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Water works buoy moms-to-be

The mothers-to-be at the Orem Fitness Center are getting along swimmingly.

At the same time, they're improving muscle tone, taking the strain off lower back muscles and burning calories, all while enjoying the support and buoyancy that comes from being in the water.They're enrolled in the Pre/Post Natal Water Aerobics class, which meets for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

They water walk, bicycle and put on specially cut flotation belts to tackle some deep-end water resistance exercises.

"We never do crunches, although the water's really forgiving. You can't really do too much damage," said Tamara Zander, instructor and an expectant mother, too. "But the muscles we focus on are lower abdominals.

"We work a lot on posture and on strengthening the lower back, the hamstrings."

They also visit, get caught up on one another's lives and make friends. It's as much a social experience as an exercise event.

Everybody cheered when Valerie Savage had a healthy baby girl a couple of days after the Feb. 17 class.

"We get some bonding going on," Zander said. "It's fun. They bring their babies in and show them off. We make friends."

Not only bonding but a boosting of self-esteem occurs.

"The water is wonderful," Savage said. "You don't feel so pregnant in the water."

The water provides a safe environment for pregnant women who want to get a good workout without having to worry about risks, said Dr. Robert Durrans, a Provo physician who researched the validity of water aerobics for pregnant women before fitness center managers decided to offer the classes.

"Basically, a lot of pregnant women have problems with supportive ligament pain as the abdomen enlarges and the strain increases on the muscles in the back and legs," Durrans said. "In the water there's a lot of buoyancy so it's easier to get a good workout and stay fit without the accompanying pain."

Durrans' wife did water aerobics during her last two pregnancies. "She's normally a long-distance runner," said Durrans. "She found this a good way to get a real good workout without worrying about pain."

Savage said the water aerobics appealed to her as she approached her seventh pregnancy because she wanted something inexpensive that she could enjoy and still call exercise.

She only gained half the weight this pregnancy as she did during her others, delivered more quickly and felt better throughout. Her abdominal muscles "don't feel quite so Jello-ey this time."

Savage said this is the first time she faithfully exercised during a pregnancy.

"All the other times, I heard about how I should exercise but I always thought, it'll be expensive, I won't do it. The last couple of pregnancies, though, I had some shape issues that caused some lower back problems. I'd get so I could hardly walk," she said.

Water exercise appealed because she felt she could work harder and get more benefit without overheating as she tended to do in other types of aerobic activity.

Since the fitness center offers inexpensive day care, Savage could haul her other three preschoolers with her and keep them nearby for a couple of dollars.

"For me, the baby-sitting made it possible," she said.

Now, she and her husband are planning to keep coming to the pool in the mornings.

"That's another benefit. You do it and others in the family start to think, `Well, I could do that too,' " Savage said.

She hopes the class is expanded to three days a week, and center officials say that's in their plans.