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A Beginner's Pool Workout

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Here is a very basic 30-minute water workout, devised with the help of Jeanne O'Neal, a water fitness instructor at the Center of Clayton in Missouri. Most water exercise classes will have more variety than this and many changes in tempo.

You can do these moves at your own pace, but O'Neal said, "The more you get your arms involved, the higher your kicks are, the faster you're moving through the water, all raise your heart rate and lead to a more intense workout."

And, she said, "Watch your alignment. You want your hips to stay under your shoulders, and you have to keep your abdominal muscles tight."

Finally, "You always want to land flat-footed" after a jump - "otherwise your arches can cramp up."

Start your workout, in water about chest-deep, by warming up for 3 to 5 minutes: Walk or march through the water, bringing the knees up as high as is comfortable for you; move your arms through the water at your side. Try walking on your tiptoes for an 8-count, then on your heels (with toes pulled up toward the ceiling) for an 8-count; do three sets of these. You can do some stretching by sliding one foot out to one side, with a slight bend in the knee, and bringing the other over to meet it. Or try big pendulum swings, leaning over on one leg and sweeping the arms to that side, then switching to the other side. Start doing a little light jogging.

Pick up the pace by jogging more strenuously and getting the arms involved - with palms facing forward, push the water away vigorously, or push up (like you're opening a window), then pull down and through the water.

Go to jumping jacks, moving the feet far apart and raising arms out at the sides to shoulder level; try to do three sets of 12. To make the move more intense, try to jump higher by "rebounding" off the bottom of the pool. Or try tuck jacks: Using your abdominal muscles, bring your knees up and in to your chest, then jump your legs out to the side. When you're in the tuck, try to cup your heels with your hands and hold for three seconds. If you need to catch your breath, recover with some light jogging.

Now try cross-country skis: Move your right leg and left arm forward while your other arm and leg go back, and vice versa. Again, try to do three sets of 12, and make this move more intense by jumping higher. Or you can increase the resistance by traveling sideways while doing skis.

To take it to the next level, try tuck skis, bringing your knees into your chest between moving your limbs forward and back. To get really serious, try suspension skis: Kick your legs forward and back without touching down; you may have to keep your arms out to the side, moving in a treading motion, to do this move. Jog lightly if you need to recover.

Now go into a very fast jog, moving forward, while bringing your arms from back to front (like you're going to hug someone around the waist); this combination of moves creates a lot of resistance. Jog backward and change the arms to a breast-stroke movement. Do three sets of a 12-count forward and back.

Grab a noodle and do some resistance work: With arms stretched out in front of you, shoulder-width apart, grab the noodle and pull it down through the water toward your body. Do 12 to 16 repetitions. You can also place the noodle just in front of you or just behind you and push down; to create more resistance, turn the noodle into a "pretzel" by tying it in a tight knot.

Now tone your legs by placing one foot in the middle of the noodle, with your knee at a 90-degree angle (the position when you're sitting in a chair); your other foot should be flat on the pool floor. Push the noodle down to the floor; try to do three sets of 12, then switch to the other leg. To make it a little more challenging, put both feet on the noodle and push down. (This is a favorite of O'Neal's: "It's almost like riding a wave.") Use your abdominal muscles and arms to help you stay in the proper position.

For another variation, keep your foot in the middle of the noodle, push down, then kick your leg out to the side (kicking from your hip), then pull your leg down toward the floor, back to your other leg. This is especially good for the inner thighs.

To cool down and stretch out, bring your leg out in front of you and place your heel on top of the noodle, stretching your hamstring. Hold for 12 seconds, then switch to the other leg. Hold the noodle at arm's length in front of you and use it for balance while you do a runner's stretch for the calf, just like on land. Finally, grasping both ends, hold the noodle overhead and stretch far over to one side, then to the other, to get a good stretch down both sides of your body.


(c) 2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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