Fitness Q&A with Karen Alexander from the MAC
So how’s everyone doing on their fitness New Year’s resolution? We’re one month in, and hopefully we’re all still on the wagon. Right? Well, if you find yourself slipping (or if you’ve already fallen down the slippery slope of the slothful) you may want to give the pool a chance. After all, it’s low impact, warm, and no matter how much you sweat, you won’t notice it. And for those who think of the pool as that place where you’re either playing Marco Polo or doing laps in a bathing cap, the MAC‘s top aquatics instructor, Karen Alexander has news for you.
We asked the aquatics guru about her own history in the pool, and how landlubbers like us can reap its benefits as well.
BFB: Tell us a little about yourself and your background. How did you get into fitness? And why aquatics, specifically?
Karen Alexander: I have been a competitive swimmer all my life (along with a few other sports) and have always had an interest in health and fitness. I graduated from Western Maryland College in 1996 with a major in Exercise Science and Physiology. I came to the MAC 12 years ago and started as an Aquatic Fitness Specialist. After a year or two, I had become certified through ATRI (Aquatic Therapy Rehabilitation Institute). I have been working as Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Trainer and Aquatic Personal Trainer since 2003. I work with those with orthopedic conditions, athletes, and those who want to cross train for weight loss. Having had numerous orthopedic conditions throughout my life (being a swimmer and with my post college focus), aquatic exercise came naturally to me. I couldn’t imagine my life without aquatics. My passion is helping others achieve their goals strictly through the water and there is no greater feeling than that.
BFB: We know that aquatics means you’re in the pool, but that’s kind of all we know. What kinds of classes or exercises make up the essential aquatics workout? Why not just swim laps?
KA: There are many forms of aquatic exercise besides swimming laps. This is a wonderful thing because aquatic exercise does not require you to be a swimmer! There are many people in the world that are very intimidated by the water and have a fear of the water. There are shallow water classes available for those to take that need a less-impact alternative rather than full impact land exercises. Shallow water can be used for aquatic classes or even independent water walking for a great cross train. Deep water classes involve wearing a buoyancy belt to keep you vertical and afloat. Both depths , shallow and deep, provide you with great core strength (since you are always vertical with proper posture) and you need to use every muscle in your body to move through the water. With proper instruction, form , and working at a 65-85% effort level, you will receive an amazing cardio and strength resistance workout all in one.
BFB: We understand that MAC (where you’re a trainer and instructor) actually has saltwater pools. Sounds great. What are the benefits of a saltwater pool?
KA: Salt water is very therapeutic to the skin and the body in general. Women in particular worry about hair color fading in chlorine pools. When you workout or swim in our pools, you don’t have to worry about that! You leave the pool with softer skin and do not have that “bad” chlorine smell.
Our warm water pools (92 degrees) are much more therapeutic when using salt water verses ozone. Some say it’s like a Epsom salt bath. It really seems to help with reducing one’s pain level and is very soothing.
BFB: Aquatics always seems like a good fit for people who need to go easy on their joints. Is this true? Who is aquatics best for?
KA: Yes, exactly! For those who have arthritis, joint replacements, medical conditions, post surgery, physical therapy, and any other orthopedic conditions, the water is truly the best place to be. For someone with a significant discrepancy in their gait due to a replaced knee, walking on land for exercise would be difficult for them with full impact. When putting this type of client in the water, they are able to focus on improving their gait with a lot less impact and they are able to walk pain free. They are able to exercise without having the fear that they are worsening their knee. Not only is aquatic exercise best for those people listed above, aquatic exercise is best for everyone! In fact, I will be completing an additional specialty certification next weekend for rehabilitation for athletes. Many athletes rehab in the pool when injured and are back to their sport having lost no fitness at all. The pool is great for that. In addition, I also have a specialty certification in Lumbar Spinal Fusions.
BFB: If I can’t get to the pool everyday, what kind of cross-training goes well with aquatics work? Running? Biking? Yoga?
KA: The best cross train to go with aquatic exercise is based on what you’re substituting. If you want to deep run or swim, then running or riding a bike is a great substitute. If you are in the water for strength resistance training, then doing a light circuit training on land would be best.
BFB: What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to get in shape but feels intimidated about starting a routine?
KA: The first and most important step is to get a consultation set up. Listening to the member or non-member, helping them to set realistic goals and plan a structured workout that they will enjoy, will most definitely help them to start and stick to a routine. They must feel comfortable with the routine that is created before they can even attempt to begin to reach their goals. I base this off of the person’s medical history, physical conditions, and goals. Once they literally get their feet wet, they are well on their way!
BFB: Sorry, but we have to ask: Ever run into Michael Phelps at pools around the city?
KA: Personally, I’ve never seen him around, but he is sure talked about around the pools here at the MAC. I have to say, I once got asked by a member if I swam on Michael Phelps Team…. So, maybe that counts?
BFB: Well, it’s close enough for now. But we’ll keep checking back. After all, there are only so many pools…
For more information on MAC, or to book an appointment with Karen, visit Kalexander@macwellness.com.