Archive for the ‘Aquatic Therapy and Training’ Category

Aquatic Therapy & Training Made Me a Better Athlete

December 9, 2008

Growing up, I was never a “water person”.  In fact I was the only one of my friends who wasn’t on the local swim team – even though I was the only one with a pool in my backyard. My sports and physical activities were strictly land-based — soccer, running, tennis and ballet. The only time I took to the water was to cool off on a hot summer day. Furthermore,  I had almost drowned twice by the time I was 2 years old – so an aquatic environment was not exactly my comfort zone. Frankly, if someone had told me back then that I would eventually earn much of my living by working in a swimming pool I would’ve laughed!

My passion for aquatic exercise and therapy began out of personal necessity. As a former competitive runner, I discovered the benefits of aquatic therapy and training 25  years ago after suffering from many running-related injuries (partly due to my idiopathic scoliosis for which I wore a back brace for 3+ years in high school). Rather reluctantly, I began running and exercising in the deep end of a warm swimming pool wearing a flotation belt to take the stress off of my injuries. Much to my surprise, the pool not only became a refuge for me, it became a great cross training tool, by enabling me to exercise hard while helping my injuries heal. It also helped me maintain my sanity during that frustrating period as an athlete.

In addition to healing power of the warm water, I came to discover the performance benefits of aquatic training. For whereas most athletes leave the pool behind when their injuries heal, I continued training in the deep water even as I transitioned back to land running with great results. In fact, upon my return to competition I knocked 20 minutes off of my marathon PR (personal record) and later qualified and placed 31st in the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials. Furthermore, I became a faster, stronger, more resilient runner and . I used to call the aquatic workouts my “secret training weapon” because it gave me an edge over my frequently-injured competitors by both improving my overall strength and conditioning and preventing injuries.After finishing my masters in exercise physiology in 1996 I went on to study aquatic therapy and become an aquatic therapist specialist and today  I spend many hours a week in warm water helping others heal as well as achieve their competitive goals. With the exception of falling during a race!,  I’ve never had a major running-related injury since I began performing aquatic therapy exercise and, though I no longer compete, today I still run regularly at age 50. Furthermore, despite my scoliosis, aquatic therapy exercise has also enabled me to enjoy other physical activities besides running that have become passions of mine, including: ballroom dancing, tandem cycling and power yoga.

Bottom line:  I would never have experienced success and longevity in my running career or enjoyed other forms of physical activity pain-free had it not been for the water.

Be Well,


Anti-Gravity Training? Just Head to Your Nearest Swimming Pool

November 22, 2008

The other day I was reading an article on a trendy new yoga method called “Anti-Gravity Yoga.  Have you heard of it? Participants perform various postures while hanging from suspended hammock-like “yoga wings” anchored to the ceiling of the studio.  Apparently, you have to be pretty strong to maintain many of the postures, and with participants hanging and swinging from the ceiling there is the potential danger of mid-air collisions. Plus, there’s considerable risk of falling out of the hammock “wings” on to a hard-wood floor! 

Anti-gravity training is nothing new, folks.  And if you ask me, a safer, much more effective way to “throw gravity out the window” is to head to your nearest swimming pool for some anti-gravity exercise – including aqua yoga and aqua Pilates and “Ai Chi” – a form of Tai Chi developed specifically for performing in warm water.

No need to hang upside-down –  the buoyancy of the water naturally offsets gravity. In waist-deep water you are about 50% of your body weight, at chest-depth you’re 35%. In deep water you’re weightless and you can literally “off-load” your entire musculo-skeletal system by wearing a flotation belt or using a noodle. Buoyancy also increases range of motion of joints and muscles, further facilitating movement. Moreover, if you exercise in a warm pool (86 F or warmer), you’ll experience even greater ability to stretch your muscles by increasing circulation.

For more information on anti-gravity training, please visit my website at You might also check out these two short videos for specific information on the benefits of aquatic therapy and training:

Be Well,


Throw Gravity Out the Window!

November 14, 2008

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gravity. I suppose it’s only natural given the gravitas of the current economic situation.  It could also be the fact that as an aquatic therapist, I spend many hours a week speaking to clients about gravity’s counterpoint – buoyancy. Apart from outer space, deep water is the only place where we can literally throw gravity out the window and free our bodies (and our minds) of its heavy influence.  

