Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WATER FITNESS: Why You Should Incorporate It

"In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it."  ~Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching"

As a "CrossFit" coach and certified fitness trainer, 2 years ago, I couldn't have been more thrilled.  When I heard the coaches, who were programming the international "CrossFit Games" were going to throw some "curve balls" in for the athletes, I got a smile on my face.  I knew it.  They had to.  It was a "weak link" for the "CrossFit" community.  Want to be called "The Fittest On Earth?" You better be able to back that up...in ALL capacities of fitness.  It was perfect.  Water.  

"CrossFit Games" Athletes Prepare For Event 1-Open Water Swim For Time


 There was nothing I could think of that would weed out "CrossFitters" more quickly than swimming.  It is our community's weakest medium, I believe.  This was going to be good.  And it was.  A pool test that separated the "wheat from the chaff" quickly.  The 2012 Games saw swimming bumped up to the next level...an open water swim.  Brilliant.  Again, the perfect "gauntlet" of a fitness test for those who preferred to train inside the 4 gym walls, versus, stretch their fitness capacity to other modalities.  Randomized, controlled, measurable tests in ALL elements is essential for overall fitness.

Still, there is a resistance in our "CrossFit" community to embracing swimming.  This is unfortunate, from my perspective, as the benefits of working out in the water are immense.  To add increased overall fitness for the competing "CrossFitter," the "CrossFit Endurance" swim WODs cannot be beat.  They are hard.  Very hard, in fact.  My advice to my students is to incorporate them 2x per week.  You will not want to leave the gym, get your hair wet, and put on a bathing suit, but if you do, the overall benefits will be profound.

Water Fitness Is Great Training For When I Like To Go Surfing

To convince everyone, why you should incorporate water fitness into your training, let me share with you just a few of the many benefits of working out in the water:

  •  LOW INJURY RATE:  How many people do you hear of getting injured while swimming?  Yeah, me neither.  Unless you're some Olympic swimmer, training for some national competition, clocking hours a day in the pool, then you're unlikely to get injured.
  • 20x MORE RESISTANCE THAN LAND-BASED EXERCISES:  In the water, you're working out much harder than you think.  The increased resistance of the water (& this resistance increases the more deep the water is you're working out in) provides simultaneous cardio & resistance training.  When a client says "Oh shoot, I don't have enough time to do both my cardio & resistance training today, I'll have to pick one or the other," I suggest swimming.  Why not make the most efficient use of your time & get both in at the same time?
  • LOW IMPACT TO INCREASED EFFORT RATIO:  For the amount of effort you will put into your water training, you won't find a lower impact on the musculo-skeletal system.  This means less injuries for you, while your fitness skyrockets.
  • EXERCISE IN WATER MAKES YOU FEEL 90% LIGHTER:  When would this be helpful?  For a pregnant woman, or for those who are overweight, just starting to exercise.  The lighter you feel, the less effort you believe you're putting out (though, this is not actually the case), the more you'll do.  This translates to more calories burned and increased fitness.
  • INJURY REHABILITATION:  I can't think of any exercise that's better than being in the pool, while rehabbing an injury (for all of the above/below reasons listed)
  • INCREASED PRO-PRIORECEPTION:  Yes, its a big, long word, but an important one.  Our balance decreases with age, due to decreased proprioreception.  Proprioreception is your sense of where your body is in space, relative to objects, and planes (vertical, horizontal, etc.).  Being in a weightless environment increases proprioreception.  This can only be a good thing for you.  An even better thing for seniors and folks with neurological disorders (post-stroke, M.S., Parkinson's, Meneire's, etc.).  Why do the elderly fall and break their hips so easily?  Decreased proprioreception affecting their balance.  Increase water fitness, the likelihood of this happening decreases.
  • WATER COOLS THE BODY:  During the searing summer heat nothing sounds better than a swim.  This instinct is there for a reason.  When have you ever heard of someone having a heat-stroke, while swimming.  I haven't.  It probably has happened somewhere, but again, its highly unlikely.  In the summer months, your body's temperature gauge will thank you for working out in the water, versus running on the hot, heat-absorbent pavement.
  • BUOYANCY:  This is paramount for the disabled, who are looking to maintain their fitness and/or increase it.  If a pre-existing injury is preventing the body from holding itself upright properly then water will assist with this.  Its buoyant nature provides this ability naturally.
  • LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE:  Your lymphatic system is underrated, rarely talked about, and chances are, not working as efficient as it could be.  Water can help with this.  Why?  Because the pressure of the water against the skin virtually "massages" it, thereby, stimulating your lymphatic system to pump more metabolic waste from the body.  This translates to less DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the day after your workout, greater overall body detoxification, and less systemic inflammation.

