Exercises and Stretches to Help Alleviate and Prevent Lower Back and Hip Pain from Sciatica and Piriformis Syndrome
In a survey conducted in 2019, 39% of adults in The United States stated they had experienced back pain in the past three months. There are many different types and causes of lower back pain. The National Institute of Health lists 20 potential causes of low back pain in five different categories. There are also many different risk factors for developing low back pain. Some genetic causes can’t be prevented but many risk factors, like fitness level and smoking, can be modified to decrease your risk of pain.
It isn’t always easy to determine what is causing your pain. For example, sometimes low back pain comes from the back, other times hip issues might be causing the back pain. Then in other instances your hip pain may be a result of something in your back. Numerous parts of the hip and back can be injured or wear out, and many issues in this area can display the exact same symptoms.
If your low back pain goes down into the back of your leg, it may be sciatica. According to the Mayo Clinic, “sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg”. Usually if you experience this pain, it will only affect one side of your body. The way sciatica pain feels can vary greatly. You might feel the pain all the way from your lower back to your thigh or even all the way down to your calf. The pain level varies, from mild to excruciating. Sometimes it can be an achy feeling or numbness or a tingling sensation and other times it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. Anything that causes inflammation or irritation of the sciatic nerve can cause sciatic pain. This could come from injuries or muscle spasms, a herniated disc, as well as pressure from bones in the region. Sciatic pain usually goes away on its own. Stretches, movement and strengthening the core muscles can help.
Very often, muscles in the hip that get tight or strained can cause compression on the sciatic nerve, which can lead to sciatica or a different type of low back pain. One muscle that can irritate the sciatic nerve is the piriformis muscle. The sciatic nerve runs right by the piriformis, either above it, under it or through it depending on your individual anatomy. The piriformis muscle connects the lowermost vertebrae with the upper part of the leg. Its job is to help externally rotate the hip when walking or running and to help abduct the thigh in a seated position. When the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed by the piriformis muscle, it is called piriformis syndrome. Estimates suggest that about 5% of cases of sciatica are due to piriformis syndrome and experts think it is much more than that. Piriformis syndrome can have many symptoms that can mimic other common conditions which involve the low back, pelvis, hips, and legs. In general, piriformis syndrome symptoms may include acute tenderness in the buttocks, increased pain when sitting and sciatic-like pain down the back of the leg.
A few things to help prevent or lessen lower back or hip pain
Exercise regularly. To keep your back strong and pain free, pay special attention to your core muscles – the muscles that are essential for proper posture and alignment. Strong abdominal, gluteal, and hip muscles can keep you in proper alignment as well as take pressure off your low back and support your spine.
Have good posture and don’t sit too long. When seated, have good lower back support, keep your shoulders back and down, maintain the normal curve in your lower back and keep your knees and hips level. Try not to sit for long periods at a time. Take breaks and stand often (at least once every 30 minutes) to reduce tightness in your hip flexors and back.
Don’t smoke. Smoking reduces blood flow which can contribute to disc degeneration, and it increases the risk of osteoporosis.
Strengthening your core will help prevent many injuries, aches, and pains, including low back and hip pain. Your core consists of all the muscles that move, support, and stabilize your spine. This includes your abdominals, obliques, pelvic floor muscles, back muscles, and glutes. It also includes your hip muscles (including the piriformis muscle). The following exercises are just a few examples of ways to strengthen your core.
If you have an injury and/or pain in your back, talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist about which exercises will best help you and how to do them correctly and safely.
Forearm Plank – Extend your body on the floor, face down with only your forearms and toes on the floor. Engage your abs, drawing your navel toward your spine. Your head is relaxed, in line with your spine and eyes should be looking at the floor. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and forearms facing forward. Keep your torso straight and rigid, your body in a straight line from your ears to your heels with no sagging or bending. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.
Side Plank – Lie on your right side with your legs straight and feet stacked on top of each other. Place your right elbow under your right shoulder with your forearm pointing away from you. Engage your abs, drawing your navel toward your spine and lift your hips off the floor so that you are supporting your weight on your elbow and the side of your foot. Your body should be in a straight line from your ankles to your head. Keep your hips stacked and facing forward. If this is too difficult, lower the knee of your bottom leg to the floor but keep your hips lifted and top leg straight. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds. Repeat on the left side.
