Water aerobics: A fun way to get fit

February 22, 2013 08:49 am

Water aerobics instructor Gerry Montgomery, top center, leads a class last week at the Grande Ronde Fitness Club. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Water aerobics instructor Gerry Montgomery, top center, leads a class last week at the Grande Ronde Fitness Club. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

by TRISH YERGES / Observer correspondent

LA GRANDE — At the Grande Ronde Fitness Club, instructors Gerry Montgomery and Stephanie Boudreau are helping people of all ages benefit from a full body workout during water aerobics classes.  

Water aerobics is a type of resistance training, using traditional aerobic exercises, motions and calisthenics while submerged in chest-deep water. The instructor tailors the exercises to fit the client’s physiological needs and limitations. 

“The benefits of water aerobics is that it’s fun and comfortable in the water, yet you’re still working out hard and burning calories,” said Boudreau, evening aerobics instructor at the club. 

According to the Center for Health and Sciences, a person weighing 180 pounds can burn 327 calories an hour performing water aerobics. But weight loss is only one of the many benefits of this kind of workout. 

“The benefits of water aerobics is that it gives you better balance, muscle strength and cardiovascular health,” said Montgomery, who has taught water aerobics for about 30 years and teaches the morning class at the club. “It’s a good way to get your day started.”

Water aerobics classes commonly involve a warm-up routine of stretching and deep breathing. Then the class is led through a 25-minute routine of cardiovascular exercises. After that clients do some walking in the water followed by a routine of muscle building leg exercises like flutter kicks, leg lifts and karate kicks. 

Water aerobics is for everyone, young and old, but because of its therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits, it often attracts seniors who want to maintain mobility and cardiovascular health. People who are recovering from surgery often exercise in water to regain their strength and balance. 

“If a client is new, I ask them what problems they have,” said Montgomery. “Some have arthritis, as I do, and this is very good for that. Some have a shoulder, ankle or knee problem, so then I change their routine to help them.”

Exercising in water is gentle on the body’s limbs and joints because water is dense, and it supports the motion of the joints. Working to increase range of motion, especially in warm water can be beneficial for people with arthritis, injuries, joint or back pain. 

“Because of the buoyancy of water, your perceived body weight can be as much as 90 percent less in water than your actual body weight on land,” said Boudreau. “Weight bearing impact shock is minimal in water particularly compared to land-based running.”

Water aerobics offers an intense cardiovascular workout, which in turn, improves circulation and is good for the heart. Also, water exercises increase lung capacity because the lungs have to work harder under the water pressure.

“A lot of people think you have to swim to do water aerobics, but you do not,” said Montgomery. “We use what I call dummy bells that we do a lot of arm and shoulder exercises with, and also we use them for flotation when we do things like a flutter kick and leg exercises.”

Some routines call for the use of hydrofit weights, specially designed with a soft grip, and they float. Classes also use noodles and kick boards in the deep end of the pool. Mixing up the exercise routine as much as possible provides a thorough body workout to tone muscles.

Simply keeping one’s head above water is the only requirement needed, but in the event a person should lose his upright posture, the worst thing that can happen is that he tips gently into the water instead of falling on a hard surface. floaties can also be placed under the armpits to help maintain balance.

While buoyancy supports the body, the muscles are gently stretched, and this allows for greater range of motion of the limbs. The water also provides enough light resistance to prevent the body’s joints from moving too fast or over extending and pulling ligaments or muscles. 

Land-based exercises can cause the body to overheat, but exercising in water does not. Water aerobics can provide an intense workout that produces sweat, but the mild temperature of water is refreshing and comfortable.

“One thing that is unique at the Grande Ronde Fitness Club,” said Club manager Cory Sudbrock, “is that we have a warm salt water pool. The salt naturally generates chlorine, and it’s very therapeutic. There’s no harsh chemical smell, and there is no harsh reaction to the hair or eyes.” 

When exercising in warm water, a client’s heart rate actually slows down. 

“Exercise in water temperatures of 77-85 produces a lower heart rate response,” said Boudreau. “The hydrostatic pressure of water shifts blood away from the limbs and toward the chest, heart and lungs. This shift increases central pressure cardiac output which leads to a decrease in heart rate compared to working on land. In other words, the pressure of the water helps the heart circulate blood by aiding the veins in returning blood back to the heart.” 

The benefits of water aerobics is not measured by the heart rate but by how the body feels after several weeks of exercising. 

“The first thing they will notice is a change in their balance,” said Boudreau. “A good test is to go on a bike ride after taking water aerobics for a few weeks, and see if bicycling feels easier. You should notice increased balance, endurance, cardiovascular and muscle strength.” 

Boudreau said that we need to continue using our balance throughout our life, and we need exercise to keep doing the things we enjoy. 

“I encourage people to come and give it a try,” she said. “It’s fun. It will help you maintain or increase your mobility and be active in life.” 

Classes at the Grande Ronde Fitness Club usually last for one hour. Morning classes run daily at 8:30 a.m., and evening classes begin at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. To enroll in a class, call the club office at 541-963-2582.