Aquatic exercise takes practice, but offers low-impact workout

Thursday, December 4, 2003

After stuffing myself with too much turkey and pumpkin pie over the Thanksgiving weekend, I knew that exercise was a must this week.

So as part of a six-week plan to test out the area's most intriguing group fitness classes, I spent an hour in the pool.

Swimming sounds like more fun than exercise, anyway.

Trying to keep my head above water and my balance while working through an exercise routine was a little tricky during the two classes I attended at Central Municipal Pool.

Of course, the 20 women who are regulars in the Swimnastics class breezed through with no problem. And they offered a few pointers as I flailed around in the water. Standing in the shallower section helped my head stay above the water, while standing with my legs slightly apart helped me keep my balance.

Instructor Pat Grebe keeps her students moving for a full hour in the aquatics fitness class offered through the city's parks department.

She starts with some basic warm-up exercises and then adds some tougher movements later. Throughout the hour, you'll be pedaling a bike forward and then in reverse, kicking like a mule, jumping like a frog and even swaying your hips like you're twirling a hula hoop.

All the movements work the body from head to toe, Grebe said. "It makes you more flexible and more graceful."

Many of the people who come to the class do so upon doctor's orders -- water exercises are great for people with knee, hip and joint problems.

"You can tell a difference in the water because you're not fighting gravity," Grebe said.

And you can get a great workout, without feeling sore. An evening aqua aerobics class will get your heart pumping with some running, jumping jacks, and can-can kicks.

After two consecutive days of classes, I didn't feel any soreness at all, which is unlike the other fitness classes I've tried.

Instructor Ute Smith tries to change the routine in every aqua aerobics class so that if someone comes four times a week, they won't be doing the same workout every day. She spends at least part of each session doing cardio exercises, but also tries to work in arms and leg movements.

Smith and one other class participant wore water aerobic shoes in the pool, though they aren't necessary for a good workout. The shoes do help absorb some of the shock your feet feel when they hit the concrete floor, Smith said.

After a warm-up of running the length of the pool, she began her workout routine, using a felt board to show us the line-up. She often uses a clock to time the segments but usually uses a pyramid routine so that the class is doing a series of movements -- can-can kicks, moguls, which are like slalom skiing and rocking horses -- throughout the hour. She repeats the series so each exercise is done in repetitions of eight or 16 movements.

Often the women in the class will ask for an exercise that works a specific part of the body, Smith said. If there are constraints from injuries, or even a pregnancy, she can easily modify an exercise.

The idea is to keep working and not get bored with a particular routine, Smith said.

Each of the aquatics classes have a core group of regulars, but some newcomers generally show up in the weeks after Christmas and just before the summer swimsuit season, Smith said.

Laura Johnston is the features editor for the Southeast Missourian.

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