Aquatic Aerobics
More Than Just Noodling Around
By Marian Jones   Fox News
  NEW YORK — When I got to Chelsea Piers Sports Center for "Use Your Noodle," a 7:45 water exercise session, what I spied in the pool made me wonder if I'd lost mine.

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Noodles: Not just for dinner anymore

A woman wearing a swim cap bobbed in the far lane, straddling a giant piece of fluorescent pink styrofoam spaghetti.

Instructor Susan Gala stood on the deck in her Catwomanesque unitard, giving commands with the authority of a natural-born aerobics teacher.

Aquatic aerobics is supposed to be much easier on the joints than activities like running and aerobics classes. But friends had told me these classes were nothing more than break time for a bunch of floating fogeys.

As I floated in the end of the pool, Susan told me to place the "noodle" she handed me between my legs, so it curved up into a U-shape in front and back of me. Although I couldn’t figure out how to keep the front end from hitting me in the head, it offered me a surprising level of buoyancy and range of movement.

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Getting the hang of the twist tie-like toy

Noodles Any Style

The routine involved moving my hands in and out or up and down in a dog paddling motion, while bicycling my legs, running or even a doing a "grapevine" dance move.

It was tough to remain upright while moving in the coordinated ways Susan was directing me. I could feel my abdominal muscles working.

"Remember to breathe," Susan shouted, smiling, from the side of the pool as she balanced on the backs of two chairs and nimbly demonstrated the backward and forward splits we should be doing in the water.

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I'm going to exercise with that?

Later, we stretched our noodles out behind our backs to do abdominal exercises. Instead of moving the upper body as you do with land situps, in aquatic abdominals, you move your legs. We moved our legs from side to side.

But there's still the tendency to use your neck to do the exercises. Like land movements, these water situps were going to take some practice to master.

After class, Susan showed me still other ways I could use my noodle. I could make it into a fat jumprope, pulling in my knees and lunging through it forward and backward; tie it up into a pretzel and press it down into the water with my arms to work my triceps and latissimus muscles; and stand on it and push down as it floated up to do impact-free squats.

"Use the water," Susan said, meaning, don't just float there; work against the water resistance. When I did, there was no sweat, but there was definitely a burn.

Unique Advantages, Diverse Devotees

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A noodle a day keeps the doctor away

As we relaxed in the hot tub after the workout, L.E., a 50-year-old New York City public school teacher, told me she has lost seven pounds since her training began. Her arthritis pain has also eased so much in the three weeks she has been doing the class that she's cancelled some physical therapy sessions.

"I've been in major pain for years," L.E. says. "I can't believe [the exercise] is working so great."

In a later class, I met a woman who had been in a car accident and a dancer who had been injured in a performance. Gala's aquatic classes had helped them maintain fitness despite their injuries.

Aquatic exercise has been used for hundreds of years as therapy, according to Dr. Lynn Miller, professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. "Because of the buoyancy in the water, there is less stress to the joints, especially those of the lower extremities," Miller says.

This low-impact nature of aquatic aerobics also makes it attractive to seriously overweight people, who put immense pressure on their joints when they exercise on land, Miller says. Water aerobics allows people to exercise without having their bodies on display.

Even so, you don't need to be injured or overweight to enjoy this type of aerobics. Susan says she has seen an immense increase in interest from pregnant women, baby boomers who are concerned about working out "smarter" and those who appreciate the calming, soothing nature of water.

Lucien, a 41-year-old who joined my second class, believes in the pool workout. "You're not working against weights," he said. "You're working against yourself."