Water Workout

During my 18 years as a competitive swimmer, there were few joys simpler than poking fun at the “happy hippos” who bobbed around on Water Noodles at the far end of the pool. I dismissed any water exercise that traded heart-pounding laps for Styrofoam dumbbells as child’s play. So when the assignment for this story landed on my desk, I couldn’t stop laughing – until I jumped in.

Wrangling those Noodles and running in deep water, which were recommended by Carolyn Collman, the aquatic-exercise instructor at Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona, turned out to be a far cry from what I had snottily thought of as “aquacise.” The workout was more like going for a heart-pounding run-on the moon. Because water lacks some of the gravitational pull that exists on land, just keeping my body upright was a chore.

Studies show that deep-water running burns almost as many calories as treadmill running. “Water provides 12 times the resistance of air,” Collman explains. So not only does every kick or lunge strengthen your body, but because you’re constantly pushing or pulling against the resistance, opposing pairs of muscles such as the triceps and biceps work equally as hard.

What’s more, “aquatic exercise boosts core strength, since the abs and back muscles have to work constantly to stabilize the body,” adds Robert Forster, a Santa Monica, California, physical therapist who trains athletes such as Pete Sampras in the pool, and who, along with Collman, designed the following 45-minute circuit.

If Water Noodle exercises are good enough for Pete, they’re good enough for me. Plus, the ambience beats an aerobics studio in the middle of July, and I can sneak in a workout while my friends bake in the sun. So if you see slipping in a dew dips and flies between cannonballs at the next pool party, please don’t call me a happy hippo.

Written by Laurel Naversen. Featured in Women’s Sports Fitness, July/August 2000.