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ONLINE DOCUMENT: PICKING THE WATER EXERCISE THAT’S BEST FOR YOU

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Here's how to choose the water exercise best for you and how to get started in it:

LAP SWIMMERSEven if you're well conditioned, swimming laps can feel challenging unless you're used to it. Don't get discouraged if you can only swim a few at first. Start by alternating between swimming laps and doing a slow backstroke until you've been in the water at least 30 minutes. If you do that three times a week, you'll improve gradually until you can spend the entire time swimming laps.

If you have trouble progressing, take a lesson or two. You may be struggling unnecessarily against bad form, suggests Cathy Covey, aquatics director of the Denver Athletic Club. Most health clubs and rec centers offer classes.

Break up your lap workouts by doing leg and arm drills. Strap on stubby fins and do a few laps using only your legs. Then slip a small float between your knees, pull on a pair of webbed gloves or hand paddles, and do a few laps using only your arms.

Find a pool that caters to lap swimmers. The best keep water temperature between 79 and 81 degrees. Anything warmer can dehydrate serious swimmers.

Join a masters team even if you don't want to compete. You're eliligible if you're over 19 and not competing on any age-level teams. Look for them at most swim clubs, health clubs and recreation centers. U.S. Masters Swimming Inc., also has a list of programs, 508-886-6631.

WATER RUNNERS

You won't run fast enough to keep up with swimmers so avoid using lap lanes. Pick a recreational pool, jump into the deep end during adult swim hours and let everyone else swim around you.

Try to mimic your running stride, but add an extra push on your leg's downstroke to keep you afloat.

If you can't keep your head above water, add a small belt with a few small buoys attached. Large floatation vests work too well and decrease the intensity of your workout, says Diane Palmason, running coach.

AQUACIZERS

If you're not too keen on the idea of plunging into the deep end of a pool, water aerobics may be just the thing. You can do the entire workout with your feet on the bottom of the pool.

Experiment with the gadgets available to make your workout harder. Water dumbbells have vents in them to let water through as you lift them underwater. Styrofoam noodles ($1-$3) support your weight while you do leg work. Webbed gloves increase the drag of your hands against the water.

You can make your workout harder by doing it in deeper water, or you can make it easier by creeping into the shallow end.

Want more? "Aquafit: Float to Fitness" is a video about water exercise done by Julie Twynham. It's $24 from the Aquatic Exercise Association, 941-486-8600.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)