Did you ever consider the negative connotation of the words and expressions that stem from gravity? There’s the aforementioned gravitas, there’s grave – as in “going to an early grave” or thegrave expression on his face“, not to mention the “gravity of a situation“. Buoyancy, on the other hand, coveys lightness, cheerfulness and exuberance – “he was buoyant in his attitude” “the fans were buoyant after the big win“, “she gave him a buoyant hug and kiss at the airport“.

Of course we need gravity to anchor us to the earth. Often, though, we are too weighted down by it – whether it be physically with musculoskeletal pain from injuries or surgery, or emotionally with worry and stress. Certainly our country is anything but buoyant economically right now. Lately it feels as thought we’re sinking rather than floating financially (unless it’s after being given a life raft like some of the banks and mortgage lenders). But maybe it’s time to literally and figuratively “throw gravity out the window” . Smile, breathe, laugh, hope and if possible, emerge yourself in a body of water, trading buoyancy for gravity.

As she was quietly floating upright in the deep end of my warm swimming pool at the end of her workout the other night, my client Cathy said to me, “everyone should have a few minutes a day without gravity”.  I couldn’t agree more!

Be well,


Kicking Knee Pain

November 10, 2008

No body part is more vulnerable to exercise-related injuries than the knee joint. But exercising regularly doesn’t have to lead to painful knees. In fact, Stanford’s Arthritis Center compared the knee problems of runners and non-exercisers ages 50 years and older over an eight-year period and found that the exercisers experienced 60 percent fewer knee problems than their sedentary counterparts. In another study, researchers at the Boston University Medical School tracked the development of knee arthritis in older adults for nine years and found that exercisers had no greater or lower risk for developing osteoarthritis of the knees. So while exercising may not delay the progression of osteoarthritis of the knees, it doesn’t appear to accelerate it either.

Other Origins of Knee Pain

Like your shoulder and your hip, your knee is a ball-and-socket joint. It is the largest and most complex joint in your body, held together by strong tendons and ligaments which act like stays and pulleys, allowing the joint to twist, bend, push and withstand the stress of hiking, dancing, playing tennis or just climbing stairs.

In addition to osteoarthritis, knee pain is often a symptom of a biomechanical problem or muscular imbalance in another part of the body. Weak quadriceps muscles combined with tight hamstrings can, for example, lead to an improper tracking of the knee and can even pull the knee cap out of its groove. Knee pain can also be caused by excessive foot pronation (when the arch collapses and the foot rolls too far inward) or tightness in the muscles surrounding the hip joints. Worn or improperly fitting athletic and everyday shoes can further exacerbate a knee problem.

Replacing Worn Out Knee Joints

Severe degeneration of the knee joint usually results from osteoarthritis or repetitive knee trauma/injuries. In either situation, the protective cushioning of cartilage wears away resulting in the painful rubbing of bone against bone. Knee replacement surgery is usually a last resort when pain becomes constant and the ability to function normally is impaired. Exercising both before and after surgery is critical: pre-habilitating” your knee prior to surgery makes the post-surgery rehabilitation faster and easier. In both cases, aquatic exercise is particularly beneficial in developing the leg muscles without loading the knee joint.

Case Study

“Tom” came to me three months prior to his scheduled knee replacement. We worked hard in the pool to prepare him for the surgery, specifically focusing on building the strength and increasing the flexibility of his quadriceps and hamstring muscles. Because of the aquatic “prehab” he did prior to surgery, Tom breezed through the knee replacement and was the star of his post-surgery physical therapy class with his very impressive range of motion. For more information on aquatic prehab and rehab, please visit the aquatic therapy/training page on my website at

Strengthen Those Leg Muscles!

Speaking of exercise – “weak in the knees” is more than just an expression. Rehabilitating sore knees and preventing future problems requires strengthening and stretching the muscles and tendons surrounding the knees. When the quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocnemius muscles are weak and/or tight, the knee joint receives the brunt of the force with weight-bearing exercise or activity. Exercises such as wall or chair squats, seated leg lifts and even stair climbing strengthen the leg muscles so they can provide shock absorption for the knee joint.

Note that knee pain can result from a sudden increase in exercise. Give your knees time to adjust to a new activity level by gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your workouts and by scheduling rest days in between. Also, make sure you have the proper adjustments when using exercise equipment. For example, a bicycle seat that’s positioned too high or low or too far forward or backward puts additional stress on the knee joint. Bottom line: exercising intelligently doesn’t increase your risk for knee problems, but being sedentary does.

