June 12, 2000 -- You've probably seen people bobbing up and down in aqua exercise classes, smiling beneath their flowered swim caps. But these gentle water aerobics classes aren't the only way to get your workout wet. Both water-walking and deep-water running offer numerous fitness benefits and are catching on with competitive and recreational athletes alike. (For more details, see Power in Resistance.) Here's what you need to know to get started.
This is about as simple as it sounds. You just take your walk into the water. The deeper the water, the harder your workout will be. Find out which depth works for you and start there. Most people choose a water level between the bellybutton and the neck. You don't need a flotation belt to water-walk, but nonslip pool shoes or old tennis shoes may help.
Swing your arms in broad sweeping motions to push and pull the water. For more of an upper-body challenge, wear webbed gloves. This increases the surface area of your hands, and thus, increases the resistance. Stand tall, keeping your abdominal and back muscles tight.
To burn more calories, vary your direction: go backwards, sideways, or change directions suddenly. And remember, even though you don't see sweat, you are losing water. Keep a bottle of water nearby and drink early and often.
If you choose to run, seek out water deep enough so that your feet don't touch the bottom. To keep yourself upright, you'll need a flotation belt. Make sure it sits snugly around your waist and doesn't ride up. Both foam and inflatable belts should keep you floating at about the shoulder line.
Again, keep your abdominal muscles tight and your chest lifted as you mimic your land-based running motion. Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle; try to lift your knees higher than you normally would on land. As you run, your body should naturally lean slightly forward. You might want to try alternating between pointing your toes and pressing your heels down, to work your calves and hamstrings.
To mix it up, alternate long, exaggerated strides with shorter sprint-like ones. Again, keep hydrated. With no T-shirt to sweat through, it's hard to remember that you're losing fluids.
If you find yourself in a less-than-Olympic-sized pool, try tethering yourself to a ring at the edge of the pool and running in place. (You can find specially made tethers at swim shops or sporting goods stores.) In fact, with a tether holding you in place, you'll get a higher-intensity workout. Just try to ignore the fact that you look like a dog.
Elizabeth B. Krieger is an associate editor at WebMD.
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