Five Benefits of Pool Workouts

While triathletes already understand the benefits of a pool to balance out workouts, nearly all of us can benefit from including pool workouts in our training schedules. You can always head for open water during the warm months of the year, but most communities also have more convenient options year round. Check around for a community pool or low cost “swimming only” membership to your local health club. You can even check out local hotels and schools, many of which provide day passes for community swimming. Wondering how effective this could be for you? Here are my top five benefits of pool workouts:

Post workout muscular recovery. Swimming or gently working out in a cool swimming pool following a workout may help to decrease muscle soreness. Ideally, you want to head for a pool that is a little on the cool side and try a variety of strokes that will allow your legs to move in a variety of motions.

 

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Preventing falls and injury. A recent Australian study demonstrated a correlation between swimming among aging men and fewer falls. This article, recently published by the Washington Post, describes the study’s outcome, finding that aging men who swim were 33% less likely to experience a fall. According to the study author, this could be due to the requirement that swimmers create their own base of support while coordinating movements of both the upper and lower extremities. Pretty interesting!

Address muscular imbalances. Land-based activities like cycling and running tend to overdevelop strength through the front of the body (including the quadriceps and chest), so it’s important to develop posterior strength in the back and hamstrings, too. Swimming is a natural way to strengthen these areas by working with the natural resistance of the water.

Improve upper body strength: Developing upper body strength will benefit most athletic activities, but like mentioned above, these muscles are not naturally developed through activities such as running and cycling. Choosing pool workouts that include different strokes will help improve your posture, increase core strength  and increase the efficiency of your upper body.

Injury prevention and recovery: Whether you’re swimming or running in the pool, aquatic workouts can improve muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness without increasing injuries associated with impact. Pool “running” is an injured runner’s best friend, using the same muscles as running on land, with similar cardiovascular benefits, allowing you to maintain fitness during recovery.

If you would like to include more exercise in your schedule without the risk of increased impact, pool running is a natural way of doing so. As with traditional running, focus on maintaining an upright posture and a cadence that will increase your heart rate (you might have to work a little harder than feels natural). You’ll only need limited equipment (an aquatic running belt), but a friend and a heart rate monitor can really help to increase your focus and motivation.

For more on pool running, check out this article from strengthrunning.com. Choose your workout carefully, however. While pool running is especially beneficial for impact related injuries (such as plantar fasciitis), stabilization injuries (such as low back or hamstring soreness) can actually be aggravated by running in the pool and may be better treated through strength and stabilization work on a more traditional surface.

Swimming is a lifetime activity that can benefit athletes of all levels. Once you have a venue, the best part is the equipment needed is minimal. A swimming suit, a swimming cap, and a pair of goggles will get you started and you can choose to invest in optional tools such as a running belt, kickboard, and fins as you progress.

If you get really good, many communities also offer swimming clubs and “masters groups” that provide adults with an opportunity to train together and encourage each other. Add in some pool workouts in to complement your treadmill and indoor cycle training this winter and get ready to enjoy the enhanced recovery, fitness and overall strength in your spring races, sports, and events. Happy swimming!

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.


Flexibility and Mobility

Flexibility and mobility are fairly common terms in today’s fitness world–and I’m sure a good majority of you have heard these words in relation to your own workouts. While both have a very important place in fitness (especially when you are first starting out on a fitness program) people often mistake flexibility and mobility as being one in the same. This couldn’t be further from the truth as they are very different concepts. Let’s take a quick look at the difference between flexibility and mobility to better understand.

Flexibility relates more to the length of a muscle (bending easily without breaking)
Mobility is how a joint moves, its range of motion (the ability to move freely and easily)

While they may seem somewhat similar, they are in fact very different. There is much debate as to which is more important, but I feel in any well-rounded fitness program that flexibility and mobility should complement each other. The key (in my opinion) is how and when you incorporate each into your fitness routine.

When Should We Perform Flexibility Training?

Remember when we were taught to “stretch” before a workout? Whether it was in gym class, before a game or practice or took off for a run, we bent down to touch the toes or pulled the heel into the rear end to stretch those quads. Seems like it made sense, right? But what really happens when you stretch prior to a workout is that you are actually relaxing the muscles being stretched. In addition, this also relaxes the nervous system. Still doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that when you relax your muscles and nervous system you’re actually inhibiting their ability to produce strength and power by weakening the signal between the two. That doesn’t sound too ideal for those who want to get the most out of their workout!

Now when you consider the things that make stretching a bad choice prior to your workout, those are the exact things that make it ideal for a post-workout activity. Following a workout, your muscles and nervous system are fired-up, so stretching will help relax them and begin the all-important recovery process. Plus your muscles should be warm from your chosen activity which will make them more conducive to flexibility training, and also get you better results!

When performing post-workout flexibility training, focus more so on static stretches (holding for 15-30 seconds) that target not only the muscles you used in your workout, but the entire body. We often work our way up the body when stretching by starting with the achilles/calf and then moving up to the hamstrings, quads, groin, glutes, hip flexors and then into the upper body.

 

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When Should We Perform Mobility Training?

