By Marcia Chaiken
My long blue and green high-density noodle is my daily companion in Mexico, the U.S. or wherever in the world I happen to be. Right now, I am living in Southern Israel and the noodle traveled in my checked luggage from Huatulco to Tel Aviv and then by car to Mashabei Sade, our kibbutz in the Negev desert. Almost every day my noodle and I trek up to the large pool at the highest point in the kibbutz for an hour of exercise.
Let me explain this obsession with a noodle. Unlike the low density pool noodles that are virtually ubiquitous in areas with pools, and in Mexico can easily be purchased in Chedraui or other supermarkets, my noodle is available only through suppliers of serious equipment for water aerobics. Although lightweight in the air, it offers great resistance when one tries to push it under the water. The dynamic viscosity of water is about 50 times greater than air, which simply means that it takes a lot more strength to push a naturally floating object down through water. This resistance makes the noodle just as effective as the most expensive gym equipment in strengthening arms and legs, or glutes, deltoids, pectoral and other muscles.
Standing in a pool, the most effective depth for many water exercises is between the midbreast and navel. And good posture is key. The simplest exercise using a high-density noodle involves pushing the noodle under the water close to one’s body first with both hands in the middle of the noodle in front, then in back, and then, on each side, using one arm. Slow repetition of each of these motions – 30 to 50 times — definitely results in strong biceps and triceps, which provides the same benefits as the most expensive rowing equipment.
To use the noodle for strengthening the legs, place one foot in the middle of the noodle, forcing it to the bottom of the pool again close to the body. Then, controlling the noodle and resisting its natural inclination to pop up to the surface, bend the knee until the noodle slowly rises and then press down again, pressing it to the bottom of the pool. This exercise, using first one leg and then the other, is very effective with at least 30 repetitions in each session.
A more challenging exercise is to stand on the noodle with both feet in the middle of the noodle and the noodle at the bottom of the pool. Keeping both feet on the noodle, jump up and down about ten times, jump left and right about ten times, jump back and forth about ten times and then repeat. These motions not only strengthen the legs but affect all the core muscles in the body, including the abs. An additional benefit is general improvement of balance.
The noodle can also be used to replace a stationary bike. Simply straddle the noodle with one end in front and one in back and, holding on to the front part, pedal forward to the end of the pool. Then, unlike some stationary bikes, you can pedal backward involving another set of muscles.
The noodle can also be used for almost limitless exercises using its flotation properties rather than resistance. (Less dense noodles from Chedraui or Soriana can often be used the same way.) Virtually reclining in the water with the middle of a noodle placed behind the lower back and the ends held in both hands, one can perform “crunches”, which are much the same as sit-ups done on floors. Unlike sit-ups in the air, however, the water cushions the body and prevents the muscles from being injured. Personally, this and jumping up and down on the noodle are the exercises I most need to perform, since they can result in abs of steel. Lacking two discs in my lower back (from previous surgery), as long as I keep my abs in shape I function fairly normally. Skip a few days, and I’m in pain.
So when you see a grey-haired women with a long blue and green noodle, you can bet it’s me and know where I’m going and why. Feel free to grab a noodle and join me. I’d be glad to have your company and, since I’m a certified water aerobics instructor, I can show you what to do.