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EVERYONE INTO THE POOL NEW PROGRAMS AND A REPUTATION AS THE BEST ALL-AROUND WORKOUT ARE LURING PEOPLE OF ALL AGES TO AQUA FITNESS.

Byline: Mariko Thompson Staff Writer

It's the ideal cardiovascular workout, the ultimate muscle-toning machine and a great way to improve flexibility. No other piece of fitness equipment comes close to the swimming pool.

So what are you waiting for?

Pool workouts have tended to attract people at the margins - athletic competitors, pregnant women, the injured and the elderly. The full-body workout appeals to athletes, while water's cushioning effect provides low-impact exercise to people with restricted mobility.

``You are without the influence of gravity,'' said Darren Dutto, a former swim coach and an assistant professor of kinesiology and health promotion at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. ``Water takes pressure off the joints. The bones don't rub against one another. There's less likelihood of ligaments being damaged.''

Despite all of the benefits, pool workouts have yet to achieve widespread appeal. Hoping to draw more adults in their prime to the pool, instructors are getting creative with their offerings. Swim programs are available to people who need the motivation of a group setting. Everything from cardio kickboxing to yoga now has its aqua equivalent.

``It's not wise to jump up and down six days a week, yet you don't want to stop working out,'' said Larisa Yaghoobov, master trainer for aqua classes at 24 Hour Fitness. ``Water offers constant resistance and cushioning. Aqua is an awesome way to train.''

No rest for the wet

Yaghoobov trains 24 Hour Fitness' Los Angeles aqua instructors in the latest pool fitness courses. The fitness center chain has adapted popular land classes into water workouts.

In the aqua sports class, participants tackle a 30-minute circuit training class combining cardiovascular drills with resistance training. Cardiovascular drills mimic everyday sports movements and include basketball shuffles, volleyball spikes, and swinging rotations used in golf and tennis.

For resistance training, participants can opt to use weights designed for the pool or just use the water's natural resistance. On land, the muscle contracts when lifting and rests when lowering. In water, the muscles are engaged in both directions.

``We refer to the pool as a 360-degree weight room,'' Yaghoobov said. ``There's never a resting phase.''

Yaghoobov also teaches Aquando, a version of cardio kickboxing. Martial arts-style aerobics filled with jarring kicks and punches can be hard on the hips and knees, Yaghoobov said. Cardio kickboxing in the pool is an alternative for enthusiasts looking to reduce stress on their joints. Aquando also may appeal to people who are intimidated by the fast-paced intensity of most martial arts aerobics classes.

``They can't fall and they can't go too fast,'' Yaghoobov said.

At West Valley Family YMCA in Reseda, pool offerings have expanded to include cardio and strength training classes. So far, the formula seems to be working, said Jessica Landon, aquatics coordinator. The water fitness classes sometimes draw as many as 55 participants. Landon would like to add cardio kickboxing and water yoga.

``I've seen bigger demand,'' she said. ``Younger people are starting to get into it.''

Spiritual immersion

Just like aerobics and strength training, mind-body classes such as yoga, tai chi and Pilates have been modified for the water. In the pool, instructors have to think about movements and postures in new ways, said Carol Argo, who has developed a line of aqua workouts on video and audio-cassette. Where traditional yoga uses the floor, Argo's water yoga shifts planes and uses pool walls.

Argo led nine women through water yoga movements at a recent class held at a Rancho Palos Verdes retirement community. The women wore aqua shoes for better traction and gloves to increase drag in the water. Some wore plastic shower caps under their visors to keep their hair from getting wet. ``It's Raining Men'' played on the boom box.

Argo demonstrated the positions on the cement at the pool's edge so the women could see her form. For the warrior pose, they anchored one foot where the wall and floor meet and lunged toward the middle of the pool. Then they grabbed long, skinny flotation devices called noodles. Holding the noodles under their arms, they arched into a cobra stretch. They lined up along the side of the pool for child's pose, where the body curls into a ball and relaxes.

Water reduces the feel of body weight by 90 percent. Participants are able to achieve deeper stretches than they could in a traditional yoga class, Argo said.

``They do these stretches on dry land and they're uncomfortable,'' she said. ``I see greater gains in flexibility in the water.''

Different strokes

For traditionalists who don't go for newfangled classes, United States Masters Swimming provides structured workouts and camaraderie. Workouts are tailored to all skill levels. Members range in age from 18 to 100 years old.

The national organization has 500 local clubs offering workouts, clinics and workshops, as well as competitions for those so inclined. At a typical workout, the warm-up is often a short set, anywhere from 500 to 800 yards. The club coach creates the main set based on the day's goal, perhaps building endurance or speed. After the main set, club members do kickboard and other drills to cool down.

``You tend to make friendships with the people you work out with,'' said Julie Heather, the USMS registrar based in Pasadena. ``That keeps you going back for more.''

People who have access to a pool and the Internet can train on their own by following daily online workouts posted at the USMS Web site, www.usms.org.

Swimming is an excellent cardiovascular workout that reduces blood pressure and hypertension, CSU Pomona's Dutto said. Unlike running, swimming works all of the muscle groups in the body. Because of the water's cooling effect, people can exercise without overheating. But be sure to drink plenty of water. The body still sweats even while swimming, Dutto said.

To prevent injury, Dutto recommends joining a program such as USMS. Local club programs often have coaches who can demonstrate proper mechanics. Though the sport is low-impact, regular swimmers are prone to shoulder injuries, he said.

To strengthen the bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, men and women who swim as their main form of fitness should cross-train with weight-bearing exercises. With that exception, Dutto considers swimming and other pool-based exercises to be the near-perfect form of fitness.

``Anybody can do it,'' Dutto said. ``That's what makes exercising in the water so unique. It can span the whole age range and be a lifetime activity.''

Mariko Thompson, (818) 713-3620

mariko.thompson(at)dailynews.com

Liquid assets

For more information:

-- 24 Hour Fitness is a chain with more than 300 clubs. To find a nearby club or check course listings, visit www.24hourfitness.com.

-- West Valley Family YMCA is located at 18810 Vanowen St. in Reseda. Call the Reseda branch at (818) 774-2840 or visit www.ymcala.org for general information about the YMCA.

-- Carol Argo is a Rancho Palos Verdes-based fitness instructor certified by the Aquatic Exercise Association. Her water exercise tapes in yoga, tai chi and Pilates are available at www.carolargo.com.

-- United States Masters Swimming is a national organization with 500 local clubs providing workouts, clinics, workshops and competitions. Membership requires an annual national registration fee of $35 and monthly club fees that range from $30 to $50. Visit www.usms.org for general information and www.spma.net for local club listings.

- M.T.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) ON THE COVER: Carol Karp lifts a foam dumbbell at 24 Hour Fitness in Thousand Oaks.

(2 -- color) Elaine Goodman flexes and releases her ``noodle'' at an aqua aerobics class.

(3 -- color) Aqua aerobics instructor Teri Berkel leads a class at 24 Hour Fitness in Thousand Oaks. In addition to aerobics the chain has adapted other popular land classes, including cardio-kickboxing and weight training, into water workouts.

(4 -- color) Fitness experts praise pool workouts for providing constant resistance with constant cushioning, making them ideal for elderly or injured athletes.

(5 -- color) Marlene Safer of Agoura exercises in the morning sunshine.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

Box:

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 2, 2003
Words:1344
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