While the focus on mobility training is fairly new to the fitness industry, it has been a big part of the physical therapy field for many years. Unfortunately, many people are introduced to the concept of mobility as a reactive approach instead of a proactive approach. In other words, people are incorporating mobility drills and exercises only after problems/injuries arise. So it only makes sense that many trainers and coaches are now utilizing mobility training as a warm-up tool. When comparing mobility training to stretching, it has the opposite effect on your body. It enhances your nervous system, warms-up the muscles more efficiently and prepares the joints for exercise.

By moving your muscles and joints through a range of motion actively, the nervous system to muscle connection is better established. This connection between the two can then lead to increased power and strength output, greater range of motion through the joints, and a more efficient workout/performance.

The mobility warm-ups that we use with clients usually consist of 10-15 minutes of specific movements that target the major joints of the body. The mobility exercises used will vary from workout to workout, but we always utilize a progressive approach that starts with basic mobility-based drills (foam rolling, wall slides, leg swings, marches, skips, etc.) and then advance to more demanding mobility drills (crawling, rocking, bodyweight lunge/squat variations, etc.). By the time you’re done with a mobility based warm-up, you should definitely notice a change in how you feel and a readiness to get after your planned workout!

Mobility exercises can also be a workout of their own. I’ll often prescribe mobility-based drills as an “active recovery” day for clients that could benefit from giving their body a little rest and focusing on quality movement. I find they tend to come back to their regular workouts feeling stronger and well-rested.

As you can see, flexibility and mobility are very different in how they can affect your body’s workout performance and recovery. As we get older we often tend to lose both flexibility and mobility, so it’s important to incorporate both into your regular workout routine.

By using mobility-based exercise as your warm-up and flexibility work after your workout as part of the cool-down, you’ll see better results that should have you feeling stronger, less achy and more confident in how your body moves!

Ken Grall a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, as well as a Youth Fitness Specialist (YFS) through the International Youth Conditioning Association. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.


Exercising safely in the heat

The summer season comes with longer days and more frequent outdoor exercise activity which means whether you’re riding your bike with the family or training for a half marathon, it is wise to understand how the heat and humidity affects your body. Let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of heat illness and how to exercise safely this summer.

For most people, the perfect temperature for exercise is around 55-65 degrees. This is especially true when participating in consistently moderate to high intensity activity like running. I say most people because everyone is different and there are some people that can thrive in the warmer temperatures (but those are far and few between).

For instance, when my team ran in the Chicago Marathon in October, 2007 (the hot one), the temperatures rose to 90 degrees and the humidity was in the 90% range. All of the runners but one suffered from the heat (499 people to 1) and their times were on average 45 – 90 minutes off their normal marathon times. It’s also important to note that many medications can affect the cooling system in the body so it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medicinal protocol as it relates to the heat.

You can’t beat the heat, but you can learn to work with it.

When the temperatures are in this optimal exercise zone, your body neither has to keep itself warm in the colder temperatures or work hard to cool itself via sweating, blood redistribution and panting. It’s the Goldilocks “just right” temperature and allows the body to efficiently cool itself as you move.

However, as the temperature and humidity rise above this range, your body has to invest more energy into keeping you cool. And because the body cools itself via evaporation in your sweat, the higher the relative humidity, the harder it is for your body to cool itself. When the heat gain exceeds the level your body can deal with, your body core temperature rises and this is when you are at greater risk of developing heat-related illness.

Heat Cramps. These are the mildest form of heat-related illness and commonly occurs in the diaphragm, calves, hamstrings and even your extremities (hands, feet, etc.) You may have a mild fever (102 F) and your skin flushed. This is often related to the heat, and a higher level of sweat loss (fluid and electrolytes) your body is producing while exercising.

  • What to do for Heat Cramps: If this happens, it is important to cease exercise, move into a cool space (shade or indoors) to cool the body and hydrate with an electrolyte beverage (sports drink, tomato juice, salted pretzels), place cool clothes on body or take cool shower (or pool), and remove layers of clothing.

Heat Exhaustion. This is more serious than heat cramps and if left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke and more serious consequences. Symptoms can include: fever higher than 102F, nausea, headache, diarrhea, fatigue, heavy sweating, cramps, increased heart rate, goose bumps or cool skin, and feeling faint.

  • What to do for Heat Exhaustion: Stop activity, get out of the heat, and cool body with wet towels or cool water submersion to reduce body temperature, lie down and elevate feet, drink electrolyte drink, and if there are no signs of improvement, call 911 to get medical help.

Heatstroke. This is the most severe heat-related illness as it occurs when there is a complete failure of the body’s heat regulating system and can lead to coma, seizures and death. Symptoms include: ceased sweating, warm, dry skin, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, confusion, convulsions or seizures and rapid heart rate.

  • What to do for Heatstroke: Call 911 or your local medical service immediately! Get out of the sun and into a cool place, remove all clothing and put ice in the armpits and groin or immerse in cold water and drink cool electrolyte beverage if coherent.

Now that you know how the heat affects your exercise and resting performance, here are tips for exercising safely in the warmer temperatures.

