FITNESS : Workouts Buoyed : Exercising in water can be an effective way to shed some of those pounds put on during the holiday season.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

So you nibbled nonstop through the holidays and now your waistband is cutting off your circulation, the buttons are popping off your shirts and you begin panting on the fourth step as you walk upstairs.

It's time to face up to some exercise.

And the exercise of the '90s, physical education specialist Cheryl Holt says, is a water workout that requires no swimming ability.

Holt teaches deep-water running classes at Ventura College and recently warned that "running has beat up so many bodies. But in water, you can't damage your body."

Holt and others note that water workouts provide the same benefits--cardiovascular conditioning and muscular fitness--that running does, but without any pounding against a hard surface.

In deep-water running, the feet never touch bottom. Runners maintain an upright position and never put their heads in the water.

"Water-running is good exercise and I don't perspire," said Barbara Berret as she was about to begin a workout. "I always wear my glasses and I don't mess my hair."

Then, wearing a bright yellow flotation belt over her swimsuit, Berret made her way to the deep end of the pool.

Some students stride up and down the pool lanes in cross-country gaits to the tune of marching music.

Others work out in pairs or small groups, tethering themselves to the side of the pool or to lane dividers and chatting while they run at their own speed and intensity.

On land, "I can't talk and run, but in the water, I don't get as winded, and we're tethered together so we can socialize," Sally Rogers said. "When I get out of here, I feel like I can take on the world."

People of different skill levels can work out together, Holt said, pointing out a triathlete exercising alongside 84-year-old Helen Webster.

"I use it to stay alive," Webster said as she ran.

Tethering improves form, as does wearing running shoes in the water, Holt said.

"They put shoes on so they run and don't tread water. It's a subconscious thing," she said, adding that the shoes also prompt more accurate movements if the runner wants to transfer the work onto the road and enter a race.

Deep-water running can be completely individualized and specific to a student's needs and abilities.

Someone with an injury would require different movements than the person who wants a general conditioning program, Holt said.

Dianne Bielek, who has artery problems and is missing two discs in her back, hails the idea.

"This is the only exercise I can do," Bielek said. "I'm the healthiest-looking disabled person you've ever seen."

Bob Barnum, who set a goal to shed 21 pounds, said he has been losing a pound a week through a couple of months of water workouts.

He used to ride a bike to work and jog on the weekends, but he wasn't consistent.

"This is regular and supervised. It keeps me honest because I have to answer to the boss here," he said, grinning at Holt.

Water aerobics is a bit more strenuous.

That class meets in the shallow end of the college pool and as participants walk or jog, they do touch bottom.

Some of the deep-water runners move on to water aerobics as they become more fit.

"It's similar to land aerobics with the added factor of resistance," instructor Mary Coulter said.

There is slight impact with this workout, but it's less stressful to the joints than aerobics on land, she said, adding that "it's a good start for overweight people."

Water aerobics works the entire body.

The routine begins with pool-walking and warm-up stretches, moves on to jumping jacks, twists, arm and leg movements, abdominal work while leaning on kick boards, leg work with the back against the pool wall and cool-down stretches to finish.

"I don't like the huffing and puffing of land aerobics," said Yvonne Mendoza, who fits the lunchtime water aerobics class into her busy schedule of work and law school.

"This reduces the battlefield mentality. It's a renewing, a rebirthing."

WHERE TO FIND A WATER WORKOUT

* Dynamics in Motion offers water aerobics classes at various times in Ojai and Ventura. For information, call 646-6020.

* Mandalay Beach Resort, 2101 Mandalay Beach Road, Oxnard, offers water aerobics mornings and some evenings. Sign up or drop in. 984-2500.

* Pierpont Racquet Club, 500 San Jon Road, Ventura, accepts sign-ups for 10-week sessions. Aquatic fitness, Mondays and Fridays, 7 a.m. 648-5161.

* Pleasant Valley pool, 1030 Temple Ave., Camarillo, takes monthly registration, offering morning and evening classes in water fitness. 482-1996.

* Ventura College, 4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura, requires registration, offering spring semester enrollment through Jan. 13. Day and evening classes in water aerobics and deep-water running. 654-6400.

* YMCA, 3760 Telegraph Road, Ventura, sells membership or takes daily fees. Morning and late afternoon classes in water exercise training. 642-2131.

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