Working out in the water has always been a bit of an unknown to me. It's obvious that it's a great workout, not only is it a phenomenal exercise for every muscle in the body it's also incredibly easy on the joints and helpful while getting through aches and pains. But the mental image of old woman in Saturday morning pool classes and people on crutches using the pool workouts just to get healthy didn't quite fit what I wanted in my regular fitness routines.
The "Water Workout: HIIT" class hosted at the Chicago Athletic Clubs knows this, and is doing just about everything necessary to change this mentality. I took the Thursday night class at the Lincoln Square Athletic Club with Brady Braden. The LSAC is one of only a few CAC locations to have a pool and they take full advantage of it with a number of classes, and HIIT is one of their more taxing.
This class, similar to the Formula 94 class I took earlier, was all familiar workouts with the only catch of being in a pool. I was excited going in, I knew I could do all of the workouts and could at least partially hide any potential screw-ups. Braden told me to expect a hard workout that would put pressure on my entire body. When we jumped in the pool he immediately began to stress the concept of constant motion. The term active resting was used often and seemed like a simple enough concept, especially while in a pool where I'm used to bouncing around like an idiot anyways.
We started off by running the width of the pool, first just back and forth then running one direction and backpedaling the other. I love running in the pool. I'm not sure why but I have so much fun struggling to run, slipping every few feet and pushing to go faster. It was especially difficult with Braden having us focus on truly running and not lunging through the water while each step backwards needed to be perfectly toe to heel. A new spin was added to it after a few laps back and forth when we were told to mime three full jump shots at each end of the pool. It was at this point, while each person was leaping up out of the pool and splashing back down that I realized this wasn't a geriatric swim class.
The next realization of the class came when we grabbed the foam dumbbells. With two to a person it became obvious that this wasn't a class to cut corners in without making it incredibly obvious. Most exercises required the dumbbells to stay underwater, increasing the weight and strength needed to complete them. Braden, who stood along the edges of the pool, could tell who was splashing up above the water as opposed to holding the weights below. We would punch from side to side, constantly moving but making sure to complete each punch and return the weight to our side before turning and punching the other direction.
The beauty of this class being in the water comes not only with the added resistance of the pool, but it also helps the class work on their form. Because the water slows down each movement it is easier to notice exactly what mistakes are being made and how to fix them. While in a regular High Intensity class the motions are so fast that it becomes more about speed than form, in the water there is a balance of both.
The water weights were used in a number of ways I never would have expected. The class even uses them while actually swimming the length of the pool, forcing the shoulders to plunge in and through the water. The most creative part of the class, and probably the most difficult as well, came during the leg workouts. Braden had everyone hold one of the weights down at the bottom of the pool using one foot while holding the other one either above or in front of the body. Now for anyone who has played with a basketball in a pool, you know it's nearly impossible to hold it under without it shooting up from the water. Now try doing that with a water weight that needs to be balanced under one foot while the leg is lifted and extended under the water. I don't think I've ever felt all of the muscles in my foot be put to use quite like they were during that. It took a couple of tries, but once I figured it out, it was still hard as hell.
The leg workouts were extensive. We ran in place, jumped up and down, lunged and leaned all while maintaining balance. At one point my calf started to cramp up, but because of the style of the workouts there was no fear of doing any real damage.
Braden pushed us, one time even starting over an exercise because he expected us to do better. And he was right. He clearly had a strong knowledge of just how hard to push the group and when people would begin to struggle or cut corners. I think it helped that he has truly run the spectrum of fitness. Braden started to workout at the CAC gyms as a way to lose weight and try and get back in shape, it grew from there to not only excelling in the classes but eventually teaching them. From there he was personally asked to teach the Water Workout: HIIT class because of his swimming background.
When the class ended my body felt just fine. I had worked through that pesky cramp and my muscles really didn't feel that taxed at all. Then I got out of the water. Although I was now standing on the side of the pool my body was working at the same speed it had for the last 45 minutes. I felt like I had to swim through the air because like magic my entire body was tired. Before the class Braden told me that I would feel sore and in new ways, he couldn't have been more correct. I expected my thighs to hurt, but my feet did as well. I expected my shoulders to be tight, my back joined the party. The best part was it wasn't a real pain, but a good soreness like I had just been put through the ringer.
The class routinely attracts triathletes, Braden said. It's the perfect way for them to work out their entire body while already in the pool. Now I'm far from a triathlete but I would have no problem jumping back in the pool for a workout like that.