This is an excerpt from Water Fitness Progressions by Christine Alexander & Christine Alexander.
At last, you have arrived at the season for peak fitness. The preseason and the transition season have prepared your participants for the highest level of fitness that they will achieve this year. Peak fitness can be maintained for a few months, but it cannot be sustained indefinitely before the body will need to rest. Peak fitness will be different for everyone. But your participants should notice that the exercises seem easier even though they are performing more repetitions. Compliment them on their good posture and ability to perform the exercises correctly. Draw their attention to the improvement in the quality of their moves, because they are now better able to push and pull and drag the water with them while maintaining a braced core. The focus of this season is to increase their power to go beyond the intensity levels they achieved in the previous season, including short periods in their anaerobic zone. Your classes will consist of cardiorespiratory training, HIIT, and strength training with equipment using concentric and eccentric muscle actions but focusing on the eccentric actions.
Your participants should now be able to do continuous cardiorespiratory training at 60 percent of maximum effort for 30 minutes without tiring. They may have noticed that as long as they maintain neutral posture, they can safely increase the intensity of their arm and leg movements. They may have to work a little harder to achieve a moderate level of effort. Now is the time for them to lengthen their stride and add more power to their movements. Ask them to increase their exertion from 60 percent to 70 percent of maximum. They should be working somewhat hard during their sessions of continuous cardiorespiratory training.
Now that a base fitness level has been established, interval-training intensities can increase from 70 percent of maximum effort to 80 percent (hard). Your participants may also be ready to cross the anaerobic threshold regularly, so you will include more frequent cycles in which they work at 90 percent of maximum effort (very hard). To work at this level, you will need to employ additional strategies for increasing intensity. Instead of using one intensity variable, use two, such as full range of motion with power, speed with power, or power with travel.
Another strategy is to work in two planes at the same time. You can do this by alternating one move in the frontal plane, such as a frog jump, with another move in the sagittal plane, such as tuck ski. A second way to work in two planes is to combine a leg move in one plane with an arm move in a different plane. Examples include kick side to side (frontal plane) with arms sweeping side to side (transverse plane), cross-country ski (sagittal plane) with rotation, hands together (transverse plane), and high kick (sagittal plane) clap over (transverse plane) and under (frontal plane). You will no longer intersperse cycles of interval training between periods of cardiorespiratory training. You will instead perform all your interval cycles together.
All of your intervals during peak fitness are HIIT, but not all HIIT intervals are anaerobic. Rolling intervals, surges, random intervals, and Tabata Type intervals include sets in which you ask your participants to work at 90 percent of maximum effort for periods of 15 seconds up to 1 minute. Remember that 90 percent of maximum effort is different for everyone and that some may not be able to achieve that level of effort for 1 minute or even 15 seconds. Encourage all participants to modify the intensity of the work intervals to their preferred challenging level and focus on their own optimal training.
The following are options for interval training during peak fitness (Thielen, 2015):
- 30 seconds of work to 30 seconds of recovery (1:1 ratio), 10 to 12 sets
- 40 seconds of work to 40 seconds of recovery (1:1 ratio), 10 to 12 sets
- 60 seconds of work to 60 seconds of recovery (1:1 ratio), 10 to 12 sets
Reduced Recovery Time
- 3 minutes of work to 90 seconds of recovery (2:1 ratio), 2 to 3 sets
- 1 minute at 70 percent, 1 minute at 80 percent, and 1 minute at 90 percent of maximum effort, 3 to 5 sets
- 45 seconds at 80 percent, 15 seconds at 90 percent of maximum effort, and 1 minute of recovery (1:1 ratio), 4 to 8 sets
- 30 seconds at 60 percent of maximum effort, 30 seconds at 70 percent, 30 seconds at 80 percent, and 30 seconds at 90 percent to 1 minute of recovery (rolling interval)
- 15 seconds at 60 percent of maximum effort, 15 seconds at 70 percent, 15 seconds at 80 percent, and 15 seconds at 90 percent to 1 minute of recovery (rolling interval)
- 30 seconds of work to 30 seconds of recovery, 4 sets
- 20 seconds of work to 10 seconds of recovery, 8 sets (Tabata)
- 1 cycle
- 15 seconds of work to 15 seconds of recovery
- 20 seconds of work to 15 seconds of recovery
- 25 seconds of work to 15 seconds of recovery
- 30 seconds of work to 15 seconds of recovery
- 1 or more cycles
- 20 seconds of work at 90 percent of maximum effort to 10 seconds of recovery (2:1 ratio)
- 8 sets, 1 or more cycles
Muscular Strength and Endurance
In the transition season, equipment was added to the program. Strength training without equipment involves only concentric contractions. Drag equipment involves a minor amount of eccentric action. Buoyant and rubberized equipment involve both concentric and eccentric muscle actions. Gains in strength are possible with concentric contractions alone. Eccentric actions can also be used to improve strength, and they add variety to a strength-training program. Eccentric actions may also improve muscle coordination and balance (ACSM, 2017c).
During peak fitness, you will continue to use equipment when your participants are strength training. Now, however, you will emphasize the eccentric action. For this you will choose either buoyant or rubberized equipment. When they are using buoyant equipment, ask them to dynamically press the equipment down under the water and then pause for two seconds. Participants should control the upward movement so that it takes about four seconds to return to the starting position. Watch for elevated shoulders when using buoyant equipment. This action is an indication that the participants selected equipment that is too large for them.
When they are using rubberized equipment, ask participants to pull the equipment away from the anchor point as fully as range of motion allows and then pause for two seconds. They should control the release so that it takes about four seconds to return to the anchor point. Remember to cue to relax the shoulders and the grip after each set with equipment. Be aware that delayed onset muscle soreness is common 24 to 48 hours after eccentric exercise, so begin slowly. Start with eight repetitions of each exercise and gradually increase the number of repetitions over time.
During the transition season, you aimed for two or three sets of 8 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. During peak fitness you will aim for three sets. You have several options for performing the three sets and incorporating eccentric actions.
- Perform the first set without equipment. Perform the second set with buoyant or rubberized equipment without emphasizing the eccentric actions. Perform the third set with the pause and slow return.
- Perform one set without equipment. Perform the second set with drag equipment. Perform the third set with buoyant or rubberized equipment using the pause and slow return.
- Perform two sets with buoyant or rubberized equipment without emphasizing the eccentric action. Perform the third set with the pause and slow return.
- Perform one set without equipment. Then perform two sets with buoyant or rubberized equipment using the pause and slow return.
- Perform one set with buoyant or rubberized equipment without emphasizing the eccentric action. Then perform two sets using the pause and slow return.
If you use music with your strength-training sessions, choose something that is 134 beats per minute or slower (Yazigi, 2011). Exercisers will not be able to move the equipment through their full range of motion and keep up with music that is faster than 134 beats per minute.
Be sure to end all of your peak fitness classes with at least five minutes of stretching, focusing on the major muscles used during the class.