Water fitness is fluid; it can customize itself to your abilities whether you can swim or not.
Therefore, if you’re interested in exercising in the water because it is gentler on the joints compared to land exercise or because it is the ultimate full body workout, there is a place for you in the pool.
For those of you who have never taken aquatic fitness classes or have never swam laps for exercise, let’s get down to basics.
First, you need a swimsuit. If you are going to take a water exercise class ladies, it’s good to wear a suit with some support in it. There are many of suits with built-in bras. My favorite companies that sell practical but cute suits are Land’s End and Title Nine.
Gentlemen, trunks are just fine. If you want to wear a shirt, make sure it is a swim shirt. Cotton shirts are not good for pool filters and many pools don’t allow wearing cotton clothes in the water.
For water walking or aqua exercise classes, swim shoes are available. Shoes truly depend on you. If the bottom of the pool is rough where you exercise, definitely wear water shoes. The bottoms of some pools can really tear up your feet. Also, if you need arch support or you have sensitive knees or hips when you exercise, a good water shoe is important.
Again, I recommend Land’s End for basic shoes. For a more athletic shoe, you can go to www.swimoutlet.com. They have a wide selection of swimming shoes as well as suits, goggles and caps.
The attire is a little different if you are swimming laps for exercise. First, you never want to wear swim shoes. They will weigh you down and make it difficult to kick.
However, you do need a good swimsuit. Women should wear a suit that doesn’t move around, if should fit snugly. Speedo, TYR, Kiefer, or Dolphin make good training suits. Gentlemen, you can wear trunks. But know that they will create drag in the water if they move around too much. New swimsuits called zoomers are available. They they look more like biking shorts. These are great for lap swimming because they provide coverage but don’t catch the water and create drag.
Also, if you are swimming and have hair longer than a few inches, you are likely going to want a swim cap. Chlorine and salt water are both very tough on hair and can strip away the top layer of the hair, creating that shiny “swimmers hair” look.
To avoid this, thoroughly wet your hair before swimming, especially if you have long hair or colored hair. This saturates the hair shaft and makes it more difficult for the chlorine to attack the hair. Also, wear a swim cap. It keeps the hair out of your eyes and mouth when you turn to the side to breathe.
I like the silicone caps better than the rubber caps or the Lycra caps. Rubber caps stick together in your gym bag and can be hard to put on. Lycra caps don’t protect you hair very well. The silicon caps cost a little more but they come on and off really easily and last a long time.
Chlorine and salt water can also be hard on your eyes. Goggles are a great idea. Don’t get the cheapies. They will leak as soon as you get them in the water and become a nuisance.
I personally love the Speedo Sprint goggles because the eye cups are oval and they have the foam around the eyes instead of hard plastic or silicone.
However, this is where you will have to experiment with what works best for you. Like any glasses, the design must fit your face and style preference. Locally, you can get a decent variety of goggles at Big 5 and Cummins Athletic Supply.
If you have prescription glasses, you can buy special goggles from your eye doctor. I wear contacts and just make sure I have goggles on. I don’t open my eyes under water with my contacts in. I’ve lost a few contacts that way and it can dry the contacts out.
Now that you’re properly dressed, you can use kickboards, pull buoys, flippers or paddles while you’re swimming to help you focus on various parts of your body. Most pools have these items readily available to use. If not, you can buy your own online.
If you don’t know how to use the equipment, that’s OK. You really don’t need them if you are simply swimming laps. If you want to use them, just ask the lifeguard how and it’s always great to talk with other swimmers and find out what works for them.
Finally, you have to take good care of your skin and hair if you exercise in the water. Again, chlorine and salt water can dry out hair and skin and even cause eczema for people with sensitive skin.
My children and I are in the sensitive skin camp. Make sure to take a good shower and wash off the chlorine with a mild cleanser for the face and body and a good moisturizing shampoo for the hair. I have used shampoo that is supposed to be great for swimmers hair, but in my personal experience it isn’t that much better than the regular stuff.
You can also use baking soda on the hair before you wash it. Just massage a big handful into the hair and rinse. That neutralizes the chemicals and helps prevent light blonde hair from turning green.
Also, use a really good moisturizing conditioner. I’d rather spend my money on a good conditioner than fancy shampoo. Finally, slather the body with thick cream. I use the Body Shop Body Butter but Aquafor works extremely well, too, and a little goes a long way.
Swimming and water fitness is a great way to stay well and healthy. Once you get the right equipment and products all you need to do is jump in!
Rebecca Thorpe is the aquatics director at the Walla Walla YMCA.