by Michelle Fuqua, PT, ATC, MS
With summer approaching, many will be hitting the pool to beat the heat. Some may prefer to relax in the water, but if you are looking to change up your normal workout routine, pool or aquatic exercise can actually provide a great workout without some of the drawbacks of land-based exercises. This may be helpful for many individuals with medical conditions including osteoarthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, joint replacements, neurological conditions, and balance conditions.
The buoyancy of the water supports a portion of your body weight, making it easier to move in the water and improve your flexibility. It also provides extra support for your joints and muscles, which allows you to workout harder while putting less impact on your joints compared to land. In addition, the water provides resistance to movements which helps engage your muscles and strengthen them and helps you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.
The American Physical Therapy Association provides a few helpful tips before getting started with your aquatic exercise program:
- Water shoes can provide traction on the pool floor to help prevent slips.
- The water level should be at least waist or chest high.
- You may use a styrofoam noodle or flotation belt or vest to keep you afloat in deeper water.
- Slower movements in the water will provide less resistance than faster movements.
- You can use styrofoam weights, inflated balls, kickboards, or webbed gloves or flippers for extra resistance.
- Never push your body through pain during exercise.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout to stay hydrated.
While there are many different types of exercises you can perform in the water, here are 8 easy exercises you may use to get started:
- Walking or Jogging—Starting with walking forward and backward in waist or chest deep water is a great way to warm up. You can increase the intensity by progressing to a light jog.
- Biceps Curls—Stand or squat with water covering your shoulders. Start with your arms at your sides and palms facing forward. Keep your elbows at your sides as you bend your elbows, bringing your palm toward your shoulders, then straighten the elbows back to the starting position.
- Chest Press—Stand or squat with water covering your shoulders. Start with your hands at shoulder level just below the surface of the water, palms forward. Push your hands forward, then pull them back to the starting position.
- Lateral Arm Raises—Stand or squat with water covering your shoulders. Start with your arms at your sides with elbows straight and palms facing forward. Slowly raise your arms out to your sides toward the surface of the water, then lower arms back to the starting position.
- Sidestepping—Face the pool wall. Keeping your feet pointed forward, pull your abdominal muscles in, and side step one direction for several steps and then the opposite direction.
- High Knee March—Start with tall posture and pull your abdominal muscles in. Slowly march, bringing one knee toward the chest. Repeat on the opposite leg.
- Leg Kicks—If necessary, stand with the pool wall to one side of your body for support. Move 1 leg forward with the knee straight. Return to start. Then, move the same leg to the side and return to starting position. Lastly, move that same leg behind you. Perform several reps on that side and then repeat on the opposite leg.
- Forward & Side Lunges—If necessary, stand near a pool wall for support. Take an oversized step forward. Do not let the forward knee go past the toes. Return to starting position and repeat with opposite leg. For a side lunge, face the pool wall and take an oversized step to the side. Keep toes facing forward. Repeat on opposite side.
Of course, before beginning any pool exercise program, it is important to check with your Physician or Physical Therapist. This is especially important if you are not accustomed to regular exercise or if you are recovering or have recently recovered from any surgery, injury, or illness or if you suffer from any medical conditions. Remember, Physical Therapists are movement specialists and will be able to prescribe the appropriate exercises for you based on your medical history, current injury, or other factors.