Just Keep Swimming

Posted by on Oct 8, 2012 in Blog, Health | 6 comments

When I’m working with an active person who has knee problems or is recovering from an injury, I suggest swimming as a way to change up their routine. Swimming is low impact on the joints and a great way to get the heart rate up. Yet the response I get most times is, “well, I really don’t like swimming. That’s why I run, bike, (fill in the blank)” A part of me understands this as I’ve never been a strong lap swimmer. Even after lessons to refine my technique, I am still left gasping at each end of the pool and can never slip into that meditative space people talk about so often.

My next suggestion is often water aerobics although the benefits were always theoretical having never taken a class myself. This summer, I got the opportunity to change that while I was visiting family in France. We were at a campground with a huge outdoor pool and the class was marketed as one of their “fun time” activities. To be fair, it WAS fun. It reminded me of the movie “Mamma Mia” when people were dancing around on the docks with flippers – especially once the campground staff surrounded the pool, performing the routines with us. But it was also a challenging class and I was surprised to learn how challenging it could be. It’s not that the actual actions were hard – jumping jacks, jogging in place, crunches along the side of the pool. It was performing those actions in time with the instructor, against the resistance of the water, or on top of the water depending on what you were doing. The piece de resistance was when we were asked to run in a huge circle. Imagine 50 people in a pool being asked to run as fast as they can AND THEN being asked to turn around and run in the opposite direction. Sounds easy, but the current we had created was so strong that I was literally swept off my feet. I felt bad for the people behind me. Nothing says “bonjour!” like a swift kick in the head.

Still, I had a blast and hoped that when I returned to the States I could find something similar. Luckily, I didn’t have to look too far. My local YMCA in Oak Square offers water aerobics every morning while offering additional water-based activities in the evening. When I stepped into my first class a few weeks ago, I have to admit that I felt a little self-conscious. Unlike my summertime pool pals, many of the participants in this class were much older then myself and had been doing the class for years – I felt like an invader. But, these same people saw how lost I was and helped me get situated with the right equipment (a swimming noodle and a set of water-resistant dumbbells). They also gave me a swift tutorial on where I should be for each portion of the class: cardio, strength training and stretching. I tried to stay in the deeper end of the pool to give myself a bit of a challenge, but once I hit strength training with the dumbbells, I found this impossible. Unlike weights, the objective of using dumbbells is to submerge them under the water or keep them beneath the surface while moving them around. This would be fine if they weren’t constantly trying to get to the surface (thus the term “water-resistant”) Many of the others were using dumbbells that were even more buoyant then my own (I made a mental note never to get in a scuffle with these folks). The only time that the buoyancy worked in my favor was when we’d do crunches in the pool. No hanging onto the wall. You either stuck the dumbbells under your armpits or extended them to either side of you as you pulled your knees into your chest. I thought about how this was a great way for pregnant women to do some light ab work when it’s no longer safe to be on your back.

Speaking of pregnant women, I would see one or two of them in the pool every so often enjoying the freedom water aerobics had to offer. They could exert themselves with running but keep their body temperatures down. They could also keep their joints safe while their growing babes bobbed along with them. I also saw people with knee injuries or those recovering from surgery (you could see the scar) using canes to gingerly step into the water before exchanging their canes for water-resistant dumbbells. While they moved slower during the jogging part of the program, they were crushing it when it came to strength training and ab work. For folks with a few extra pounds like myself, it didn’t take much to make things harder or easier depending on what end of the pool you were on and how fast you were willing to move. Speaking strictly from my own experience, I noticed that my quads, which have been taking a beating lately, always felt much better after taking a water aerobics class.

I’ve been doing this for three weeks now and realize how much I now look forward to being in the water with my crew. Just today we got our butts kicked by a substitute teacher yet we laughed and kept raging. I even got Christophe to come with me and he told me afterwards how great it was to be in the water and to kick it into high gear (because you really can). Most of all, I enjoy myself and love having a constructive way of being in the water. In the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo,” I can “just keep swimming, just keeping swimming” and if you get a chance to try it for yourself, you can too.


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    • Thanks Hortencia!

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