Low-impact water aerobics get intense

Janice Williams of Mount Pleasant shows how much she’s enjoying the ‘HIIT (high intensity interval training) the Water” class at Palmetto Islands County Park last week.

Water aerobics ain’t just for grandma anymore.

As land-based aerobics has morphed into specialized group courses — influenced by barre, core, abs and Zumba and other dance classes — low-impact water aerobics has evolved and branched out as well.

Lydia Pontius, 60, of Mount Pleasant has been teaching water aerobics for 20 years for various public and private groups and various locations around the Charleston area.

She initially started doing water aerobics after suffering from bilateral frozen shoulders, or adhesive capsulitis, a painful and disabling disorder in which the shoulder capsule becomes inflamed and stiff.

“The only place I could get relief was by moving under the water,” says Pontius, who became an instructor and has witnessed an evolution of the activity.

“It’s changing because people are realizing that it’s something that you can do for all ages and abilities, not just grandmothers and people suffering from arthritis,” says Pontius.

Today, Pontius teaches water aerobics for people preparing for surgery or recovering from it, as well as cross-trains high-impact amateur athletes like runners and triathletes. Physicians are slowly getting on board to “prescribe” water aerobics, such as for those who have suffered strokes.

“I wish, however, that doctors would send them (stroke victims) to me first as opposed to a last resort because I get many of them after they have fallen and broken a bone,” she adds.

Year round, water aerobics is held indoors regularly at major recreation facilities around the Charleston area, from the Summerville Family YMCA and St. Andrew’s Family Fitness Plus to municipal recreation departments in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston.

For the second consecutive year, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission is offering outdoor classes “after hours” at the Splash Zone Waterpark at James Island County Park and Splash Island Waterpark at Palmetto Islands County Park in Mount Pleasant, now through Aug. 13.

The introduction of water aerobics at facilities usually reserved for kids to splash around was part of the commission’s effort to offer more fitness activities to the public.

Allison Foster, the commission’s fitness and wellness program manager, says when staff starting assessing facilities within the park system for fitness programming, the splash zone parks were a “natural fit for water fitness.”

“We hope to build on the public’s association between water parks and physical activity for kids to that of an incredible venue for adult water fitness classes,” says Foster, adding that people often ask if the classes are held when kids are around.

“We get this question a lot. In fact, fitness program participants do have the pools to themselves. Classes are offered after regular water park hours so participants can fully enjoy the experience,” says Foster.

And it definitely is different than a pool experience. A class held at Palmetto Islands last week offered the peace of a large pool, walled in with towering trees. The class featured an array of ages, though all participants but one were females.

The predominant participants are driven by the type of class. Like many facilities offering water aerobics, the commission offers a traditional, slower-moving class and a newer, high intensity one.

“Our more traditional water fitness program, ‘H20 Moves,’ tends to draw participants that are sensitive to excessive heat, beginning or recommitting to fitness, managing chronic conditions, and/or recovering from injury,” says Foster.

“The high-intensity interval training, ‘HIIT the Water’ classes, attract participants looking for a low impact yet major calorie-burning, cross-training alternative that offers an escape from the heat.

Maureen Distler and Janice Williams were among a dozen people who participated in one of the “HIIT the Water” classes last week at Palmetto Islands.

Both regularly exercise. Distler kayaks, bikes and walks. Williams bikes. Neither usually does water aerobics.

Williams, who smiled a lot during the class, says she enjoyed the water and the group dynamics of the class. Distler agreed.

“I think it’s a great way to exercise this time of year and not get overheated.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.