Saturday October 13, 2012
Weight problems? Try the water gyms
By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
Water exercises offer all the benefits of dry gyms, without the impact, and are especially beneficial for those with weighty issues.
A WATER gym?
“Yes, all our equipment is inside the water ... treadmills and all,” David Gan nods.
I’ve heard of aqua aerobics classes and water workouts but a water gym was something new. Together with two colleagues – former competitive swimmer Tan Shiow Chin and fitness enthusiast Fiona Ho – I trot off to try a session at the recently opened Water Aerobic Gym in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
A smiling Gan and Khoo Chun-Yi, both sports science graduates, personal trainers and supervisors at the gym, greet us. The place is small, with two pools (one freshwater and the other sanitised by a saltwater chlorination system) and, yes, the fitness equipment were in the pool.
These rust-free contraptions, all imported from Italy, include a hydro bike, treadmills and a moon walker. There are also floatation restraints like the hand paddles, water dumbbells, noodles, kayak paddles and a range of other items.
A former engineer and a keen water sports enthusiast, proprietor Gary Chua decided to start the water gym in April this year. He owns an above-ground pool business and decided to venture into the water gym business as an extension of the pool business. He reckons there is a market for it.
“There isn’t a fully-equipped water gym in this region but it’s growing in popularity in western countries,” claims Chua, 49. “It’s also a good way to promote the usefulness of a home-sized pool (6m-9m) that has limited swimming capacity.”
Water helps lessen the impact on the joints but gives you the same benefits of a dry workout, and is suitable for pregnant and elderly people. And you don’t need to know how to swim.
The first recorded history of water workouts dates back to the early 1980s when American runners, who suffered bone, muscle and joint problems as a result of too much pounding on the pavement, were introduced to water workouts. Using a buoyant belt to hold their bodies in proper alignment, they would “run” in the pool as a form of training.
Not only did this work wonders in preventing injuries, it also boosted their cardiovascular fitness.
By the early 1990s, water aerobics – usually performed to music and under the supervision of a fitness instructor – began to incorporate a variety of rhythmic body movements for a more rounded workout. Things grew from there.
“Today most dry gyms cater to the young and fit, and swimming pools are for swimmers. Water gyms cater to all ages and conditions. It’s a great way to exercise. It’s cooling, fun and safe,” adds Chua.
If you know nothing about exercising but want to start somewhere, a water workout is highly recommended.
“We generally take a brief health history of any new client to ensure no pre-existing condition is aggravated. Then we help them plan an exercise regimen, which will consist of cardio (hydro bike, treadmill and moon walker), some strength (weights) and resistance (paddles, bands, etc) training,” says Gan, 24.
In addition to group classes and personalised sessions, members can work out to aqua aerobic videos that are projected on a large screen. These include demanding, high-intensity fitness programmes and specific workouts for beginners and seniors.
How many sessions you would need depends on your fitness goals.
“Often it is not about the number of sessions, but how much a person puts into their workout,” Gan says. “We know some clients who just do not feel comfortable getting breathless so it is hard to see immediate improvement in their condition. A motivated individual who really is committed can feel a difference in stamina as early as one week if they work out for one hour, three times a week.
Our most motivated client managed to drop 12kg in three months, with an average of two sessions a week. She can now sprint in the pool non-stop for 20 laps, whereas before she was simply walking.”
Still, it takes time to convince people of the effectiveness of water workouts. Some are embarrassed about being overweight and wearing swimwear in public. They’d rather lose weight first before jumping into the water.
“They don’t understand that they can come here to lose weight, not lose weight before coming here,” says Gan.
So far, the gym has around 100 members, mostly housewives between 40 and 60 years. The men tend to shy away. Chua says those allergic to chlorine needn’t worry.
“Our water is changed every few months or when the water chemistry is out of balance. We test the water quality every week and with the use of the saltwater chlorination system, very minute amounts of chlorine gas is generated continuously and thus, has very little effect on people who are allergic to chlorine.”
The water temperature is set at 29˚C so users don’t have to worry about getting a chill.
“A temperature of 28-30˚C is the recommended temperature for water fitness activities. The cooling benefits are still felt and there is no risk of overheating,” explains Chua.
Classes are not restricted to adults only. There is also a UK-trained and certified infant and pre-schooler aquatic teacher who comes in to conduct classes.
Our workout began with a warm-up on the machines; we tried all the machines. It was a lot harder to run and cycle. I was given a kayak paddle to allow my temperature to increase quickly since I was the only one who was feeling cold. In 10 minutes, my body acclimatised and I was comfortable.
“Some of our clients prefer to swim as their warm-up and some go straight to the videos as the videos include warm-up and wind-down sessions,” Khoo says. “There are also clients who prefer to do their own ‘weight’ exercise as their warm-up using water dumbbells before moving on to videos or machines. It all depends.”
While I am breaking into a sweat, my poor colleagues are having coordination issues as Gan and Khoo try to stifle their laughter!
Ho had expected to breeze through the routine but ...
“I was expecting the session to be what I would call a ‘sissy’ workout. I was dead wrong. To my surprise, I found myself huffing and puffing midway through the programme,” she relates. “Having lousy coordination skills also meant I had to put in extra effort to stay afloat (yes, I can’t swim). But all that hard work was worth it when I got out of the pool feeling like my abs just got tighter, and that was an awesome feeling!”
Her only grouse is that the facility is too cramped with the submerged equipment underwater all placed in close proximity.
“This clumsy writer ended up slamming her foot against the treadmill twice! And boy did it hurt!” she grimaces.
As someone who doesn’t exercise anymore, Tan found the session quite manageable and not overwhelming.
“I think it’s a good introduction to working out in general; you don’t really feel tired or particularly strained. Being coordination-challenged, however, I did have some trouble combining some of the movements for the circuit training exercises. This is made more difficult by the fact that it is quite tricky keeping your balance in the water – some good water shoes with grip might help with this problem.
“While you don’t need to know how to swim to do these exercises, water confidence is essential as there is the possibility of getting splashed or dunked in the water during certain exercises,” she adds.
Personally, I’m a big believer of water workouts, having participated in and taught aqua aerobics before. Call me a masochist but I love the post-exercise fatigue because I know I’ve worked my muscles hard. As long as the feeling disappears the next day, I’m thrilled.