diving board to jump off of at the Albany Area YMCA any more, but I do love playing in the pool with the participants and love the feeling of being worn out after class. If you’ve never taken a water aerobics class before, try something new. Have fun, jump in and get wet!

Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.