Be Well,



The Hip Bone’s Connected to the…..

November 10, 2008

In my last blog I discussed the shoulder joint. Now, I want to take a closer look at the hip joint, formed by the junction of the pelvis and the femur (thighbone). Like the shoulder, the hip is a ball and socket joint. Unlike the shoulder, the hip joint is a deeper, more stable joint due to its weight bearing role. Moreover, in contrast to the shoulder joint, the hip joint is further stabilized by the resilient muscles and ligaments that surround and cross it.

 The hip joint is part of the so-called “pelvic girdle”. Because of this, the flexibility and strength of the muscles and ligaments surrounding and crossing the hip joint affect the pelvis and the entire spinal column. For example, some of the muscles crossing the hip have attachments on the spine so hip movements can have repercussive effects on the spine. Movements of the hip joint include flexion (moving the femur toward the pelvis); extension (moving the femur away from the pelvis); adduction (moving the femur toward the center of the body); abduction (moving the femur away from the center of the body); lateral and medial rotation (turning the femur outward or inward); and circumduction (moving the femur in a circular direction).

Common Hip Injuries

Typical hip injuries include trochanteric bursitis, hip adductor strains, osteoarthritis of the hip and hip fractures. An inflammation of the bursa, or fluid sac, of the trochanter bone, trochanteric bursitis presents as a pain in the side of the upper leg.  This inflammation can also affect the fascia (fibrous connective tissue) surrounding the hip joint. Trochanteric bursitis is often caused by a leg length discrepancy. A strain of the hip adductor muscles (commonly known as a groin pull) frequently results from quick lateral movements or slipping on wet pavement. Adductor strains can also be caused by imbalances in the body or when there’s not enough lateral movement of the ankle.

Osteoarthritis of the hip can sometimes be caused by repetitive trauma to the hip joint. If severe enough, it may necessitate a total or partial hip replacement. Hip fractures are usually one of two types:  a femoral neck fracture one-to-two inches from the joint, or an intertrochanteric fracture three-to four inches from the joint. Most require surgical repair with the use of either a pin or a compression screw and side plate to keep the bone in place while it heals.

Strength and Flexibility

When hip structures are weak and unstable, excess forces are transferred down the leg during impact exercise, leading to injuries of the knee, ankle and foot. The key to preventing hip injuries is to strengthen the muscles supporting the hips with exercises such as squats, leg presses or even stair climbing. For those with osteoarthritis of the hips, water exercise and stationary cycling are ideal. Flexibility of the hips is equally important and can be enhanced with regular yoga and stretching exercises. 

Case Study

“Lisa”, a competitive runner, came to me with chronic left hip pain. I discovered that Lisa had a leg-length discrepancy which was compounded by tight hip flexors and tight and weak hip extensors.  I recommended Lisa see a sports podiatrist to correct her leg-length discrepancy with an orthotic. I then prescribed a daily yoga routine for her, emphasizing hip-opening and gluteal strengthening postures. Today Lisa is training for her 5th marathon….pain-free! For more information on athletic training and rehab, please visit

“Bottom” Line

Right now you are sitting on the biggest muscle in your body – your gluteus maximus.  Keep it and your other gluteal muscles strong and flexible and your hips will be happy years from now.

Be well,




Keeping Your Shoulders Mobile AND Stable

November 9, 2008

Every time you reach for your seatbelt or wave goodbye, you rely on the impressive range of motion (ROM) of your shoulder. Unfortunately, for all of its mobility, the shoulder is also the least stable joint in your body, making it a prime target for injury.

The shoulder complex consists of a ball and socket joint and shoulder girdle whose combined actions result in your shoulder ROM. Covering the shoulder is the three-part deltoid, a thick, triangular muscle that stabilizes the shoulder and gives it a rounded appearance. The shoulder ball rests in a shallow cup and is held together by inherently weak ligaments. Its stability, therefore, is dependent on the muscles and tendons running across the joint. The risk of injury is high if these muscles are weak and/or tight, particularly when there is an imbalance in the strength and/or flexibility in your opposing muscle groups.

