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Safely Into the Deep Water

Author by Ronda Brodsky, MS


How do we take our class participants and personal training clients safely into deep water and what do we need to know before we enter that environment?  First and foremost, each individual must be comfortable knowing that the water is over his/her head.  Include an evaluation or simple assessment of each participant before beginning a deep-water program.  This might include the person’s comfort level and experience in deep-water as well as his/her swim skills. 

Once these areas are established, it is time to enter the water.  As the aquatic profession, you must also keep in mind your safety and the safety of everyone in or around the aquatic environment.  Here are some standards from the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) to be familiar with for deep-water exercise:

  • Deep-water exercise should be performed with flotation equipment attached to the trunk of the body (flotation belt or a vest) or attached to the upper arm (flotation arm cuffs specifically designed for water exercise), while ankle cuffs may be used with proper progression and training.
  • Flotation where the individual holds, wraps or sits on the equipment (e.g. noodle or hand bars) can create a false sense of security and may lead to a distress or drowning situation.  You will want to consider the following scenarios:

What if a participant panics and releases the hand bars?

What if the participant lets go of the kickboard and then grabs another participant in an attempt to remain afloat?

What if the participant tips backward on the noodle and is unable to regain vertical stability?

  • Suspending the body for extended periods of time with hand-held buoyancy can compromise joint integrity.  If hand-held buoyancy equipment is utilized for additional resistance in deep water, AEA recommends options are provided for participants with special needs and that periods of training with the equipment submerged are limited and/or frequent breaks are incorporated. Throughout the training, one must maintain neutral alignment of the wrists (while avoiding a tight grip of the equipment) and neutral alignment of the shoulder girdle.

Now that you are aware of some precautionary measures for safe exercise performance, look ahead to the bigger picture of overall water safety.  Deep water adds an extra element of consideration because the participants cannot touch the pool bottom.  In addition to the initial evaluation, it is prudent to teach and practice vertical recovery with all class participants.  This can be done as part of the warm-up and repeated again during the cool-down; reinforcement is good for this important skill.

Before you begin leading any aquatic session, recognize your own responsibilities. You must also know – and be prepared to fulfill – your role in an emergency situation, one that may include a water rescue.  My first words of advice would be to get trained/certified in water safety to better protect yourself and your participants. The American Red Cross training makes learning fun and easy. Through classroom learning and hands-on practice, you can learn:

  • Surveillance skills to help you recognize and prevent injuries.
  • Rescue skills, in the water and on land.
  • First aid training and professional rescuer CPR to help you prepare for any emergency.

Bonus: Water safety and related courses will also provide continuing education credits (CECs) toward renewing your AEA Aquatic Fitness Professional Certification!

Next, think of this rhyme that I learned years ago from the American Red Cross: Reach, Throw, Row, Don’t Go!

Reach = Hold onto whatever is near you to maintain your balance while trying to reach the person in distress.

Throw = If you cannot reach far enough, throw a flotation device.  Some, such as ring buoys and rescue tubes, usually have lines attached making them even more effective.

Row = When in open water, if you are near or in a boat, row toward the person in distress.

Don’t Go = Unless you are trained to enter the water for a swimming rescue, don’t go.   Call 911 or your local emergency number.

Finally, if you do not have a lifeguard on duty during class, be extra vigilante as you have an even greater duty to ensure the safety and well-being of each participant. As AEA reinforces in the Aquatic Fitness Programming Standards and Guidelines, definitely teach from deck if you are also serving as the lifeguard in your class! 


Now that you have some basics on safety concerns and exercise recommendations from AEA you should be ready to take your classes to the deep.  Safety should always be your first priority!  



Ronda Brodsky, MS, is a Physical Education and Health Teacher at a charter school in Detroit, Michigan, with a master’s degree in Physical Education. Ronda is an American Red Cross CPR, first aid, lifeguarding and water safety instructor.  She has over 30 years in the aquatic industry as an AEA certified professional and is a past presenter at IAFC.  Ronda is a frequent contributor to Akwa magazine, AEA’s member publication, and the author of Aquatastic: Swimming Made Simple. Ronda can be reached at rbrod99@aol.com


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