Tubing workout in the Water
By: Lauren Eirk, B.A., R.T.S., C.P.T.
Many people are drawn to the water due to the fact that it is a very forgiving environment. Exercising in the water can be great for rehabilitation, cross-training, and overall fitness. By using buoyant equipment against the resistance of the water, aquatic exercise enthusiasts can enjoy muscle strengthening benefits as well. On land, the body can be strengthened by the use of internal and external forces against gravity, our primary resistance force. Just as gravity moves straight down, the forces of water draw upward. The resistance of the water varies directly with the effort/speed and direction of our limbs.
Water does not offer eccentric loading unless buoyant equipment is used, but it becomes limited in direction and force of the eccentric. Water does not offer resistance during the isometric (i.e. turn-around) phase of a repetition as well. The forces that are present in water do not offer the kind of compressive load that we get from the gravitational forces on land. We can tell our students over and over to crosstrain on the land, but many just prefer to exercise in the water.
What about the use of elastic tubing in the water? I have heard many aquatic instructors say that the use of tubing in the water is unnecessary, since there are so many tools we can use that resist the water itself, but there is another perspective. When the astronauts first returned from landing on the moon, one of the things they lost was bone. The challenge in space is getting load on the body. Just as astronauts are now being sent up in space with elastomers, water fitness enthusiasts can also experience challenging resistance training with elastic tubing. Tubing does not get resistance from its mass, the measurement of inertia. Gravity/inertia-related forces are not an issue with tubing, with its elastic properties. Elasticity is the ability to “spring back” from deformation, or alteration of its length and radius. Elastic tubing creates tension against the force we use to stretch it (strain).
Whether we use tubing in the presence of gravity, outer space, or buoyancy, tubing can give us the ability to produce muscle contractions, both concentric and eccentric, as well as isometric resistance in order to move and stabilize our joints. Keeping in mind that we are creating exercises in water, it is important to design exercises that are not only resisted by the tubing itself, but that are lined up to oppose the resistance of the water t o some effect. For example, start with tubing designed for lower extremities, such as a ring-shape. Standing in water that is deep enough to cover the pelvic region, place the tubing around the ankles. Since the hip has 3° of freedom, many movements can be performed. Keep in mind that any movement that is angled towards the surface of the water is assisted to some extent by the water.
To perform hip abduction, keep one foot against the bottom of the pool (it is best to wear aqua shoes) and move the other leg out to the side away from the body. The hip can abduct anywhere from 30-45° away from the midline. The support of the water will assist in balance, as many have trouble standing on one leg. The standing leg will be pulled towards the moving leg, aiding in hip stabilization training. To resist the hip in external/internal rotation, move the tubing around the mid-foot so that the standing leg anchors the tubing while the moving leg/hip can abduct and rotate, pushing against the tubing on the side of the foot. The same movements can be repeated in adduction, crossing the leg over the standing leg. Once a few repetitions have been completed with variations, remove the tubing and use drag equipment that will resist the water in hip adduction and abduction.
Training the hip musculature will help in balance and gait training. Next, using a long tube with handles, place the right foot (again make sure you have aqua shoes on!) on the tube while holding the handles. Keeping the standing left leg anchored against the bottom of the pool, extend the right hip 10-15°. Create tension in the tubing by flexing the elbows and bringing the arms in front of the body (shoulder flexion). Flex the right knee out in front of the body, then push the heel into the tubing slightly behind the body towards the bottom of the pool as you extend the knee and hip against the resistance of the tubing. This will place load against the hip extensor muscles, the gluteals and hamstrings.
To work the knee extensors (quadriceps), take the right knee to the chest in front of the body and move the arms (with flexed elbows to shorten the tubing) behind the body. Keep the scapulae in a position of slight retraction. Push the foot into the tubing until the knee is fully extended with the leg out in front of the body. Tighten the quadriceps. Depending on the hamstring’s level of flexibility, the hip position may have to be altered higher or lower. Remember that the water is holding the leg up! The hip flexors will not be as challenged in the water (drawing the leg up to the surface) as they would if this exercise were performed on land (drawing the leg to the floor).
Pressing movements can be done either by the use of a partner or by anchoring the tubing to some sort of hook on the side of the pool. Many instructors mistakenly teach this exercise by wrapping the tubing around the body and pushing the handles forward. Remember that even in tubing, distance creates challenge. The further a resistance is placed from a joint axis or moving lever, the more the resistance can add challenge to the exercise. When the tubing is touching the body, this is considered BALANCED. The resistance drops off dramatically. Have a partner hold both hands around the middle of the tubing slightly wider than the width of your shoulders (or anchor the tubing with 2 hooks). With your back to your partner, lightly retract the scapulae and press the arms out in front of the body.
Remember that tricep involvement increases when the hand moves inside the elbow, shoulder/pectoral involvement increases when the hand travels directly in front of the elbow, and bicep involvement increases as the hand travels outside the elbow. As the hand moves further and further out, what we call a chest “fly”, the tubing is actually moving further from the axis of the shoulder as well, increasing the forces for the chest muscles. The exercise can be angled forward or anywhere below the level of the shoulder and the resistance of the water will make the exercise even more challenging!
Pulling movements are also great to do in the water. As with the pulling exercises, it is best to anchor the tubing out in front of the body, either with a partner or hooks on the side of the pool. Start by pulling the tubing towards your torso, keeping the elbows down by the waist. The lats, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius fibers can directly oppose this resistance. As the elbow move further upward in a fanshape towards shoulder-height, the posterior deltoids are better able to resist the tubing than the lats. Remember to squeeze the scapulae together and not just move the arms. Keep the hands in front of the elbows, as moving the hands outside the elbow (greater than 90 degrees flexion) will involve more tricep and inside the elbow (less than 90 degrees of flexion) more bicep. Again, you are moving through the water, which adds to the resistance.
For a great core-strengthening exercise, get a partner so that both of you can hold each end of a long piece of tubing. Facing each other, move far enough apart to create tension in the tubing. With both hands on the handle, straighten the arms out in front of the chest into the water. Keeping the feet stationary, both of you simultaneously twist to the right, using rotary torso musculature. The tubing will be stretched at a diagonal between you and your partner, with no part of the tubing touching your arms. Repeat to the left. You can also alternate, having one person try to hold still why the other person rotates. By positioning the feet at different angles, it is possible to experience resistance changes for variation.
The pushing, pulling, and rotational exercises can be performed with or without a partner. When doing partner work, remember that both people can move together, or one can try to stabilize/hold still while the other person performs the movement. Once you understand the properties of tubing and the direction of force in the water, there are an infinite number of exercises one can create. Using drag and buoyancy equipment in water is optimal, but tubing can add variety to aquatic strength training workouts. It may even reinforce to your participants the benefits to cross-train with land-based workouts.
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