The key to preventing shoulder injuries is to both strengthen and stretch the muscles, tendons and ligaments supporting your shoulders, including a deep layer of small muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff. Though they are small, the rotator cuff muscles have a big job to do, acting as stabilizers for the humerus (upper arm bone) in the shoulder socket. Rotator cuff injuries typically result from overusing the shoulder in sports such as tennis, golf or swimming. Furthermore, when the rotator cuff muscles are weak, the deltoids must bear the brunt of the work, leaving the shoulder vulnerable to injury. Repetitive stress on the shoulder causes micro tears and subsequent inflammation of the tendons or the rotator cuff muscles. The inflammation then causes pain which leads to a decreased ROM which leads to a decline in strength from inactivity.

One of my aquatic therapy clients, “Anne” came to me with not just a torn rotator cuff, but, according to her MRI, it was damaged beyond repair and her orthopedist wouldn’t operate. Apparently, years of competitive tennis had taken its toll. After 2 months of 2 times per week of aquatic therapy, however, Anne’s pain was greatly reduced and her strength and pain-free ROM had greatly increased. Furthermore, after 5 months of aquatic therapy Anne is virtually pain-free – except if she overdoes it by throwing a football to her grandson! Aquatic therapy can be very effective in treating both acute and chronic shoulder conditions. For more information, go to and check out the aquatic therapy/training page.

Preventative Exercises to Stretch/Strengthen the Rotator Cuff Muscles

Shoulder Stretches

  Stretch the back of your shoulder by reaching your arm across your chest toward the opposite shoulder. Holding your arm either above or below the elbow, gently stretch your arm for 20-30 seconds.  Switch sides and repeat.

– Raise one arm and bend it behind your head to touch the opposite shoulder. Use your other hand to gently pull the arm downward. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

Strength Exercise for Rotator Cuff

Holding light dumbbells in each hand by your side, lift your slightly bent arms horizontally to shoulder height, keeping your thumbs pointed toward the floor. Slowly lower your arms and then return them to shoulder level. Repeat 8-12 times.

 Tips to Reduce Shoulder Wear and Tear

 1.  If your sport is unilateral (such as golf or tennis), try practicing your strokes or swings on your non-dominant side.

 2.  Make an effort to use your non-dominant arm as much as your dominant arm in all activities of daily life.

 3.  Keep your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed when you’re exercising other muscle groups.

4.  When performing water aerobics, avoid repeatedly reaching your arms over head, breaking the surface of the water.

Next time we’ll focus on another ball and socket joint, the hip.  Until then…

Be Well,



Watch Carolyn on U-Tube !

October 29, 2008

Please check out this short segment of Carolyn demonstrating aquatic therapy techniques with clients.

Healing Waters: Sports-Specific Aquatic Workouts – Part II

October 5, 2008

In my last blog I outlined the key benefits of aquatic athletic conditioning and rehab. Here, we’ll break it down sport by sport to look out how specifically to train in the pool.



In addition to the healing power of water exercise as part of a rehabilitation program, water training can also help prevent future injuries by balancing the strength and flexibility of opposing muscle groups. To perform well in any sport you must train for the specific demands of that sport. Golfers must develop their swing, tennis players must strengthen their strokes and marathoners must run for miles. By taking the same training principles into the water, however, you can swing, run, jump and kick again and again – improving your skills and your sports-specific fitness and preventing potential injury. Sports-specific water training addresses every component of fitness, including strength, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility and balance. Furthermore, the more you can duplicate specific sport skills in the water, the more you’ll be able to enhance your performance on land.



Golf is a sport that demands strength, power, stability and flexibility, particularly of the trunk muscles. Furthermore, because of the unilateral nature of golf, it is important to work both sides of your body in order to promote equal strength and flexibility. Take an old club into chest-deep water and slowly and smoothly swing through a full range of motion of your swing, noticing any choppy movements. Repeat ten times and then repeat ten more times in the opposite direction to balance your body.



Like golf, tennis is predominantly a unilateral sport that relies on trunk stability. Bring an old racket or club into chest deep water and practice your forehand and backhand, concentrating on your form. For leg strength and speed, practice plyometric moves such as bounding and leapfrogging and perform shallow and deep water sprints across the pool, with recovery jogs in between. Wear a flotation belt for the deep water sprints. Finally, try some lateral “shuffling” in the shallow end to mimic the side-stepping movements you do when transitioning from a forehand to a backhand.



Deep water running can be a great adjunct to the pounding of running on land and it can also provide an additional upper body workout – something land running doesn’t offer. Wearing a flotation belt, try running in the deep end. Simulate your land-running form as closely as possible by bending and extending your legs. Bend your arms and swing them by your sides in opposition to your legs, pointing your elbows straight behind you. Cup your hands for extra resistance. Try water running at a steady pace for 30 to 45 minutes or do some interval training. Make it even more challenging by deep water running without a flotation device.



