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Splish, splash, you can tone up your lats

Water workouts are making waves among younger exercisers. Zumba, kickboxing and other hybrids mix it up and make it fun.

By Melinda Fulmer

August 11, 2012

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With temperatures heating up, it's a good time to take your workout to the water.

After years of getting a bad rap as "senior-cize," water workouts are finally moving into the younger mainstream, as they did years ago in Europe, Japan and South America, says Lori Templeman, a Sacramento trainer with the Aquatic Exercise Assn.

"You can work hard in the water and maintain your intensity without banging up your body," Templeman says. Water's buoyancy protects your joints, while its resistance loads your muscles in a way that makes recovery easier.

In Southern California, there are workouts to suit every fitness level, including aqua boot camps, Pilates and kickboxing. And more are on the horizon in this area, including underwater ballet barre workouts and pool-based stand-up paddleboarding.

Here's a look at some of the classes available to would-be aqua jocks:

Aqua Zumba

Pool party! This spinoff of the popular Zumba cardio craze brings the rhythm to the water with salsa, cumbia, merengue and a touch of hip-hop.

It's not always pretty. It's hard to be graceful or move as quickly as the poolside instructors, especially during underwater salsa or samba moves. And some of the dance moves work better than others. As with other water workouts, bigger or faster movements are more challenging than small ones.

If you really work at it, however, you will boost your heart rate enough to burn hundreds of calories. Scoops and kicks underwater also provide some resistance training.

The pumping soundtrack keeps you moving, and instructors such as Lucia Florindez and Chellie Thomas, who teach at several locations, keep it lively.

Florindez has earned a following for her crazy faces and silly, exaggerated movements while she leads the class in moves such as the octopus for the arms and the Matrix for the core.

"I fell in love with her class," says Cindy Seward, who started doing Aqua Zumba at the beginning of July and now goes to more than one club to get as many workouts as she can in a week. "I just love the energy."

The best part for novice dancers?

"You're underwater [below the chest], so no one can see you!" Thomas says. Except the instructors, that is, who are scanning the class looking at form.

Cost: $10 at various recreational pools, with membership at select 24-Hour Fitness locations. http://www.zumba.com/aqua.

Splash! Aqua Kickboxing

If you think you can't sweat while working out in the pool, this class might prove you wrong. This hourlong workout combines athletic drills and plyometric jumps with standard boxing jabs and kicks. It's a great total body workout. Just watch out for your neighbor's roundhouse kick.

Developed by instructor and personal trainer Fabian Rodriguez, who wonMen's Health's "Fittest Friends" contest last year, it's a good example of the new breed of more strenuous aqua classes.

While the Palos Verdes classes are filled with a fair number of retirees who take it at their own pace, the routine itself provides good cross-training for even hard-core fitness fans, thanks to the nonstop resistance provided by the water. Sure your weight is supported, making the cardio a bit easier, but as you're moving against the resistance of the water, it's constantly loading your muscles.

Foam dumbbells used in the second half of the class sculpt muscle in your arms, chest and core. And there's a yoga stretch at the end to loosen up what you've worked.

Rodriguez is an engaging instructor, pacing the sides of the pool and demonstrating the moves. Part cheerleader, part drill sergeant or coach, he keeps it moving. If he finds you talking or goofing off, he just might blow his whistle at you. But you need that, right?

Cost: Free with membership at Equinox Palos Verdes. Aqua kickboxing classes also at some YMCAs, including YMCA of the Foothills, http://www.ymcafoothills.org.

H2y0ga

If you're bored with your landlocked yoga practice, there's a cool, wet alternative: H2y0ga.

This hourlong underwater yoga and Pilates hybrid, developed by instructor Sue Gisser, will challenge your balance; tone your arms, legs and core; and calm your mind — once you get the hang of it, that is.

Even experienced yogis will find the most basic yoga poses challenging because the water adds resistance and makes it that much harder to maintain balance without shifting or sinking.

When taking one of the more challenging classes, the Rockabye, a nighttime power-vinyasa combo, I spent a good part of the class chasing my Pilates ball around the bottom of the small pool as it kept slipping from between the soles of my feet during the Zen frog leg press.

Equally difficult was the upward dog yoga move, as it was done balanced between two pool noodles. Those who had taken the class a few times seemed to manage the tools with much more ease.

Gisser gives plenty of coaching on form and alignment, but she says it's better for novice water yogis to start with the more basic Flows Afloat vinyasa class, which teaches the fundamentals in a relaxed way, before moving on to the twisting Detox Aloft and more challenging Power and Rockabye classes, which incorporate the Pilates ball and more strength training.

These more difficult classes really bring the burn, but because you are submersed in a saline pool, you really don't feel how hard you've worked your arms and your core — until the next day, that is.

Cost: $7.50 for the first class, $15 thereafter at Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy, 5870 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, http://www.lennykswim.com.

Long Beach Hydrobike class

For those who want a water workout without actually immersing, there's hydrobiking. The owners of Long Beach Hydrobiking offer a spin class every Saturday and Sunday morning.

Instead of pedaling in a studio, you're spinning over the water on a bike frame attached to two pontoons with an underwater propeller as you meander around the canals of the Naples area of Long Beach.

The hourlong class is really more of a group tour than a sprint, especially since the bikes don't really go more than 7 mph, even when you're giving it your all.

"You can make it as easy or as hard as you want it," says Jonathan Tinsman of La Crescenta, after stepping off his water bike. "It was fun."

Still, as a gym regular, he would have liked a little more structure to the class.

Instructors here say they see students of every ability level, from hard-core spinners to retirees taking a tour before a mimosa Sunday brunch at one of the dockside restaurants.

As Tinsman pointed out, there's not a lot of direction or coaching to speed up or slow down, just a couple of folks along for the ride making sure you don't get stuck or lost. It's not quite as rigorous as your typical spin class, but your studio class won't offer a cool ocean breeze, beachfront real estate and the occasional sea lion, like the one rolling around in the bay next to our group.

Cost: $30 at 110 N. Marina Drive, Long Beach. http://www.lbhydrobikes.com.

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