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by Sandy Lovejoy

July 1, 2004

Not drylands and not swimming, but great!

Summer is here! This is the time many return to the pool, whether it be to train for Masters swimming events, open water swimming for triathlon or long distance events, or just to keep the kids company at the community pool or local beach.

Why not use this water time to your advantage? Work outs involving different water fitness techniques not only enable you to do something fun, different, and keep an eye on the kids, but will also increase range of motion, flexibility, and core strength. An added plus? Your face is out of the water, so there is more opportunity for socializing as you work out! Seriously, you will be surprised how water running, and/or water aerobics classes actually will make you stronger. This summer, with the Olympics around the corner, athletes and coaches from all sports will be talking about Core Strength. I and other swimmers have personally experienced the increase in core strength as a result of water aerobics.

The following is a Q/A session with Brenda Heckmann, the Water Fitness Specialist at the Park Cities YMCA Dallas, TX.

Q: I am a fitness lap swimmer. What are the benefits of water fitness/aerobics vs. swimming?

We live & work in an upright (vertical) position. To train, strengthen, or rehab in a solely horizontal position does not work the postural muscles the same way we live (vertically). We need to cross train in a vertical position for the greatest benefit for our bodies. Remember Core Strength? Yes, this is what we need to improve our posture and achieve success in our weekend athlete endeavors (baseball, tennis, golf, skiing, etc). The key to getting the most out of your water fitness routine is to remember your posture (…shoulders back and down, rib cage up).

Q: You mentioned some interesting statistics on increasing reps in workouts as you age (American Council on fitness/aging). Would you mind elaborating on this?

ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) has guidelines for training. These guidelines are specific to;
Cardio-respiratory, Muscle Endurance & Strength, Flexibility and Active ROM (Range of Motion), Weight Management and Body Composition, Functional Activities of Daily Living (ADL) training. For muscle strength and endurance the RM (repetition maximum) is: under 50, 8-12 reps, 50 and over, 10-15 reps.

Q: If a swimmer is injured, is water fitness a good “cross-training” alternative? If so, how? (i.e., rotator cuff injury)

Water is such a friendly environment for the body. In the case of post-rehab, after you receive your doctor’s release, water can help the affected area by increasing circulation and strengthening the supporting musculature. When the body is submerged, gravity is greatly reduced (according to how much of body is submerged), allowing the body to achieve a greater Range of Motion (ROM). Core strength and flexibility are also greatly increased. Water density is greater than air by 12-25%. Density equates to weight. The weight load against the vertical body, particularly while traveling, is greater than when horizontal. Ever thought you’d be doing intervals in the pool vertically?

Q: What equipment do I need? Why do some people wear gloves, and/or shoes?

For deep water we need a floatation device that attaches to the body. This allows the participant to concentrate on the actual exercise and body mechanics rather than expending energy to keep afloat. There are several brands of water ‘belts’ that enable the user to remain buoyant. Make sure that efforts are centered on the various techniques involved in the exercises rather than treading water. Gloves, which have the same effect in shallow and deep water, help increase upper bodywork by creating more surface area for resistance. Shoes add more resistance to the foot/leg as they are moved through the water. In shallow water, the shoes also provide protection for the foot against impact and injury and greater traction against the bottom of the pool.

Q: What is the ‘tether’ technique?

The tether attaches to the belt and to the side of the pool. This creates a greater and constant source of resistance. In a vertical position more work is created for the whole body including core muscles as well as arms and legs.

We hope you find this informative, and intriguing enough to prompt you to look into finding a wet vest (great for ocean water running, as it insulates the trunk of the body) and/or water aquatics belt. Think of an early summer evening, when it is hot and muggy, water running in the ocean or lake. Now that’s a great way to de-stress from the day!

Brenda Heckman is Faculty and Trainer for the YMCA of the USA in several areas of Water Fitness. Brenda was involved with the pilot program for deep-water training for the Arthritis Foundation. In addition, Brenda is a member of the board of Metroplex Association of Aquatics Professionals (MAAP).


  • Technique and Training