By Tina Betts
Tina risks getting her face wet in the hope it will do something spectacular to her body…
I'm no mermaid. At the school swimming gala I was always the one having to start in the pool because I couldn't dive in. An underwater wardrobe malfunction aged 14 (in front of the boys – of course!) didn’t help my confidence, but I’ve moved on. And since a friend taught me how to swim the breast stroke correctly, I'm not averse to getting my face wet, just so long as I can still touch the bottom!
I must admit lane swimming sounds as dull to me as running on a treadmill, though, so I'm quite excited by my first aqua class with Cheryl. I've even got the perfect cossie - the websites call it a legsuit, but I prefer to call it my Victoriana. It’s basically an all-in-one with shorts and it’s perfect for holding all the right bits in and making you feel secure when stepping out of the changing rooms (take that, class of ’86!).
So I'm raring to go. I’ve been warned this is not about fancy footwork – it’s a proper workout, but your body and joints are completely supported, ‘like gloves around a hand’, as Cheryl explains.
The pool is the perfect temperature and once I've got the hang of facing the right direction and minimising my splashing (I did notice the other members of the class giving me a wide berth!), I'm smiling and having fun. The challenge of getting an ‘eddy flow’ is particularly good – that’s where the whole group runs in one direction for a few strides, then abruptly changes direction. A great mix of different exercises means you get a good workout without the pain of not being able to walk the next day.
And I've been back. Unlike my Spanish class, I haven’t had to force myself to join in Cheryl’s aqua class after a rubbish day because the old endorphins kick into action and I always feel loads better afterwards. I’m conscious I need to keep my new exercise regime varied, so I guess that's where Lloyd steps in again. I wonder what he has lined up for me next? Oh, my lord, I do believe I'm getting excited!
· Water provides hydrostatic pressure, which basically means pressure all around the body (rather like a glove around a hand). This aids blood circulation and has a massaging effect on the muscles.
· Water protects the joints from impact, so you’re able to replicate high-impact land moves more safely and for longer periods of time. The cooling effect of water also allows for a quicker recovery.
· Water provides frontal resistance – basically, the harder you push, the harder the water pushes back! The same movement on land will be approximately 12 times harder in the water, so you use far more energy.
· Water provides a dual concentric contraction, which means both your front and back muscles have to work concentrically as water exerts force all around the body. In land-based exercises you work against gravity, so one muscle is working eccentrically (ie lengthening), while the other is contracting or shortening. The eccentric contractions are related to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, ie not being able to walk downstairs the day after a workout!). This is less likely in an aqua class as it’s difficult to work a muscle eccentrically.
· The water turbulence requires you to be more balanced and so results in greater postural gains.
· Working against the eddy flow or turbulence is very difficult and so increases intensity – for example, when you’re running in a circle and are then required to change direction. This principle can be used a lot in aqua exercises. The turbulence is increased when there are more people in the pool, working in opposite directions, and when the pool wall is higher than the water level, as the water rebounds back off the wall.
· It’s an ideal complement to a weight-based routine as you’re using muscles differently. The body adapts to exercise, so there are diminishing returns if you’re constantly doing the same thing. In addition to a varied exercise regime, you should change your routine every 6–8 weeks to prevent de-training.