Pacific Northwest | January 18, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineJanuary 18, home
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Pooling Resources
In the water, you can focus on form and build strength
The underwater treadmill is especially helpful to people battling disabilities or recovering from injuries because the water helps support weight and steady balance. But the treadmill is also good in training both regular exercisers and athletes looking to improve.
ONCE I FINALLY found my stride on the underwater treadmill, I imagined running on the moon. With each loping, slow-motion move, my feet suspended a second or two off the moving belt, giving me a chance to analyze my exaggerated good form. I was stretching out, touching gently down, pushing off, all with focus.

I found the treadmill at Redmond Physical Therapy and was allowed to give it a whirl. Therapists Ben Wobker and Ken Crinklaw opened the business last October and promptly installed the device. They use it to help athletes train, rehabilitate injuries and give people with disabilities the help they need to exercise.

Professional teams such as the Portland Trailblazers, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers use this machine as well.

As I ran on it, chest high in 92-degree water, I felt light. Approximately 40 percent of my weight was removed from my joints, and the water's viscosity acted as a support wrap.

In fact, the aging of the baby boomers, with all their related joint problems, is part of what is sparking these sorts of workout aids. They are also used for patients who've had strokes, encephalitis or nerve damage.
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Getting 'Aqua Fit'

World Masters swimming champion Jane Katz provides an authoritative guide to water workouts in her book, "Aqua Fit" (Broadway Books, $12.95).

Katz applies movements from yoga, Pilates, tai chi, skiing and golf to the pool as ways to take advantage of water's benefits of stability and buoyancy. The book includes detailed descriptions and illustrations of exercises that can be done from the pool's edge or in deep water.

Katz has long taught swimming and used water exercise for rehabilitation after a crippling car accident four decades ago.

Running on an underwater treadmill, which moves by hydraulics, is far more efficient and form-correct than trying to slog your way up and down a lap pool. I varied my pace between 3 and 6 miles per hour, using buttons on the pool's edge to speed up or slow down. The three-horsepower motor is housed outside the pool.

Because of complications from multiple sclerosis, I can't jog long. The pounding of my feet on ground sends shockwaves rattling throughout my body. Many folks with various disabilities fight that or have difficulties with balance. I can do an elliptical trainer and stationary bike, but running with full range of motion on the underwater treadmill helped me recall what I've been missing the past two years.

Because the pool was built specifically with the treadmill in mind, the running-walking platform is flush with the bottom. The moving surface is soft and provides adequate gripping. I watch my speed, distance and elapsed time on an electronic readout on the wall.

Between the warm water and the easy flow of movement, it didn't seem like I exerted myself during the 20 minutes. I could have gone twice that, but I realized the next day that my muscles had been taxed.

While my legs obviously did most of the work, my arms had to cut through the water, too. Wobker, who coaches track at Redmond High School, helped me with my form and said he'd eventually like to use the equipment for early-season training. At Redmond Physical Therapy, the pool is also used for shoulder and upper-back strengthening, legwork and post-exercise soothing.

The pool the therapists use is manufactured by Ferno Performance Pools, which also makes swim-in-place pools and underwater exercise bikes. It's 8 feet wide and 10 feet long, with a surface of fiberglass and a nonslip plastic running belt. An underwater treadmill for home can cost anywhere from about $1,900 to $2,800.

Aquatic exercise and training have become more popular and sophisticated the past decade. A company called Aquatic Therapy Source also manufactures the treadmill, as well as aquatic bikes, aquatic parallel bars and a number of other such devices. Water resistance allows muscles to be worked more comprehensively, the company says, because water resistance is 12 times greater than air resistance and does not isolate muscles to the extent that land routines do.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer.

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