Cyclists can duplicate their workouts in deep water by wearing a flotation belt. Extend your arms in front of you as though you were grasping handlebars and cycle your legs, circling your lower leg forward as though pushing your pedals around a complete revolution. To improve your ankle flexibility and strength, plantarflex your foot (toes toward the pool bottom) during the downstroke; dorsiflex your foot (toes toward your head) during the upstroke. Incorporate some interval training into your workout.




Basketball players must possess speed, power, aerobic and anaerobic capacity and a killer jump shot. Unfortunately, this high impact sport is injury prone and training on a hard court day after day can take its toll on your knees, back and feet. By bringing an old basketball and a partner into waist-high water you can practice your jump shot with only half the impact. Better yet, install a backboard next to your pool and you don’t even need a partner. If you’re injured you can practice your jump shot in the deep end by squatting on a kickboard and pushing off to a no-impact, standing jump. Volleyball players can also benefit from this type of training.



Water is also a great transition environment if you’re rehabilitating a sports injury. You can use the different depths of the pool to gradually transition back to land exercise; working first in the deep end with no impact and then in the shallow water with half of the impact of land training. In water up to your chest, you are only 50 percent of your body weight; up to your neck in water, your body is only about 10 percent of its land weight.


Though pool workouts don’t leave you hot and sweaty, you do perspire in the water particularly on a hot day. So pay attention to your hydration. Also, it is possible to overdo it in the water, particularly because aquatic exercise is virtually pain-free. Increase the duration and intensity of your water training gradually the way you would with your land workouts.


Whatever you sport, incorporating water training can be a fun and effective way of increasing your skills and your fitness and staving off injury. The only thing limiting you is your imagination.

Until next time….Be Well!




Aquajogger/Excel Sports Science, Inc. (for flotation belts, tethers)

Phone: (800) 92209544


Sprint/Rothhammer International (general aquatic fitness supplier)

PO Box 3840

San Luis Obispo, CA 93403

Phone: (805) 541-5330

Healing Waters: Aquatic Workouts for Injured Athletes Part I

October 5, 2008

As we all know, sports- and fitness-related injuries are all too common. Fortunately, the water is an ideal environment for athletes to not only rehab their injuries, but also maintain or even increase their conditioning and their performance. In fact, the biggest misconception about aquatic sports training is that it’s only useful when injuries prevent land workouts, when in fact it can be a valuable, year-round cross-training tool for almost any sport or fitness activity.

My work as an aquatic therapist came directly as a result of my own success with aquatic rehab as an athlete. As a former competitive marathon runner, I discovered the performance benefits of aquatic athletic conditioning more than 20 years ago. Unable to train on land for several months because of injuries, I began deep water running. It allowed me to work out as hard as I wanted to without exacerbating my injuries and it saved my sanity in the process. Whereas most athletes give up aquatic training when their injuries heal, I continued training in the deep water with great results. In fact, I knocked 20 minutes off of my marathon PR (personal record). Furthermore, I was not only faster, but a stronger, more resilient runner.

From that point on I continued my aquatic cross training, had no serious injuries, knocked another eight minutes off of my marathon PR and qualified for the 2000 Olympic Marathon Trials where I placed 31st with a personal best time of 2:47:08. I truly believe aquatic athletic conditioning gave me an edge over my frequently-injured competitors by both improving my overall fitness and preventing injuries.


Aquatic cross-training not only keeps you cool, it provides an intense, no- or low-impact, pain-free workout. It is the perfect complement to running, tennis, aerobics, basketball and other high impact activities. Famous athletes who have used aquatic training with great success when recovering from injuries include: heptathlete Jackie Joyner Kersee; baseball/football player Bo Jackson; tennis player John Lloyd; runner Mary Slaney; and basketball player Wilt Chamberlain.

Whether you choose swimming, deep water running or shallow water plyometrics, you can get both cardio and muscular endurance training in one workout. Furthermore, water enhances your flexibility so you’ll never leave the pool with tight, sore muscles. In fact, many people find they are able to stretch further in water as it promotes range of motion of joints and ligaments. Never flexible even as a child, I’m now – at age 41 – able to do the splits thanks to my aquatic exercise!

In my next blog I’ll focus on aquatic therapy workouts for specific sports.

Until then…Be Well!