Resistance Band or Cable Abduction -- Stand sideways near a door or cable tower. Secure elastic tubing or ankle cuff around the ankle. If using tubing, knot the other end of the tubing and close the knot in the door near the floor. Pull the tubing or cable out to the side, keeping your leg straight. Return to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 15 on each side. For more resistance, move farther away from the door or cable tower.
Hip Extension -- On all fours, bend your knee and lift your leg keeping your foot flexed, moving it skywards. Keep your navel pulled up toward your spine and glute squeezed. Come back to starting position with knees side by side. Do 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.
Clam Exercise -- Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent and feet together. Slowly raise your top leg toward the ceiling while keeping your hips stacked and heels touching each other. Hold for 2 seconds and lower slowly. Do 2 sets of 15 repetitions on each side.
Gentle low back stretches can help reduce tension and pressure on the nerves in our back. Incorporating hamstring and glute stretches can also help ease sciatica and other types of pain. Stretching the piriformis can help alleviate pressure on the sciatic nerve as well as help to prevent pain caused by piriformis syndrome. These are just a few examples of stretches and they are best done when your muscles are warm. So, doing them after a workout or a quick walk is best. Hold each stretch for 15-45 seconds and repeat 2 -3 times.
Standing Hamstring Stretch – Stand up straight with one heel resting on a small stack of books or step. Reach your arms up and bend forward slightly from your hips until you feel a stretch in your hamstring (the back of your thigh). Switch legs and repeat with the other leg.
Seated Figure Four (Piriformis) Stretch -- Begin sitting upright in a chair. Cross one leg over the other so that your ankle is resting on top of your opposite thigh. Gently pull your bent knee across your body toward your opposite shoulder. You should feel a stretch through the back of your hip and buttocks. Try to not to arch your back or lean to one side as you stretch.
Lying Figure Four (Piriformis) Stretch -- Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet lying flat on the floor. Place your ankle on your opposite knee. Grip your thigh and gently try to pull in towards your chest, till you feel a stretch in your buttock.
Please check with your physician with any chronic back pain issues before starting a new exercise routine. Some situations will require medical interventions and your doctor can help determine the root cause of your pain. Luckily most issues can be resolved through medications designed to relieve pain and inflammation along with lifestyle modifications including not smoking, eating healthfully, and exercising.
To see videos of exercises along with fitness inspiration and ideas, follow us on Instagram! @livriteindy @livritefishers @livriteanderson
Topics: LivRite News
When you tell a friend you are going to Barre, they might ask which one. Their response is usually a joke about you going to a bar…not a barre fitness class. This is barre with a -re, like a ballet barre. But this isn’t a ballet class either, no dance experience is required and there won’t be any actual dancing in most. So, what is a barre class like? It is a combination of ballet, yoga and Pilates inspired moves put together to create a total body and low impact workout that is appropriate for all fitness levels. The actual barre (a handrail fixed to a wall) is used as a tool for balance for some of the moves during class.
What Are the Classes Like?
Barre fitness uses exercises that focus on isometric strength training (holding your body still while you contract a specific set of muscles- think holding a squat position) combined with high repetitions of small movements along with full range of motion movements. There are different variations on barre classes, but most will use light handheld weights for some exercises, most will use the barre as balance for some moves, and most will also do some exercises on a mat. A traditional barre class will strengthen your arms, abs, glutes, and legs. Each barre class is designed to be a full-body, muscle endurance workout and will start with a warm-up and end with a cool down that consists of stretching. Typically, the class is broken into different sections that each focus on a particular major muscle group including the arms, legs, glutes, and core.
Let’s talk more about those high repetitions of small movements that are the cornerstones of barre workouts. It may look easy when you watch someone else doing very small movements, but when you do these exercises yourself and correctly, you will feel like your muscles are on fire and they will probably shake! If your muscles shake, it’s a good thing! It is one way to show that you are fatiguing your muscles which means they will get stronger. If you get to the point that you feel the shake is uncontrollable, take a moment and stop. Grab a sip of water and stretch out the muscles in question then jump right back in when you are ready. Even people who are barre class regulars deal with shaking. The more regularly you attend class, the less intense it will become.
No need for heavy weights to feel your muscles burn. Barre will strengthen your muscles using just your body weight and light dumbbells. This is how you build strength, muscular endurance, and long and lean muscles. The more you do it, the easier it will feel because you will get stronger!
Who Should Try a Barre Class?
