Have fun with water workouts

So, you're a little chubby, flabby and have joint aches. You're allergic to the gym and jogging in the park makes you puke.

Tired of wearing oversized clothes, you want to shed the jiggles but don't know where or how to start. This seems to be the concern of many first-timers embarking on the road to fitness.

Find a pool and get into the water, I say.

But, you don't know how to swim, you protest.

You can breathe, right, I ask, and receive a grunt in reply.

You don't need to know how to float or swim, I add. Just splash around while doing some basic exercises, have fun, and watch your body sculpt itself.

And remember to inhale and exhale.

More resistance

Once frowned upon as an activity for the elderly and pregnant, water workouts are great for the overweight, injured athletes and individuals seeking to cross-train.

Whether it's doing aqua aerobics, running in water or simply walking in water, working out in water is one of the best ways to get toned.

It may not get your heart rate up as high as running on the treadmill would, but it has fewer stressful movements and lesser injury risks.

And after all, heart rate is not always an accurate indicator of how hard you're exercising. Heart rates tend to be lower when the chest is submerged, so it is better to rely on your perceived level of exertion.

Running and walking in a pool not only strengthens the leg and hip muscles, but develops cardiovascular fitness without the impact stress of weight-bearing activities such as traditional running.

Furthermore, you are less likely to experience aches and soreness following a workout in water.

Buoyancy, the upward pressure that water exerts, helps keep you afloat (chest deep), and reduces a person's body weight by 90 per cent.

The decrease in weight means there is less stress on the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons.

The movement of water forces constant realignment of the body to a neutral spine, challenging the trunk muscles in the process.

Hence, water serves as a resistance machine, and promotes functional fitness by strengthening the postural muscles of the abdomen and back.

At the same time, water provides good resistance because it is much denser than air. This increased resistance promotes better physical endurance and muscle tone.

The resistance in water is about 800 times higher than air, making it extremely effective for muscle development. This means an exercise requires more effort in the water than on land.

For example, if you run a kilometre in five minutes on land, it will take you just under 20 minutes to run the same distance in waist-high water.

The deeper the water, the more difficult the exercise. Greater depth also cushions the impact of jumping.

Adjusting the speed in which you perform a particular motion will vary your resistance, and thus, your energy expenditure. Walking in water at a leisurely pace still beats walking on land at the same pace.

So you see, it all flows. And honestly, it's easy to do.

Personal experience

Personal experience

A decade ago, I fractured my foot during a choreography class, but since I was being graded, I continued to dance, pushing through the pain and swelling.

The fracture eventually become displaced. To ensure that I would always be able to articulate my foot, the orthopaedic surgeon suggested non-surgical treatment, which had a slower recovery rate.

I was on crutches for what seemed like eternity, and as a professional dancer-in-training, my world crumbled. I couldn't bear the thought of my muscles atrophying after being in peak condition. Sensing my pain, my physiotherapist suggested water workouts as additional therapy to help me stay toned, and to somewhat keep up my cardiovascular endurance.

The workouts (in warm therapeutic waters) needed some getting used to as I couldn't put weight on my fractured foot, but my wonderful instructor whipped me into shape in no time.

I'd emerge from the pool fatigued (I felt like I weighed 100 kgs!) and famished, although my heart wasn't pumping as fast.

Eight months later, I was crawling on floors, running on land and jumping on stage, without any pain.

For a change, my ballet professors would also occasionally conduct ballet classes in water, and we loved it.

Flexibility increases in water because gravity relieves you of body weight, hence, it was immensely delightful to see our legs extended to, and held in, a six o'clock position (vertical splits).

Now, I'm a firm believer in water workouts, and no longer scoff when people tell me they're taking a walk in the pool.

Burn more calories

The first recorded history of water workouts dates back to the early 1980s when American runners, who suffered bone, muscle and joint problems as a result of too much pounding on the pavement, were introduced to water workouts.

Using a buoyant belt to hold their bodies in proper alignment, they would "run" in the pool as a form of training.

Not only did it work wonders for preventing injuries, it also boosted their cardiovascular fitness.

By the early 1990s, water aerobics - usually performed to music, and under the supervision of a fitness instructor - began to incorporate a variety of rhythmic body movements for a more rounded workout, and it grew from there.

A carefully designed water regimen can be a comprehensive programme that targets all four areas of fitness - cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and coordination.

Water exercise routines can be adjusted to suit individual needs, restrictions and fitness levels.

Another advantage of exercising in water is that it offers resistance in all directions, as opposed to land exercises where you work only against gravity.

This multi-directional resistance offers an excellent rehabilitating tool.

Remember that as you submerge yourself in water, you are reducing the stress on the lower part of the body, but at the same time, you are increasing the resistance.

In case you didn't know, research has shown that a one-hour brisk walk on land burns 270 calories, while deep-water walking burns 528 calories.

An hour of jogging in the park burns 480 calories, while deep-water jogging burns 680 calories.

All you need is a swimsuit or swimming trunk. Because your head is rarely submerged totally, goggles are not necessary.

If you want a little more challenge, use kickboards, buoyancy belts or 1.5L mineral water bottles as dumbbells.

Unfortunately, there are not many gyms or pools that offer aqua aerobics classes in Malaysia, so the onus is on you to find a pool and exercise yourself.

Suggested exercises

Suggested exercises

For beginners, I recommend warming up by walking forward and backward in the pool, with arms submerged, then jog back and forth. Push against the water for added resistance. Next, take big steps to the side.

To whittle your waist, imagine Chubby Checker belting out and do some twists for a few minutes. Do 15 kicks to the front, side and back, and repeat the entire routine again.

Good posture is essential so keep your buttocks and abdomen muscles tucked in at all times. This avoids pressure on the lower back muscles.

Aim for a good vertical position, with chest lifted and expanded.

Initially, some students might bend forward at the waist. That's because the centre of gravity shifts out of the hips and into the chest, which becomes your centre of buoyancy.

A slight flutter kick will help maintain proper body alignment.

Be sure to keep all exercises below the water line, where it counts. Waving arms in the air is not an intelligent use of water.

And while it's nice to splash around, don't clumsily jump up and down using buoyancy-assisted moves, as it serves no purpose.

However, if you're advancing and doing jumps in the water, do it with alignment, and you can then move your arms in and out of the water.

Now, when I run and do twists in the pool, I get curious stares from swimmers and the lifeguards, but I don't bat an eyelid.

Besides, there is no denying that aquatic exercise is a refreshing activity, and can be a wonderful way for a family or friends to spend an evening.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified personal trainer who continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places.

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