ScubaFit – SurfWalking™0
By Gretchen M. Ashton, CFT, SFT, SFN, NBFE
SurfWalking™ is a great way to exercise at the beach near a lake or ocean, or along a river or stream. In all directions, water is constant resistance on the diver’s body. This resistance may be used for outdoor exercise as it is in water aerobics classes performed in swimming pools. SurfWalking™ introduces additional resistance using waves, currents and tidal action. Depending on the depth of the water and the intensity of the surf, the workout changes in difficulty, focus and results.
Just like walking along the beach splashing a bit and enjoying the cool sensations on a hot summer day, SurfWalking™ begins with a comfortable ankle deep walk for about 30 minutes. Walking faster or taking a bigger stride through the water adds increased cardiorespiratory training to the activity.
The transition to shin-deep then thigh-deep and finally waist-deep water adds increasing levels of strength training, balance and proprioception to the workout. As the diver moves into deeper water, the focus on various muscles changes. For example, in shin deep water the body resists primarily with the thigh, buttocks and hip muscles. As the water level moves above the knee, the muscles of the torso are involved, and at waist deep, the arms are often used to aid in balance and changing direction.
As the diver becomes more comfortable in the water, the length of the SurfWalking™ session may be gradually extended to an hour or more. Notice that the knee-level is not used. The knees may be particularly vulnerable to injury from repetitive sideways resistance especially on uneven surfaces. Rather than select a level that is joint targeted, muscle groups are the focus of the water resistance. In any case, the activity still aids the body in adapting connective tissue to varying movements while strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints to improve joint stabilization in all ranges of motion. Overall, the diver gains better control of the body in a fluid environment.
The size of the surf, direction of the wave action, currents and tides are unique to each SurfWalking™ session. If walking along a river bank where there are no waves, divers can take advantage of the flow of the river by walking upstream. In addition to the resistance of the water during forward movement, the diver is walking on changing terrain. Perhaps it is an uneven and rocky bottom or the sand washes away with every step. Above and below the surface forces from varying angles include the power, timing and size of each wave or changing currents. Constantly be aware of the movement of the water, obstacles and surroundings.
When walking in the water don’t pick up the legs or high step. Use more of a shuffle stride. This shuffle stride utilizes the muscles of the legs, hips and torso similar to the movements involved in fin kick swimming. AND, it scares away any critters such as sting rays that rest on the sandy bottom. This is especially important if the diver walks barefoot. In some locations, hard-sole water shoes are recommended to protect the feet from rocks, glass and bottom dwellers such as spiny urchins. In the desert or wilderness areas, snakes and other wildlife may be found near the water.
Wear protection appropriate to the day and plan on getting wet. A swim suit and shorts, skins or a full wetsuit, along with a hat, sun glasses and sun screen are individual choices important to the diver’s comfort and wellbeing. Take a buddy when possible. If a diver is walking alone it’s always a good idea to let someone know the location and expected time, duration and return.
SurfWalking™ can also be done in a swimming pool. Ideally, if the diver has the option, a children’s pool is a good starting place for beginners. The next best depth is obviously going to be the shallow end which may be three of four feet deep. The pool is also where clients who have lost their ability to walk on dry land because of muscle atrophy or spinal injury rehabilitate. Exercise in water often leads to being able to walk against gravity again. And for those who are still working towards walking to the extent of their ability they can now stand at a counter for example, instead of always being confined to a chair or bed. Divers with arthritis or particular lower body and joint limitations and back problems may prefer walking in the swimming pool to moving water.