Because barre classes are low impact, at a slower pace and don’t involve heavy lifting, they are a great option for many people. Barre is very beginner friendly and can be adapted to many different ability levels. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t feel like you get it after one class. Classes can move quickly and use muscles you haven’t in a while, but don’t give up. You will get the hang of it after a few more classes. As with any new workout, your body will adapt, and you will learn the basics which will make you feel more comfortable as you stick with it.
No dance experience is necessary. Some feel that traditional barre classes are more like a Pilates class.
Barre is great cross training option to pair with other exercises like running, weight lifting or cycling, because they strengthen the muscles needed for those exercises in a different way.
What Should I Wear to Barre?
Typically, it is suggested that you not wear shoes during a barre workout since you will need to flex and point your feet and come up on your toes at certain points of the workout. Socks or socks with grips on the bottom (to keep your feet from sliding) are helpful to bring and wear during class. Wearing form fitting clothes is helpful for your instructor (and you) to check your form and correct if necessary. If you feel more comfortable in a loose t-shirt and sweats though, wear that! Wear what feels best for you and that you can move in.
What Are the Benefits of Barre Fitness?
By now you’ve learned that barre classes strengthen your muscles. They also improve your balance and posture, boost endurance and increase your flexibility. Many of these things can also promote weight loss or weight management as well if partnered with good nutrition.
Not only does barre strengthen the muscles that are used to maintain good posture, focusing on your posture in class will help bring your attention more toward it in daily life as well which will make you feel and look better. Strong posture is essential for balance and improves your form in class which means you’ll be less prone to injury and be able to perform all kind of exercises more effectively.
Any workout has plenty of mental health benefits along with the physical ones. This is true for barre classes as well. Barre can be a great stress reliever and many of the moves promote lengthening and stretching the body which can feel great after a long day or prep you for the day ahead.
What Should I Expect to Hear in Barre Classes?
Barre classes can have their own lingo. Here are a few of the things you may hear in a barre class:
Tuck, Tuck your Tailbone or Heavy Tailbone - To do this, draw your abs inward and roll your hips under (forward) slightly to create a neutral spine. This position promotes core engagement.
Neutral Spine - A position held with the back perfectly in line from the tailbone to the spine to the neck and head
Pulse – Moving a part of your body up and down in a tiny, repetitive motion.
Down-an-inch-Up-an-inch - A one inch range of movement in a slow, controlled motion. Slightly larger than a pulse, smaller than a full range of motion.
Feet Parallel - This is a stance where the feet look like the number 11. Usually, the feet are placed together or hip-width apart and parallel for a barre position.
First Position – This is a stance with your heels touching and your toes apart. If you gaze down, your feet should make a ‘V’ shape.
Posture - In a standing position, proper posture is ears over shoulders over hips over heels.
What Types of Barre Classes Does LivRite Offer?
LivRite Fitness offers three types of Barre classes; Intro to Barre, Barre and Barre Beats (check your location’s schedule to see its offerings Not all classes available in all locations).
Intro to Barre is perfect for beginners. It starts with a warmup and focuses on basic strengthening and flexibility movements completed in a slow and controlled manner.
Barre Beats is comprised of a warmup, low impact cardio moves and strengthening movements mostly not using the barre but on a yoga mat and choreographed with music.
The Barre class has a warmup and series of movements designed to strengthen and tone your body. Light weights may be used as well as exercising by the barre and on the mat.
Check out the class schedules for each LivRite location.
Barre fitness is great for everyone, whether you are new to working out or are a frequent gym goer. Prepare for a total body workout and to feel your muscles shake!
Topics: LivRite News
What are fitness trackers?
I think everyone has heard about fitness trackers in some form, from a simple pedometer to a GPS enabled smart watch that costs hundreds of dollars. “Getting your steps” in has become part of our lexicon. Just in case you aren’t aware, a fitness tracker is a small electronic device that tracks physical activity. Pedometers track just the number of steps you take, other fitness trackers can also collect data about your sleep, the estimated number of calories you’ve burned, your heart rate, distance covered and more. Many trackers provide simple data on the device's display, with more detailed data available online or via their app. They can help monitor our progress regarding our health, sleep or movement, as well as give real-time feedback and statistics about our fitness goals. This can be incredibly encouraging and helpful for many people to get more physical activity.
When it comes to tracking your health and workouts, there are two main categories: fitness trackers and smart watches. Fitness trackers monitor your health and wellness, and track things like sleep, heart rate, steps, and workouts. Smart watches have the same capabilities as fitness trackers, but also have smartphone features, like texting, calling, and other app integrations.
