Aqua virgins (newcomers to aqua fitness), as well as some regular participants, often have questions about the way classes are taught. Aquatic exercise has amazing fitness benefits, but is a different kind of workout. People need to understand why and how things are done at the pool. They need to learn: why the instructor teaches a certain way, how to move well, and why their results depend on their focused effort.
A number of years ago, at a pool reception desk in Kitchener Ontario, I saw a participant handout. It was designed for people attending aqua fitness classes, and it was brilliant!
This post is a revision and update of that document. Thanks to the wise folks in Kitchener, who recognized that working well in the water requires knowledge and skill. I hope this article will prompt you to create or reinforce client education at your pool.
Here is a list of typical participant questions and answers appropriate to our style of teaching. Because the list is quite long, it may be best to present one point per week on the pool lobby bulletin board, or facility website. I have also offered ‘Learn to Aqua Fit’ training seminars that included about 1 hour of theory in a classroom, followed by an aqua fitness class. We created some very savvy exercisers. Keep track of the questions you get, and start your own participant education plan!
- Why don’t instructors teach from the water so they feel what we are feeling?
Our instructors teach from deck because most classes are large. This way, you can hear cues and clearly see the exercises being taught. The instructor can observe how everyone is moving. Sometimes, an instructor will teach while IN the pool – usually to a smaller group of experienced participants. The instructor may choose to teach from the pool (rather than the deck) if she is pregnant, or has health issues restricting her from teaching on the hot, humid deck.
- Why are aqua fitness instructors so different from each other in style and experience?
The instructor teaching your class may be an experienced leader or an instructor trainer. She may be a newly trained instructor, developing skills in preparation for certification. Each instructor brings his or her own personality to the pool, creating a unique teaching style. Please feel free to provide your instructor with polite feedback that will help him or her understand how the class felt for you. Instructors of all levels are interested in improving skills and offering the best possible aqua fitness experience.
- Why do instructors on deck demonstrate only one or two moves and then stop moving?
In the water, you are cooled and supported. The pool deck is hot, humid, wet and slippery. Due to heat stress and fall risk, it is not appropriate for your instructor to jump or move continuously. This is not your instructor’s workout. Her job (once you understand how to do the exercise), is to observe, coach, motivate, and help you move well. Unlike a fitness studio, where you have a mirror to monitor your movement, your instructor is your mirror.
- Why do instructors demonstrate moves like ski or jacks using only one leg?
Ski and jack – as well as some other aqua fitness movements – involve taking both feet off the floor at the same time, to move the legs in, out, forward or backward. In the water, class participants are supported as they lift both feet off the floor. On deck, the instructor must lift their body against gravity, landing on a slippery cement floor. For safety, moves cued from the pool deck are adapted to reduce or eliminate jumping. This decreases impact on the instructor’s joints and reduces fall risk.
- Why does the instructor sometimes ask us to slow down and anchor our movements, eliminating bouncing? Isn’t faster movement with jumping more intense?
In shallower water, bouncing or jumping off the floor results in substantial joint stress! To reduce joint loading, people with painful joints are advised to anchor (eliminating bouncing altogether), unweight (light floor contact in neck deep water) or suspend (no floor contact, using a flotation belt). Slower, anchored exercises are very beneficial because they allow you to move your arms and legs through a full range of motion with a stable torso. In order to do this powerfully, your core must be engaged. It’s like moving on land with weights on your arms and legs while balancing on a stability ball.
Anchoring is usually done specifically for muscle strengthening of the core, and limbs. Faster movements, with a choice of buoyancy options (light bouncing, or propulsive – where you are pushing off the floor to move up, out of the water), are often used during the cardiovascular component of your aqua fitness class. You may still choose to eliminate bouncing while doing cardiovascular work (in chest deep water), since this protects your joints while creating added work for your core.
- How does depth of immersion (how deep I stand in the water) affect me?
When you stay vertical in the pool, gravity is offset by buoyancy. Below is a useful guide regarding how your body ‘weight’ changes, depending on depth of immersion. For example, a person that weights 70 kg (154 pounds) standing on land:
- Standing in water that is NECK DEEP = 10% gravity – you feel 7 kg (15.4 pounds)
- Standing in water that is CHEST DEEP = 25% gravity – you feel 23 kg (50.6 pounds)
- Standing in water that is WAIST DEEP = 50% gravity- you feel 35 kg (77 pounds)
This is useful information for people with joint pain, or other reasons for taking advantage of the effects of buoyancy.
- Do instructors actually get in the water and try the moves they teach?
Yes! Instructors spend several hours of their training course in the pool, learning how to do aquatic exercises correctly. The exercises learned in their AQX training course are well established to be effective and appropriate for aquatic training. In addition, they are encouraged to attend other instructors’ classes on a regular basis to continue to develop their understanding and skill.
