By Jason Cramp
Heading to the gym on a beautiful sunny day can feel more like a chore than a fun, healthy activity. So why not stay home and get fit right in your own backyard? Whether you’re fortunate enough to be able to swim a few laps in a pool or just find new ways to enjoy your deck or patio, there are plenty of ways to stay in shape without leaving your backyard.
Why water works
There are several advantages to a water-based workout, thanks to the inherent properties of water itself.
Any movements you make underwater are met with added resistance, since water is much denser than air. This forces your body to work even harder than it normally would, making each movement all the more effective. This resistance also lessens the impact of certain movements on your joints. Sudden stops and starts are less painful than they would be out of the water.
The benefits of buoyancy
Water’s buoyancy lessens the effects of gravity on your body. In essence, your weight is reduced when you are in water. Depending on how deeply you are immersed, you can significantly reduce the amount of weight your body bears. When waist-deep in water, your body only has to handle approximately 50 per cent of your body’s mass weight; in neck-deep water, only 10 per cent.
Buoyancy also decreases the amount of shock absorbed by your bones, muscles, joints, and ligaments. When swimming in deep water, your body suffers virtually no impact at all.
This makes water-based fitness programs ideal for individuals who have difficulty moving on dry land. Swimmers who are overweight, elderly or suffer from ailments such as arthritis, fragile bones, injuries or other disabilities, can all benefit movement in the water. Special lifts and other accessibility equipment is even available to help these bathers get into the pool.
Water can also help cool you down during a pool-based workout. Sweat generated by your body is wicked away as you move through the water, which also prevents overheating by allowing your body to effectively eliminate excess heat.
For this reason, you must carefully monitor yourself during a water-based workout, especially on hot, humid days, when physical exhaustion can set in rapidly. You may feel cool and comfortable, but you are still exerting yourself a great deal. If at any point you begin to feel dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath or nauseated, stop and take a break.
Also, just because you’re surrounded by water doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay well hydrated. The more you exercise, the more you sweat. While water will wick away a certain amount of perspiration and keep your body cool, you still have to replenish your fluids to stay comfortable and keep your body working properly. Again, this is even more important in extreme conditions. Of course, as with any other workout, take the time to warm up before you begin.
In the water
There are several ways to keep fit while enjoying your pool, both traditional and non-traditional.
Traditional swimming is an excellent way to improve your overall health. The activity can enhance your cardiovascular health, help you drop a few of those extra pounds and lead to better muscle tone and increased flexibility.
Depending on your intensity and speed, you can burn up to 500 calories per hour when swimming. Of course, different swimming strokes will reap different benefits. Some common strokes include:
- Freestyle/crawl: This might be the most familiar swimming stroke of them all. You lie on your stomach, moving your arms in an alternating windmill motion, into and out of the water as they rotate, while you kick your legs, in an alternating flutter motion underwater. Freestyle swimming can help tone your chest, upper arms, shoulders and thighs.
- Backstroke: This is, in essence, the same as the freestyle, except in this case, you lie on your back in the water. The same alternating arm and leg motions are used and the same muscles are exercised (in a slightly different manner).
- Breaststroke: This more complicated stroke starts with you lying on your stomach. You extend your arms in front of you, pulling back towards your body through the water in a sweeping motion to propel yourself forward (keep your hands cupped). Meanwhile, pull your knees towards your chest, then thrust your legs backward and snap them together for added propulsion. For reference, think of a frog’s legs as he swims through a pond. This stroke works the chest, arms and thighs, among other muscles.
Of course, not everyone likes the idea of swimming laps in the pool. Thankfully, there are other water-based activities that can help you keep fit.
Aquatic exercise programs incorporate a series of low-impact underwater moves designed to mimic traditional aerobics. Like swimming, aquatic exercise can increase muscle strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. It can also lead to better balance, posture, and co-ordination. These exercises are a great pool-based alternative for family members who are either uncomfortable or weak swimmers, as they are often performed in constant-depth pools or the shallow end of a traditional pool.
If you are still hesitant to try an aquatic fitness routine, there are several floatation devices on the market that can give you some added safety and security in the water. After all, better safe than sorry!
Before hitting the backyard pool to start your own routine, consider checking out a class at a local pool or fitness facility conducted by a qualified instructor. This will give you a good idea of the types of exercises you can do and how they are properly executed. Of course, it’s always advisable to exercise with a partner. Not only can you help motivate each other, you can also keep an eye on each other in case of injury or emergency.
Out of the water
If you’re still considering getting a pool or hot tub, or are in the process of having one installed, there are still ways to enjoy an outdoor workout out of the water. Many of the exercises you may already be doing indoors can be easily brought into the summer sunshine. Yoga mats, aerobic steps, exercise balls and free weights are just as effective on the patio as they are in the living room or basement. Avoid using the lawn, however, unless you have an extremely level backyard. Trying to strike a yoga pose near a slope or gradation could quickly lead you to lose your footing and risk injury.
For those looking to recreate a more traditional gym outdoors, there are some exercise equipment manufacturers that offer gym-style gear designed specifically for outdoor use. Though they can sometimes resemble playground equipment, these gadgets offer all the staples of the gym, from elliptical cross-training and stationary bicycling to strength and stretching exercises. For those with enough space (and a big enough budget), many backyard designers can even incorporate full tennis and basketball courts into your dream oasis.
|FIVE MINUTE WARM-UP|
|The following five minute warm-up will help relax your muscles before you start your aquatic workout.
1. Standing in waist-deep water, bend your body at the hip – first to the left then to the right – holding each position for 10 seconds. Continue for one minute.
2. Standing in waist-deep water, pull your shoulder blades together by forcing your elbows back as far as possible and hold 10 seconds each time. Continue for one minute.
3. Standing in chest-deep water, place your feet together and bounce up and down in place, pushing off and landing on your toes. Continue for one minute.
4. Standing in waist-deep water, with legs slightly apart, lean forward and place your hands on the pool/hot tub wall. Bend your right knee forward and move your left left behind, hold for 10 seconds and then reverse. Continue for one minute.
5. Standing in neck-deep water, stretch out your arms in front of you and then move your arms back as if you were swimming, bringing your arms back together again. Continue for one minute.