Do you really need a fitness tracker?
If you are just starting out, a fitness tracker can give you a picture of how active you are (or aren’t). Many of us overestimate how active we are and how many calories we have burned and underestimate how many calories we have taken in. A fitness tracker can help by monitoring your activity and approximate number of calories burned each day. In some cases, it can be a good wakeup call and then motivation to improve. Most fitness tracker data can be synced with an app where you can track your calorie intake which can be beneficial for those looking to lose weight or improve their health.
Fitness trackers can be a source of motivation by prompting movement (my Apple watch will remind me if I haven’t met a move goal or exercise goal or stand goal). For me, being able to see how many days I have met my set goals is a source of motivation just as much as seeing that I haven’t met those goals for the day is encouragement to get it done. For others it can be beneficial to share your fitness tracker statistics with friends and family who also have the same tracker. Doing this allows you to see each other’s metrics and you can challenge each other to move more. Keep in mind though, don’t let your fitness tracker shame you. Rest days are important, and most fitness trackers don’t acknowledge that enough. Customize your goals on your tracker or smart watch to be right for you and your fitness plan.
Some studies have shown that fitness trackers and smart watches are not that accurate when it comes to steps taken, heart rate and calorie expenditure. Most people have wrist worn fitness trackers or smart watches that monitor your heart rate. Studies show the wrist worn heart rate monitors generally aren’t as accurate as chest worn heart rate monitors. It doesn’t mean the heart rate data can’t be helpful, but it is good to remember it is an estimate rather than an exact reading. The same is true for the other data collected, including number of calories burned. Trackers give you real-time information about your level of activity. Even though most of the metrics they collect are estimates, they are far more accurate than any guesses we make about our fitness levels.
What are the best fitness trackers?
I’m not an electronics expert, but here is a short list from what I have found in my research (online and from my own use) of the most well-known brands with the most options of trackers to choose from. There are hundreds of options for fitness trackers. Literally, there is something for everyone since they all have different price points, options and functions. It is best to decide what features you want in a fitness tracker before your purchase so you can get exactly what you are looking for. What is the feature most important to you? Do you want a smart watch that will sync with your phone, or do you just want something to track your steps? Do you want GPS in your tracker or the capability for it to use your phone’s GPS? Does it need to be able to track your sleep? Do you want to be able to swim with it on? What data are you most interested in tracking? With so many functions available, it is good to determine what will be most helpful for you. Also, it is a good idea to check out online reviews and the company’s website prior to purchase.
Fitbit is probably the most well-known fitness tracker company and has at least eight (8!) different types of fitness trackers in their current lineup. They range in cost starting around $90 and go all the way up to $300+. They also vary in function and size. If you don’t want all the bells and whistles of a smart watch, the Fitbit Inspire or Flex might be best for you. These models are smaller than watches (more like a bracelet), lightweight, less expensive and have fewer functions than other models, but still tracks your steps taken, sleep, active minutes, and lets you set silent alarms that alert you by buzzing on your wrist.
According to the website Wired and a few other sites I saw, the Fitbit Charge 4 is ranked the best all-around fitness tracker. It has built in GPS, an app that is easy to use and allows you to connect with a community of other users. It has a function that will monitor your sleep. Some of the more advanced features require an annual subscription at an additional fee. Fitbit has released a newer sleeker version of the Charge, version 5, that is also available now.
If you have an iPhone, an Apple Watch might be the best fitness tracker for you. It’s not just a device that can track your steps, minutes of exercise, heart rate, sleep, estimated calorie expenditure and number of hours you stood for at least a minute (this is not a complete list of features, and they vary based on the model and version you have). It is also a smart watch that will allow you to text and talk from your watch along with syncing with many other of your phone’s functions. It will link to the health and fitness apps on your phone so you can see all your fitness and health data there as well as all the awards you can earn by completing challenges. The Apple Watch has you select three daily health goals. One for movement (the number of calories you burn with activity), the number of hours you stand at least a minute and the amount of time you exercise. The rings on your watch will show your progress for these goals and it can get addictive to those like me that want to close their rings and meet those goals each day. Newer models of the Apple Watch (series 6 and above) have blood-oxygen monitoring, ECG and integration with Fitness+, Apple’s new on-demand streaming workout service (Fitness+ requires an additional fee). The Apple Watch 7 was just released with even more advanced health features as well as a mindfulness app.
