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Safe Circuits


     By Katy Coffey




As the seasons change, many outdoor pools are transitioning programs in-doors. Facility managers and directors are looking for help changing over water fitness classes into the confines of four walls. The question arises, with COVID restrictions and still wanting to serve the health of members, how can we run classes?  Safe Circuits may be your answer.

As you begin to program your classes, make sure you are checking with your local Department of Health and cross referencing regulations for your state and county. This will help you understand the capacity of your building and ensure you are creating the safest environment to work within. 

AEA suggests that you consider using the entire pool for class to help with physical distancing and safely accommodating as many people as feasible. Setting up a circuit class is a fantastic way to utilize all depths and ensure distancing, while focusing on a total body workout for your students. As you are designing your circuits, think through the following points to guide your preparation. 

Shallow, Deep & Walls! Oh MY!
Think through the entire space provided to your class and then consider your goal for the workout. Take each location of your pool and be creative with the focus of each station. Think of all the target areas of the body. A station for core, cardio, upper body, balance, endurance and lower body are just some ideas to get your juices flowing!

Do You See the Sign?
Use clear visual cues, such as station signs, to ensure participants know where their workout should take place. Effectively communicate the exercise at each station to remind your students of how to properly perform the activity, how many reps or how long to perform each move, etc.  Consider your pool environment.  Travel between stations must be planned for a smooth flow throughout class.  Is your class traveling clockwise to the next station? Are they following numbers at each station?  If you are able to use the entire pool, consider using a lane line or two to delineate clear boundaries and help with traffic patterns.

Embrace the Rainbow!
Lay out color-coded space markers on the wall a minimum of 6 feet apart at each station to help guide the students. If each circuit has a max of five students, then use five different colors or markers and assign a specific color to each student. This will help drive traffic patterns and limit confusion from circuit to circuit. If they are assigned the yellow marker, they always know to find the yellow spot at each station. NOTE:  I purchased the BSN Spot Markers, that you can find here 

This marker can serve as a home base at each station to leave water bottles or equipment not needed for the particular station (e.g. a flotation belt during shallow-water stations) all while ensuring physical distancing is happening.  This also doubles as a starting and end point for students to travel to and from if the circuit calls for traveling. For deep stations, this gives students a visual anchor to focus on and helps limit  drifting into someone else. 

To Equip or Not to Equip?

If equipment is allowed at your facility, consider how it will be utilized in your circuits.  Will each participant take the same piece of equipment with them for the whole workout?  If equipment is circuit specific, look for additional pool-safe ways to ensure disinfecting between each use. Use the home base markers for equipment pick up and drop off stations.

Learn It, Earn It. Master It.
Design the workout for supersets. Repetition during sets allows students to learn the move, earn their workout and master the circuit.  Time your entire workout based on how long you want your students at designated stations. Look into timing apps or music subscriptions that will give audio cues for transitions and breaks. Build in plenty of time between circuits for students to travel to the next station, learn the next move  and be ready to go on cue.

One of the pools where I teach opened their outdoor pool this summer. The pool proved to be tricky to program since it was 3 feet in the shallow and 12 feet in the deep and we were only allowed to use noodles in addition to our flotation belts.  However, I was able to design a 5-station circuit class for the pool, allowing for 4 people per station.

We used one lane line down the middle of the pool to help guide spacing and we traveled counterclockwise to follow circle swim etiquette. Stations were clearly marked by 4 colored markers on the wall, spaced a minimum of 8 feet apart.  A cone in the middle explained the three exercises to be completed at each station.

Each exercise was performed for 30 seconds with a 30-second rest between each round of three moves. We would repeat this three times, and finish with a 2-minute rest and transition to the next station.

Using the GYMBOSS app, I built in audio cues over my music to help count down each transition. This allowed me, as the instructor, to bounce between stations to correct form and coach moves, while not having to focus on a clock. 

Each station was given a theme and presented at the start of the class:

  • Station 1: Barre themed. Exercised based on balance and unilateral training on the first and third move, while implementing a light cardio move for the second exercise.
  • Station 2. Agility based cardio moves with an emphasis on grounded exercises due to extreme shallow. Traveling activities moved from their color-coded marker to the middle lane line and back again, which safely allowed travel without any close proximity.
  • Station 3. Deep water with noodles. Three exercises designed on traditional deep-water exercises utilizing the noodle as resistance.
  • Station 4. Deep wall activities. We had the entire deep end wall to use and only 4 students, so were able to utilize the wall safely with more than 8 feet between individuals. Students would swim to their color coded markers for a variety of wall work exercises.
  • Station 5: High intensity cardio moves. This station utilized the middle of the pool and the only location with the appropriate depth to integrate HIIT cardio in. We placed markers both on the wall for water bottles and in the pool to show where they should stand apart from each other.  


By utilizing all parts of the pool (deep, shallow, sloped sections and the wall), we were able to fully space participants and design a full body workout for every level of student. As the weeks went on and state regulation allowed us to implement more equipment into our classes, equipment was trickled into certain stations. Just as gym equipment is used indoors, anytime pool equipment was shared, we provided an additional layer of protection between uses.  Located at  each station with equipment we provided a squirt bottle of a pool safe EPA registered disinfectant, Effersan. Students were also given options to be equipment free if they chose to not share equipment.

Our students loved this format! We had a waitlist reservation system and the class was always full. Your class is only limited by your creativity.


Katy Coffey is the Association Senior Director of Aquatics for the YMCA of Greater Boston. She is a Master Trainer and format expert with Aqua Body Strong. Katy has worked in the aquatics industry over 20 years and specializes in safety and curriculum development.


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