- Why don’t all instructors follow the same lesson plan?
Muscles have memory – they like to do what they have done before. If you participate in the same activity on a regular basis, you may note that your level of fitness reaches a plateau and improvement stops. The body needs to be challenged to move in new ways in order to continue improvement in all components of fitness. For functional fitness results, it is best to attend a variety of classes lead by different instructors.
- Why do the moves need to be so complicated? I sometimes have trouble following!
Challenging movement patterns require complex thinking. If things are ‘routine’ your mind does not have to exercise in order to learn new sequences. Coordination is an important component of fitness – especially as we age. If you are getting frustrated, try sculling (treading water) with your arms while you get the legs moving. Then, add the arm actions. For complex arm movements, keep your legs still until you master arm actions. It’s also important to relax, see the humour in your situation, and ‘go with the flow’. Have fun!
- How can one set of exercises be appropriate for all the different fitness levels, ages, and body types in an aqua fitness class?
Throughout class, your instructor will reinforce techniques to modify aquatic exercise intensity. By changing your hand shape (slice, fist, and flat hand), lever length, speed, and range of motion, you can dramatically alter your workload. When you maintain focus on your alignment, and work to achieve ‘comfortable fatigue’ using these choices, you will have the perfect tailor-made workout for your body!
- Why does the instructor ask us not to talk during class? We are there for a good time! It is our class. We should be able to do what we want to do.
Your instructor appreciates your need for socialization. However, to maintain awareness of your posture, alignment and exercise technique, you need INTERNAL focus on your body. Also, when you chat, others around you (who are trying to maintain focus), will have difficulty hearing the instructor. It isn’t appropriate to chat during a movie or other gathering where people are attending to a speaker. It’s even less appropriate to distract yourself, the instructor or other participants when movement and exertion are involved. When you devote your full attention to the instructor and your movements, you will get the MOST from your aqua fitness experience, and so will everyone else in the class. There is lots of time in the change room, as well as before or after class, to have a conversation with your friends. It is not appropriate to do so during the class.
- Why does the instructor ask me to bring water to class?
Rehydration is crucial during vertical aquatic exercise. Exercising while standing vertically in the pool, causes your kidneys to work overtime because of fluid shift from your legs and feet toward your chest. As you move vigorously, you also lose fluid due to breathing and sweating. Sip on water during the class, and have a big drink of water after every aquatic workout. Signs of dehydration include: dry eyes, fatigue, headaches, feeling light-headed, dark urine and muscle cramping.
- What are the benefits of aquatic exercise compared to exercise on land?
Research tells us that exercise on land and in the pool are both beneficial. Key benefits of aquatic exercise are described below using the acronym: C.A.B.
Challenging: In the pool, balance, core strength, the respiratory muscles and heart experience unique training benefits different from land-based exercise. Cardiovascular conditioning and muscular strengthening exercises often happen simultaneously during aquatic exercise. Muscles can be worked in unique ways because any direction you move is resisted.
Adaptable: Aquatic resistance is easily altered to suit to a wide variety of needs, from Olympic athletes to weekend warriors, average people, and people in rehabilitation for health issues. Aquatic resistance, water depth, movement techniques and exercise intensity can be adjusted for a customized workout. You can choose the class and the pace within a workout that suits your specific needs on a given day!
Buoyant: Working vertically in water unloads your feet, knees, hips, back and arms, allowing you to move freely. Many people who could not run on land can run in the pool, effectively training their cardiovascular system. Both buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure help circulation, allowing your heart to work more efficiently. Your heart will beat slower during aqua fitness than it would for an equivalent workload on land – yet your training results can be the same.
- Why do some instructors use equipment when others don’t?
A good aqua fitness program can be challenging and effective without any added equipment. Webbed gloves, resistance wands and buoyant dumbbells can be appropriate for participants whose fitness levels require additional challenge. However, this level of strength and fitness rarely applies to an entire group of participants. It is difficult for most people to stabilize their shoulder blades when working with hand-held equipment due to lack of strength and poor body awareness. When the shoulder blades are not properly stabilized, injury to the arms, neck and shoulders can result. In addition, instructors require specific training to be able to coach safe technique for participants using equipment. Hand held equipment is often a better fit in aquatic personal training sessions, where close supervision and the specific needs of one individual can be addressed.
What questions do you hear regularly at your pool? Would a participant handout improve client knowledge and satisfaction? Is it time to create a ‘Learn to Aqua Fit’ seminar for the start of each season? I welcome your thoughts on these questions!
You can visit: www.FortheLoveofFit.com for a downloadable version of this document.
- AQX Aqua Fitness Leadership Training Manual, author Connie Jasinskas, M.Sc.
- City of Kitchener aqua fitness participant handout