Do you have an android phone but still want a smart watch that links with your phone? The Samsung Galaxy Watch has many of the same features of the Apple Watch. It is made to pair with Android operating systems.
Garmin also has a variety of watches that track your fitness data. Their entry level tracker, the Venu Sq and SQ Music Edition has an LCD touchscreen with an always on option (some older Apple Watch models and Fitbit do not have an always on option). The Garmin Venu Sq includes blood-oxygen monitoring and sleep tracking without any additional subscription. Garmin has advanced metrics through their Garmin Connect app. Runners have been known to love the Garmin Forerunner Series. These watches start at the lower price end for Garmin and do a great job at tracking walks and runs. Some versions allow the programming of intervals and really focus on having the best GPS to track running routes and the best running metrics to track your training.
Not everyone will benefit from a fitness tracker. For example, if you mostly lift weights, it might not be helpful. But for the majority, they can be useful. For instance, if you spend most of your time in an office chair, your fitness tracker can be a personal trainer. It will help you stay active with daily activity prompts, information about yourself, and a community of fitness enthusiasts like you to keep you motivated. If you believe you will benefit from one of these devices, buy one that will provide you with the data you need. Not all trackers have the same features, so do your homework before making a purchase.
Topics: LivRite News
I’m sure you have heard it before; you should stretch after your workout. Or before. Or both. Stretching has long been talked about as something we should do, but typically it is the first thing to get skipped when we are in a hurry. After this difficult year, stretching is coming back as a hot topic because of the much-needed mind and body benefits that stretching provides.
Benefits of Stretching
Research has shown that stretching can help improve both your body’s flexibility and mobility. Mobility is the range of motion of your joints. Flexibility is the ability of your muscles, tendons and ligaments to lengthen. For example, flexibility is being able to reach down and touch your toes. Your hamstring muscles must lengthen, or be flexible, in order for that toe reach to happen. An example of mobility is your ankle flexing so that you can lower into a squat. If your ankle won’t bend as much, you can’t go as low into a squat. Going back to the toe reach example, someone could have good hamstring flexibility but limited mobility at the hip joint keeping them from reaching their toes (or vice versa). Mobility and flexibility do sometimes go hand in hand, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. What matters most is that you do need both in order to perform at your best.
Better flexibility and mobility can help to improve your performance in physical activities, reduce potential aches and pains, decrease your risk of injuries, and enable your muscles to work most effectively. Our everyday lives can lend to shortened muscles, especially after sitting for long periods of time. Shortened muscles, in turn, decrease range of motion and can trigger body aches and pains. Working out can leave our muscles shortened and feeling tight as well. Lengthening the muscles through static stretching after your workout can help your muscles recover from your workout and potentially leave you with less soreness. Stretching helps keep muscles long, healthy and strong.
Stretching should be part of every workout, and not just at the end. As ACE (American Council on Exercise) points out, “Dynamic stretches are often used as part of a warm-up to help increase core body temperature and functionally prepare the body for the movements that are to come. As a result, stretching is often considered an important part of injury prevention, as cold muscles and tendons in the body have a greater likelihood of rupture, strain or sprain.”
Stretching will help you stay active as you age. Improving mobility and maintaining flexibility (which naturally declines as we age) allows our body to stay in top shape. Maintaining flexibility while aging can decrease the risk of injury, improve balance, decrease chronic pain, improve workouts, improves posture and keeps you looking younger! The more we care for our bodies, the longer we can continue to be active and live independently.
Another benefit of stretching beyond flexibility and mobility is possible improvement in hypertension. According to research, when you stretch your muscles, you are also stretching all of the blood vessels that feed into the muscle. This includes your arteries. If you reduce the stiffness in your arteries, there is less resistance to blood flow which can result in a reduction in blood pressure.
Combine stretching with mindful breathing and it can help to reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
Types of Stretches
Static Stretches: to extend a muscle group to its maximal point and holding it for 10-60 seconds. Static stretches can be either active or passive. In an active stretch added force is applied by the individual for greater intensity. Added force is added by an external force in a passive stretch.
Dynamic Stretching: unlike static stretching, dynamic stretches are continuous movements that usually mimic the exercise or sport to be performed. These types of stretches are usually done as a warmup.
Ballistic Stretching: this type of stretching isn’t frequently recommended. It utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group. The bouncing movements can trigger a stretch reflex and may cause a risk for injury, so they are not usually recommended without supervision from a Trainer.
