Author – Katy Glover.
The air in the aquatic center at Prairie Life Fitness is hot and thick. The pool is a more comfortable 83 degrees.
But the men exercising in the pool are not comfortable. The water hides their sweat.
These men are bucking a trend. Women are six times more likely than men to join group exercise classes, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. This water aerobics class at the west Omaha gym is made up entirely of men.
They’ve discovered for themselves what fitness experts already know: Low-impact water-based exercise improves cardiovascular health, muscular strength and flexibility.
The class took hold about three years ago when the gym’s aquatics director, Dayle Nervig, approached instructor John Georgeson about teaching it. She wanted to quash the misconception that water-based exercise is something for women.
“We thought if we gave (men) their own space, they might come,” Nervig said. “They’re more comfortable working out with the guys.”
Georgeson, a former football coach, agreed to lead the class, and a small group of men who normally congregated just outside the pool area for coffee made their way into the water.
Now there are about a dozen regulars in his class, most nearing retirement or already retired, like the 70-year-old Georgeson himself.
Art Hastings, a retired Omaha man who describes his hair as “antique gray,” joined the men’s class six months ago. He often used an elliptical or spinning bike during workouts at Prairie Life but wanted more variety.
Seeing the all-men’s class encouraged him to give water aerobics a try. He said since he started taking classes, the pain in his foot stemming from plantar fasciitis is gone.
The class is marketed to men, and though women can come if they want, they rarely do. On the gym’s fitness schedule, it’s listed as “Guy’s Water Workout.”
“It’s really important to get men involved in this type of activity, which has been dominated by women for years. Now guys are starting to see the benefits,” Georgeson said.
The class is 45 minutes of nonstop cardio. Whether they’re doing leg curls, kicks, jumping jacks, vertical mountain-climbers or jogging, they never stop moving in the water.
The water offers resistance, so it leads to strength training, too. The class also incorporates equipment — things like oversized and buoyant dumbbells, bands, steps and pool noodles — to increase drag and build muscle.
“With water, you get out of it what you put into it,” Nervig said. The harder you push against it, the thicker it feels.
The group members moved across the width of the pool, lifting their knees to their waists while their arms performed a breast stroke. They did jumping jacks while holding a pool noodle overhead and squeezing the ends together. They also pushed and pulled the noodles toward their torsos through the water, like an underwater row.
In the second half of the class, they grabbed dumbbells designed for use in the pool. The bicep curls in the water worked their triceps as they pushed the dumbbells against the water to straighten their arms, the bouyancy creating resistance. Shoulder presses also worked their back muscles as they squeezed their elbows against the water.
The men were breathing heavier now. “I think they encourage each other to push a little harder,” Nervig said. Many in the class look to the water not just to work out, but also to ease their ailments.
People feel 75 percent lighter in chest-high water than on land, according to Angie Petersen, a physical therapist at the Nebraska Orthopedic Hospital. That means they also feel less pressure on their joints, muscles and bones. She said that’s why water exercise is a particularly good option for people who are struggling with arthritic pain, recovering from surgery or an injury, or are overweight.
Marty Kauffman, 65, said it was difficult to perform certain exercises on land, but in the water, he’s not as restricted.
“It’s similar to lifting,” he said, “but easier on your joints.”
Mike Baldino, 68, said his orthopedic doctor recommended water exercise to combat knee pain. He took the advice after having knee surgery. Though he needs surgery on his other knee, too, Baldino said working out in the pool has allowed him to put it off.
“Without the water, I’d really be a mess,” he said.
The workout comes to an end on Georgeson’s whistle, his voice no longer booming across the pool. The men climb out, their hearts beating faster.
“Water doesn’t get the credit it’s due,” Georgeson said.
The men at Prairie Life are changing that.