Enough reasons for you to start working out in the water?  There's more, but we'll start there.

~ My Dad Gave Me My Love Of The Water ~
Lap-swimming is still something he & I like to do together.

Me and my brother, Brent, on swim team.  I was in 5th grade here.  :)

I'd recommend, whenever possible, seeking out a salt water pool, if you can.  While being on the road a bit, I've been pleasantly surprised to find more hotels with salt water pools than I anticipated.  Salt water pools are sanitary, buoyant, non-drying/irritating to the skin, and feel wonderful to swim in.

I'd probably live in a swimsuit if I could.  Water fitness gives you tone & well-rounded fitness.

Water Fitness Equipment:

To get the most from your water fitness workouts, I would suggest having a water fitness specific gym bag filled with "toys," that are specific to water workouts.  These additional pieces of equipment can help you ramp up your water fitness even more:

  • SHOES:  This may sound like a strange thing to wear in the water, but trust me, it will create more of a leg "burn" than you thought possible.  The added "drag" of the shoes just adds to the resistance of the water, & shapes your legs quickly.
  • WATER GLOVES/HAND PADDLES:   Hand paddles are more efficient for lap-swimming vs. deep water running or other water fitness activities, but water gloves are perfect for those types of workouts.  Think of a manatee.  Their flippers are efficient.  Hand paddles enhance awareness of stroke during lap-swimming, creates extra resistance for the swimmer to focus on upper-body strength and can assist the body on technique and form.  Hand gloves are what I call "penguin hands," & add a lot more resistance to deep-water workouts.
  • WATER WEIGHTS:  These come in various shapes and sizes, but I like to think of them as a "step-up" in training from the water gloves.  The water weights can get large in size, but don't let their light, buoyant material (sometimes they're made of styrofoam) fool you.  Once they get placed in the water they feel very heavy & add a great deal of difficulty (depending on size) to your workouts.  A big "plus," is that they don't have the joint impact that a regular weight would on your body, which can come in handy while healing an injury.
  • WATERPROOF iPOD:  While I relish in the quiet of being underwater, I acknowledge that I hear a lot from training clients that lap-swimming is "boring."  I do encourage them to try other types of water fitness, such as a deep-water running class or a "aqua boot camp" type of class to mix it up.  But, if they're bent on lap-swimming, because they're training for a specific type of event (such as a triathlon or open-water swim) then I suggest trying a waterproof iPod.  Music gets most of us going, & if you need to shake up your boredom in the water (is there such a thing? :) then I recommend it.
  • KICKBOARD:  Most pools do provide kickboards & hand paddles.  Just ask the lifegaurds, and they can help you.  You can use a kickboard to enhance your workout in more ways than you can imagine.  If you've ever tried sled pushing/pulling, you can mimic this same exercise in the water with kickboards.  You can also sit on them and practice what water polo players do:  using your core muscles to stay upright on the board while using your legs to quickly turn your body, while sitting on the kickboard in clockwise/counter-clockwise directions.  This enhances fast twitch muscle fibers in the water & is great interval training.  You'll break a sweat in no time.
  • RASHGAURD:  While I don't get cold in the water, there are some people, with various syndromes who do.  Folks who are hypothyroid, have "Reynaud's Syndrome," etc. may be prone to excessive cold, and thereby deterred from gaining the water's benefits.  I would suggest purchasing a rashgaurd, or some other type of warm clothing device for the water.

Swimming against the resistance of the kickboard.  In the picture, I'm holding 2 of them.  Add more for more resistance.  It feels like sled-pushing on the ground.

All of the above suggested equipment can be purchased online and/or at a swimwear/water exercise specific store.

Pro Surfer, Kelly Slater, & Gabrielle Reece (Pro Beach Volleyball Player/Olympic Medalist) Do An Underwater Workout

Pro Big Wave Surfer, Laird Hamilton & His Wife, Gabrielle Reece Perform An Underwater Training

  • http://breakingmuscle.com/swimming/swimming-and-crossfit-games-why-it-everyones-weak-link
  • http://www.uswfa.com/
  • http://www.waterfit.com/
  • http://www.aquajogger.com/
  • http://www.daratorres.com/
  • http://www.lairdhamilton.com/
  • http://www.crossfitendurance.com/