It is important to stretch safely with proper technique. Stretching with improper form could do more harm than good.
Don’t do static stretching (when a stretch is held for 10-60 seconds) with cold muscles. Warm up with some light walking or another activity at a low intensity for 5 -10 minutes before doing any static stretching. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm and the stretches will lengthen your worked muscles.
Instead of static stretching before your workout, complete a dynamic warmup with low intensity exercises like walking or dynamic stretches that could be completing similar movements to those in your upcoming workout but at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.
Dynamic stretching is great for joint mobility. A dynamic warmup features functional movements that move multiple joints through their full range of motion. This type of warm up can even include plyometrics (quick powerful movements) like hopping or jumping. Think jumping jacks or high knee skips. Other examples of great dynamic warm up moves are arm circles, squats, side leg swings and forward leg swings. Through your dynamic warm up, you are putting your joints through their full range of motion and getting your muscles warm because of an increased blood flow which makes your muscles and joints ready for more. This will help to keep proper form throughout your workout, as well as reduce the risk of injury and soreness after your workout.
Don’t lock your joints. Your arms and legs can be straight while stretching, but they shouldn’t be stiff, and your knees and elbows should not be locked.
Don’t bounce in your stretch. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
Watch for pain. You can expect to feel tension while you are stretching, but it shouldn’t be pain. Back off to the point that you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
Stretch regularly. You will get the most benefits if you stretch at least 2 – 3 times a week consistently.
Remember to breathe! Inhale right before you start the stretch and exhale as you relax your muscles and lean into the stretch. For static stretches, stay in the stretch for at least 30 seconds while breathing in and out normally.
Why Try Stretching Classes?
I don’t know about you, but I tend to rush through static stretching after my workouts, and I don’t do enough flexibility work on its own. It’s the first thing to go when in I’m in a rush. By taking a class specifically for stretching, it ensures each stretch will be held for the optimal time and that more stretching will be done. Also, having a professional lead you through a routine will ensure you will get a total body stretch.
Stretching can also be done with gentle movement, such as tai chi or yoga. But if those are not your favorite, don’t worry, they aren’t the only stretching classes. Many facilities are offering specific stretching classes that are geared to work on the muscle imbalances that can happen as a result of a sedentary lifestyle or that are an outcome from workouts. Other types of classes will focus more on the stress reduction benefits of stretching. Some stretching classes will blend the strengthening of muscles with stretches to improve balance, mobility, flexibility and strength. All with stress busting benefits as well.
With so many benefits to stretching, and so many options of classes to help to incorporate it into your routine, I hope you don’t skip this important part of keeping yourself healthy again.
Check out LivRite’s class schedule to find a class you love or work with a personal trainer to find the best stretches for your workout.
Topics: LivRite News, Stretching
It’s summer and it’s hot outside. A great way to cool off and get a good workout at the same time is to add water! Any time of year, exercising in the water is a low-impact activity that takes the pressure off your bones, joints and muscles.
Water aerobics may make you initially think of senior citizens bobbing in a pool, but water workouts have changed and research shows that water aerobics, pool workouts and swimming benefit people of all ages and ability levels.
Water workouts, or aquatic exercise, can work your entire body.
Aerobic: Aquatic exercise can get your heart rate up which can provide a good workout for your cardiovascular system. For those with heart problems, it is helpful to exercise in the water because the heart rate doesn’t increase as much as if the exercises were being performed on dry land.
Strength: Water offers natural resistance, which can help strengthen your muscles. The resistance of the water is about 12 times the level of air resistance. The harder you press during an exercise, the more resistance the water provides. You are using many muscles in your body to move in the water and they are all working against the resistance of the water, therefore, increasing your muscular strength. Some classes use equipment to further increase the resistance of the water which will intensify your workout and strength gains.
Flexibility: A lot of twisting, stretching, and joint movement is required to move through the water, against resistance. This increases flexibility.
Swimming is an extremely effective exercise. It uses your entire body – your abdominals, arms, legs, back and glutes all work to help you swim. It’s also an aerobic activity as your heart rate will increase to move your body through the water. Make sure you have a safe place to swim. Pools are ideal. If you are swimming in lakes or oceans, be mindful of currents, water temperature and other obstacles. And it is never a good idea to swim alone.
