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Li’l Dan on Exercising in the Water

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Li'l Dan and Danzson Celdran in Greenbelt pool
Li’l Dan with her son Danzson.

by Li’l Dan Celdran

The Greenbelt Aquatic and Fitness Center has been a special place for me. Before the facility was remodeled 20 plus years ago, I used to play with friends (in the outdoor pool) and take swimming lessons in the early morning. Man, was that water cold! As a young adult I was introduced to water exercise when I applied for an instructor position at GAFC 17 years ago. I had always loved swimming and playing in the pool. After I was trained to teach, I began obtaining various certifications. Soon after, I became a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons. I just love being in the water. It’s so freeing – I love the “weightlessness” of it and it can be a great exercise modality.

Water exercise can be a challenging workout. Water exercise that is done in chest deep, shallow water (e.g. Aquacize and Aqua Zumba classes) provides a total body workout. Participants jog, pendulum, jumping jack, rock horse, and touch their hands to opposite heels in front, while moving forwards, backwards and sideways. Now doesn’t that sound like fun? Being in shallow water allows the participant to jump, or rebound from the pool bottom. The water also provides resistance when your body parts (e.g. arms and legs) push and pull against the water.  Stand in chest deep water and while keeping your arms by your side under the water, raise your straight arms towards the surface of the water (make a letter “T” with your arms) and lower down to starting position. If you push down and pull up hard enough, you’ll feel the resistance of the water working against you. And that’s great. Now do 50 more!

Participants may notice that not all exercises translate from shallow to deep water and vice versa. This is what makes the different depths so exciting. If you want to be able to bounce to practice your Radio City Rockettes kicks, exercising in the shallow water will provide that experience. Using the “spa bells” (aquatic “hand weights”) for upper body resistance work really well in shallow water because you’re anchored to the pool bottom. If you don’t want to blast off into space, deep water exercise (where feet cannot touch bottom; e.g. 6-13ft) provides more range of motion without the jumping motion. Participants wear flotation devices (e.g. belts or noodles) and may use kickboards, noodles, empty water bottles and buoys for added resistance.

The best thing about water exercise is that participants do not need to know how to swim, just to be comfortable in the pool. If you’re in a shallow water class, keep your feet flat on the floor. Wearing “aqua shoes” will add resisitance. Oh, and please don’t forget to wear your swim suit. When you’re in the water vertically, keep your back straight. Drink water throughout your exercise session (your water, not the pool’s.) Breathe. And smile. You’ll have more fun. Trust me.

As with water exercise, swimming also provides many benefits: it’s low impact, it can be done throughout your lifetime, it builds cardiorespiratory fitness, it’s an alternative when injured, it’s a family affair (everyone in the family can take part), it burns calories, and it may save your life (if your yacht springs a leak). GAFC’s learn-to-swim program offers lessons for both children and adults for all skill levels. As an instructor, it’s rewarding to see participants move past their obstacles and progress. As a participant, I’ve really enjoyed taking the swimmer workout class. A different, challenging workout is provided each time. My pool friends know that my most favorite activity is playing ball in the deep end (treading). Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is fun. Yes, more than one person is needed to play.

When I taught my weekly classes, I noticed the same group of women and men attending. Since teaching classes and hosting social events with students, I’ve become friends with many.  The camaraderie between participants and instructors at GAFC is what makes our facility special. This summer is a great time to start a new pool program whether it be swimming, water exercise, or just playing in the pool. It’s hot outside and the water is cooling. So jump in and make a splash!

FYI, here are exercise recommendations for adults, according to the American College of Sports Medicine:

Cardiorespiratory Exercise (water exercise, swimming)

  • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Exercise recommendations can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).
  • One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.
  • Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.
  • People unable to meet these minimums can still benefit from some activity. 

Resistance Exercise (water exercise does not help in bone strengthening. You’d need to work against gravity, not buoyancy. Use the machines in the Fitness Wing for this.)

  • Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.
  • Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.
  • Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power.
  • For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance.
  • Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions. 

Flexibility Exercise (the pool is a great place to stretch)

  • Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.
  • Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.
  • Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
  • Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.
  • Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching. 

Neuromotor Exercise 

  • Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week.
  • Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (tai ji and *yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults. *GAFC offers Water Yoga this summer!
  • 20-30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise.
“Li’l” Dan Celdran has been working in the fitness industry for over 17 years. She holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from the the University of MD and is certified by the  American College of Sports Medicine as a  Health Fitness Specialist.  She  currently works as a fitness (personal trainer) at GAFC. 

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