  1. Acclimate and move by effort rather than speed. It takes about two weeks for your body to acclimate to exercising more efficiently in the warmer weather, and even then can still be a challenge. It’s important to recognize this at the change of seasons like springtime, and invest in easier effort activity until your body has time to adjust to the temperatures. It’s also important to run by your body rather than the speed on your watch or bike. If you normally run a moderate effort run on Wednesdays at a 9 minute per mile pace, run by your body instead and let the outcome be just that – the outcome. It will likely be slower than normal, but adjusting to the heat will allow your body to better recover down the road. When you exercise by what your body is experiencing on the given day, you’re better able to dial in the correct and optimal zone to accomplish your goal for the day and adapt much more efficiently workout to workout.
  2. Adjust your exercise time and location. Plan your exercise route on tree-covered, shaded streets, paths or trails and get in your workout in the early morning or at dusk when the temperatures are lower. Take your workouts indoors on Ozone or Heat Alert days as you’ll get in a higher quality workout with no risk of heat illness or the delayed recovery that often follows hot weather workouts.  This is especially important for athletes following a specific training program as a delayed recovery can have a domino effect in fatigue and greatly reduce their performance.
  3. Accessorize and hydrate. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting wicking apparel that will deflect the sun’s rays and allow for better body cooling.  Visors are effective for keeping the sun off your face while still allowing heat to leave your body via your head.  Top it off with a good sweat proof sunscreen and sunglasses and you’re set for the workout.  It’s better to hydrate consistently through the day than to power load your body with a lot of fluids before, during and after.  Everyone has their own unique hydration needs and they vary on your fitness, health, age, medications and more. Dr. Tim Noakes, exercise physiologist and author of Waterlogged, recommends hydrating to your thirst during exercise to avoid over drinking and the complications that come with it.  Water is the perfect beverage for workouts under an hour, where a sports drink with electrolytes will benefit you more for longer sessions.

Ultimately, it is most important to tune in and listen to your body and be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related issues.  When you do, you’re able to make small changes in your exercise routine to assure a safe, effective workout.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.


The Importance of Rest and Active Recovery Days

Vision Fitness BlogWhen you’re committed to your training program, taking a rest or active recovery day can be even harder than sticking to your workouts. Figuring that more is better, many of us churn out workout after daily workout, only to be sidelined with an injury or mental fatigue that won’t let us make it off the couch. If you can’t remember the last time you took a break from your training or if you’re struggling with nagging soreness, injuries or low motivation, it’s time to build some mindful breaks into your program.

Recovering from your workouts doesn’t have to mean complete inactivity. Active recovery workouts allow you to continue physical activity at a lower level of exertion than your training workouts. The rule of thumb for these workouts is that they should leave you feeling better than when you started. Many of us find that it’s easier to stick to both a training plan and our diet if we stay active every day. Active recovery not only helps us to do that, but may also have some benefits by providing an opportunity to improve our form and increase our range of motion, without taking time away from training on more intense days.

Whether you’re using your treadmill, indoor cycle, or elliptical, your home fitness equipment can be a great way to build lower impact workouts into your training plan. Technological advances, such as virtual destination video and preprogrammed workouts can make it easy for you to take a mental break while providing just enough increased circulation to help you recover from your last tough workout. These recovery workouts might be as simple as using your home fitness equipment, while keeping an eye on your heart rate. For active recovery workouts, try using the “fat burning” setting (if your machine has one) or keeping your heart rate at 60-65% of your maximum.  While your total calorie burn will be lower than if you were working out at a higher intensity, you will give your body the chance to recover and to become more efficient, making your more intense workouts easier in the long run. You can incorporate the same approach into an outdoor run or bike ride by using a heart rate monitor and slowing your speed, or even walking every time your heart rate goes above 65%. While you may find yourself walking a lot during your first workouts, in time you will become more efficient and able to maintain your pace with lower effort.

Active recovery also gives us the opportunity to build in some cross training workouts. For runners and cyclists, lower intensity days when you are less fatigued are a great time to work on drills to improve your form. Think about keeping your exertion rate down (these workouts should feel easy!) while increasing your mental focus on maintaining perfect form. Runners might do some easy strides on a treadmill or the road; cyclists might work on increasing the pulling action of their pedal motion while releasing tension from the upper body. You can also incorporate yoga, core work, self-myofascial release (foam rolling), or light strength training for cross training that will help your body and mind recover, increasing your strength and flexibility for your next training session.

While active recovery is a great tool to keep motivation high and injury low, there are going to be days that call for complete rest. If your training schedule includes very high intensity events or if you’ve just completed an exhausting competition or season, you may benefit from one or more consecutive rest days. These days can also be used regularly to avoid injury and exhaustion and to improve adherence to your program. While your home fitness equipment makes sticking to your workouts easier, family schedules and work demands can still lead to time off from training. When you know that these conflicts are coming up, you can plan for them by incorporating a full rest day into your plan. It might make sense to look at your upcoming weekly schedule and if you know that one day is going to be unusually tight, schedule a tough workout for the day before. Rather than feeling guilty about missing your next workout, enjoy a well-earned day of rest knowing that your body is getting stronger for your next training session.