Aquatic exercise isn’t just swimming. There are many other ways to exercise in the water. In fact, you don’t need to be a great swimmer to work out in the water. It’s good to know how to swim for safety’s sake, however, many water aerobics classes don’t require swimming for a great workout.
The first organized form of water aerobics was demonstrated by fitness professional Jack LaLane on his television show in the 1950’s. LaLane promoted a healthy diet and the benefits of aerobic exercise. He showed how water aerobics could be one way to get a good cardio workout. As the health and fitness industry became more popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the benefits of aquatic exercise became more widely known and it became an organized class at gyms and health clubs across the country.
The modern form of water aerobics, or aquatic exercise, is a fitness program that takes place in the pool. The class is designed to get your heart pumping for a cardiovascular workout without placing undue stress on your muscles and joints. It is often performed in waist or chest deep water and forces your body to move despite the resistance of the water. An instructor will lead the class through movements, usually with music. Sometimes resistive and buoyancy equipment is used to intensify the workout.
The types of water workout classes offered are expanding beyond traditional aerobics as well. Many of the exercises done in the traditional gym setting can also be done in the water, for example, lunges, squats, walking or running. HIIT (high intensity interval training) and boot camp style classes can be done in the water to increase intensity, but lessen the impact on your body. Popular dance classes like Zumba and barre classes now have versions available in the water in some locations.
Since working out in the water works your body while minimizing joint stress, it is an ideal workout for many including (but not limited to) those with arthritis, pregnant women, seniors, individuals who are overweight and those recovering from an injury or surgery.
Research shows that people with rheumatoid arthritis have greater improvement in joint tenderness and in knee range of movement with hydrotherapy than with other forms of exercise. Health benefits for aching joints are long-lasting, according to a study published in 2002 in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology, which found fibromyalgia patients still had improvements in symptoms and physical and social function up to 24 months after a hydrotherapy program. Plus, warm water can have a immediate soothing effect on achy joints and muscles. On the flip side, if the weather is hot, swimming can keep you cool while you get in shape. You may even workout longer since you will be cooler in the water.
All of the benefits of exercise can also be obtained through aquatic exercise. A small study showed that participants in a 12-week water aerobics program (two 50-minute classes per week) saw a drop in their blood pressure as well as improvements in explosive strength and body composition. Another study concluded, “Like exercise on land, aquatic exercise should have a beneficial effect by lowering blood pressure.” Research shows that aquatic exercise lowers blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes.
One common misconception about water workouts are that they are relegated for only the elderly, injured or chronically ill. However, working out in the water actually forces your body to work out harder than if you were on dry land. It’s a great workout for everyone!
Athletes were typically only encouraged to exercise in the pool when they needed to rehabilitate from an injury. However, while this continues to be a good recommendation, more collegiate and professional athletic coaches are seeing value in cross-training in water as a regular off and on season method. Some collegiate football teams, for example, use pool workouts as active recovery after a game. It isn’t just for football players. Performing active recovery in a pool helps to reduce soreness, flushes out lactic acid and prevents a drop-off in performance. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded a "swimming-based recovery session enhanced following day exercise performance.” The hydrostatic pressure from the water increase circulation, reduces swelling and enhances recovery. Runners can supplement their training with underwater running. There are even underwater treadmills! Coaches have stated that running underwater is just as important as running outside. It helps runners become stronger by running against the resistance of the water, and it helps them to recover from on land training. Healthy athletes benefit from aquatic exercise in more ways as well, like reducing any potential overuse injuries and overcoming any training plateaus by adding a new way of exercise.
Another value of aquatic exercise is that according to research it leads to less muscle soreness and damage after the workout. When comparing high-intensity land and water based plyometrics programs it was found that training in water produced less inflammation and muscle soreness than the land based workout.
Being in the pool or open water is a fun and effective way to exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels and has many benefits. It’s gentle on your joints and muscles but still can provide a total body workout. Plus, being in the water can feel relaxing even though you may be working hard. Adding water workouts to your fitness routine may be a good idea. Mixing up the type of your workouts will help to avoid injury and burnout. Also, if you are planning on increasing your current volume of exercise, the addition of one or a few water workouts is a safe way to do so without increasing your injury risk. New or returning to exercise after some time off? Water workouts are a great way to jump back in to physical activity.
LivRite Fitness has a variety of water aerobics classes in their pool. Find more information and links to the schedule for each location on the LivRite website or in the app. The pool is also available for swimming whenever a class is not in session.
Topics: LivRite News