During frigid weather like we’ve seen in Indiana, I inevitably find myself daydreaming about balmy, sandy beaches and peaceful lapping waves. Carol Kennedy-Armbruster, functional fitness guru at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, reminded me this week that I can enjoy water — and get a good workout — any time of the year.
Some people see indoor and outdoor pools as lap pools or accessories for sunbathing. Kennedy-Armbruster sees a “giant resistance machine.” She compares exercising in water to moving through molasses.
“It’s a resistant medium, which causes you to exert more energy,” she told the Wall Street Journal for an article about effective cross-training.
“Water exercise is the perfect upright movement for improving functionality on land because you cannot ‘sit’ with water exercise. You are in an upright position challenging the core muscles/joints/ligaments with each step you take,” she told me. “Pool workouts contain both cardiorespiratory exercise (aerobics) AND muscular strength and flexibility. Each time you walk in the water the cardiorespiratory system gets challenged but so, too, do the muscles, ligaments, tendons of the body.”
The constant resistance is a challenge for me because it means I’m constantly off balance. Move my arms one direction and the rest of me moves another direction. Lift up a leg and the rest of me goes down. Kennedy-Armbruster said water exercise is inefficient — and it’s supposed to be that way.
“The idea of upright water exercise is to create inefficient movements that stress the cardio and muscular system of the body at one time,” she said.
Lap swimming, on the other hand, is completely different because swimmers can “efficiently” go with the flow as they move horizontally through the water. That is, unless the swimmer’s form is like mine and needs quite a bit of work. Inefficient, yes, but I was assured that my clunky form has some benefits, such as burning more calories because of all the extra work.
The Wall Street Journal talked to Kennedy-Armbruster for an article about the “eclectic mix” of cross-training employed by a modern dancer. Kennedy-Armbruster said water exercise is a common cross-training medium for a range of sports (including cross-country at my son’s high school). The exercise allows athletes — and normal people with joint pain — to have a challenging cardiovascular workout without stressing out the musculoskeletal system.