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Notes from the Ancient Mermaid - On Counting in a Seniors Class


     by Terrell Dugan



This is the second article* by our Ancient Mermaid, Terrell Dougan, who has taught water aerobics since long before many of you were born, and who has received several national awards for her fun classes. The opinions expressed here are completely her own – you know, like your cranky Aunt Ethel.  She feels it important to dispense wisdom to the next generations of mermaids.  *Her first article on using music wisely during class appeared in the December 2020 issue of Akwa magazine.


Don’t count your entire class.  Oh please, don’t count continuously!  The grandmas in my classes have been pediatricians, psychologists, artists, nurses, social workers, math teachers … you name it. I promise you; they can count. Their version of purgatory is to see you on deck showing a movement, and then having you count it out for them, over and over again. They would rather lie down and be run over by a steamroller.

I have watched young, beginning instructors counting and yelling to a seniors class, as if the class is in training to be in the military. You know, this may work and be fun for a young class who feels they want that disciplined hard work. But I have seen senior class members who are subjected to continuous counting stare at the instructor with murderous looks. They need their workout, so they put up with it. Others will never come back.

Why does any instructor feel the need to count?  I have thought of two reasons:

  1. 1. They have nothing else to say.
  2. 2. They are obsessive-compulsive and feel they may be struck down if they do twelve jumping jacks and only eleven cross-country skis. These people may need some professional help.

If either of these things is true for you, find something else to say or do while the exercise is going on.  Point to a class member and praise her (acknowledge her by name and her face will light up); move along the deck and find another person doing it right.

From me to you with love, cut this out and put it on your refrigerator; it is a news article from the future:


An entire class of 20 elderly water aerobics participants expired last night in the middle of their class. At first some suspected electrocution, perhaps from faulty wiring. Others thought maybe it was the chlorine fumes. But upon further examination, it was found the entire class died of boredom. One paramedic who was early on the scene heard the last gasping words of one class member: “Tell her….tell her we can count. We learned to count when we were two….”  The unfortunate water instructor seemed oblivious to the tragedy. She was found on deck, still waving her arms and yelling, “Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen!” She had not noticed the sudden expiration of her whole class.

Please feel free to disagree with me. But I encourage you to not count throughout your entire your class if you want to be a fun instructor with a large following.  Why?  Because I said so, that’s why.

Oh, be safe, my little sweethearts. The world needs you back on deck.


Terrell Dougan was one of the first instructors certified by AEA. She went on to certify and become an instructor trainer with other associations and has certified hundreds of instructors for USWFA and AAI.  She received AEA’s first Outstanding Instructor Award from Ruth Sova the year the awards were created. She is the author of The Water Instructor’s Home Companion and the video Create Your Own Water Workout. She was a presenter at many AEA Conventions and now, in her 81st year, finds that the most satisfying work she has ever done has been in the field of water exercise. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband of sixty years. Email: terrelldougan@me.com.

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