I have a female client who is trying out for the water polo team at her school. Can you recommend a cardio/endurance routine for her?
When designing any program, we must first look at the sport and the way it is played. Water polo is a very intense sport with four quarters lasting seven minutes in length, for a total of 28 minutes actual game time. Depending upon the level of competition, the athletes are rotated out every time there is a stop in play, as in the case of a penalty or an out-of-bounds pass. This makes the sport mostly anaerobic, with small intense bursts of power. Please remember that developing power in the water is much different than developing power from the ground. One of the best ways to work an athlete who plays water polo is to have her do her exercises kneeling on a stability ball. This makes the athlete develop strength in an unstable environment (i.e., the water). We must then consider the weak links of the body that will take much of the stress during this activity. Athletes need to do “egg beaters” in the pool to tread water for such a long time. This means they must keep their knees together and turn the lower part of their legs in a circular motion, all of the time moving their ankles in a circular motion also. This puts a lot of stress on the medial collateral ligament of the knee and creates a functional instability at the ankle. Before doing any type of exercise with your client, please access the stability of her ankles and have her do drills standing on one leg while keeping her upper torso in a relatively neutral posture. Then progress her to trying to stand on one leg and reach her opposing leg out as far as she can in all directions. This will help ensure ankle stability. There will also be an inherent instability in the rotator cuff because of the constant throwing motion. You should have your client do normal rotator cuff work that would accompany any throwing sport. Two of my favorites are the D1, D2 diagonal patterns done without load through the client's full range of motion. The most effective way to train a water polo athlete for endurance would be to train her with a circuit training routine. You should start with a one minute on/one minute off ratio and work your way up to three or four minutes on to one minute off. Considering that the quarters are seven minutes each. This would assume there would be a break in play at least once or twice a quarter. When we use the term cardio, we are talking about gaining efficiency in the way the heart pumps blood through the veins. A well designed circuit training routine performed three to five days a week, lasting up to 40 minutes with intense bursts on and off in the ratios stated earlier will ensure your client more than sufficient training to play water polo to the best of her ability.