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 10 Ways to Make It a Water Workout

Author By Mark Grevelding


Land fitness formats are often transitioned to the water with mixed results.  Rather than recreating a studio class in the pool, exercising in the water should be an opportunity to experience movements and results that cannot be achieved on land.  As many instructors across the globe await a return to their classes due to COVID-19, now is a good time to refresh ideas for making a splashy and spectacular return to the pool.

Water exercise entered my life 20 years ago when I was asked to teach an aquatic kickboxing class at the JCC in Rochester, NY.  At the time, I was a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and had no aquatic or swimming background.  Placed on deck with zero training, I taught my water class like a land class.  Simply put, I was awful. 

Fortunately, I completed my certification with the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) in 2001. This was a game changer.  Armed with a newfound knowledge of physical laws and the properties of water, my classes and my instruction improved tremendously.  Even now, I still refer back to the chapter on Physical Laws for reminders and guidance; currently chapter 6 in the AEA Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual (Seventh Edition).  AEA Just released a new online program, Refresh 7.0, a course that is based on the latest manual revisions and designed to reinforce the knowledge of seasoned AEA certified professionals.  Refresh 7.0 is one of several AEA Online Ed Courses and is approved for 12.0 AEA CECs. 

In the meantime, test your knowledge on chapter 6 below and see if you have been harnessing the power of water in your classes with these 10 ways to make it an effective water workout.

#1 Catch the Travel Bug
Traveling base moves, such as jogs, jacks, skis and kicks, increases intensity with Newton’s Law of Inertia. Starting, stopping and changing requires muscular effort to overcome total-body inertia. Reversing direction of travel also increases intensity with the water’s inertia.  A pool full of people traveling creates water in motion and a powerful resistive force. 

#2 Repetition Reduction
Teaching less repetitions with more frequent changes of arm and leg patterns requires more muscular effort to overcome limb inertia.  In your next class, try teaching 16 jacks, 16 sets of skis, 16 sets of kicks and 16 sets of jogs.  Then do 8 of each, then 4 and then 2.  When performing just 2 repetitions of each, your limbs change more frequently, moving in different directions and forcing more muscular and cardiorespiratory effort to keep up. 

#3 Applying Force – Imagery Cues
The Law of Acceleration is defined by the use of force applied to the water’s resistance and force applied to the pool floor.  Encouraging class participants to apply this force sometimes requires getting them to imagine something.  If you want your students to use more force against the water’s resistance, try taking them through an imaginary progression of resistance.  Cue that they are moving 50 pounds, 70 pounds, 90 pounds, 100 pounds, etc.   This progression encourages maximal force by the time they reach 100 pounds.  Similarly, when teaching a jump forward and back, if you want them to push off the pool floor more forcefully, cue an imaginary progression of increasingly higher objects for them to jump over.   

#4 Applying Force – Motivational Cues
Interval training is also ideal for applying more force as defined by the Law of Acceleration.  Recovery and work cycles (easy & hard sets) encourage students to apply maximal force during short bursts of work.  Instructors can encourage even more effort in the work cycles with motivational cueing.  The next time you do interval training, be prepared with a list of nouns, verbs and adjectives that conjure up force.  Unleash these motivational cues during the work cycles.  Push harder, pull harder, use energy, use muscle, use force, make waves, make white water, make calories erupt in a fiery cauldron of blood, sweat, tears and agony.

#5 Applying Force – Academy Award Performances
Instructors who lead from deck have to appear as though they are moving through the water’s viscous resistance.  Failure to do so will lead to lackluster effort by the class participants.  The name of the game is Monkey See-Monkey Do.  If the instructor doesn’t demonstrate powerful movement, the students won’t either.  Increasing intensity in your classes requires exaggerated deck performance, including facial expressions, limb movements and body language that connotes force applied to the water. 

#6 Bound & Suspend
Bounding moves utilizes the Law of Acceleration by applying force off the pool floor.  Power up jacks, skis and jumps with forceful tucking. Bounding kicks and jogs require going vertical - “Show me your belly button!”  Alternate these bounded exercises with suspended moves for an ideal blend of gravity and buoyancy.  Uniquely aquatic and incredibly effective, performing suspended moves reminds your students that they are in a water exercise class.

#7 Reverse the Arms
In the water, arm and leg patters are a common and effective way to utilize the Law of Action & Reaction.  Reversing arm patterns in a class when traveling forward and backwards is an effective way to alternate ‘hard & easy’ cycles of movement.  Front crawls, pulling arms and breaststrokes ASSIST the body when traveling forwards. Back crawls, pressing arms and reverse breaststrokes ASSIST the body when traveling backwards.  Reverse these arm patterns to IMPEDE the line of travel and increase intensity in your classes. 

#8 Creating Frontal Resistance
The direction you travel base moves can increase or decrease intensity based on the body surface presented when traveling.  Movements that occur in the frontal plane, such as pendulums and jumping jacks, will present more surface area when they are traveled forwards and backwards.  Movements that occur in the sagittal plane, such as skis, front kicks and jogs, will present more surface area when traveled laterally.  Instructors often neglect the power of lateral travel in their classes. 

#9 Limbs & Hands

Once again, deck performance is key here.  Instructors often neglect arm and hand positions when leading from deck.  Fatigued instructors often default into short levers and limp hand positions.  Class participants mimicking their performance will fail to take advantage of the water’s viscous resistance. Longer levers create more muscular effort and intensity.  Shaped hand positions add even more frontal resistance to the arm as it pulls though the water.  A cupped hand with fingers slightly open will hold more water and create more turbulence.  

#10 Promise Me…
Keep moves big, using full range of motion (ROM), if you want to make the workout more effective.  The biggest challenge to utilizing full ROM is speed.  The faster moves are performed, the smaller the ROM becomes. Here is a tip I use in my classes when cueing faster movement.  First, I demonstrate an exercise at regular cadence with a full range of motion.  Before I cue the move faster, I say “Promise me that when you go faster your arms and legs will stay as big as they are now.”  Eliciting the promise ahead of time tends to result in a larger ROM during speed drills.  No one wants to break a promise!

I hope these 10 tips provide you with some ideas for water-proofing your classes for optimal results.   Wishing everyone safe return to teaching.



Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation.com, a video streaming resource for aquatic fitness professionals. He also founded PoolFit.tv, a streaming video site dedicated to water exercise for fitness consumers, along with the recently launched PoolFit App, available now in the App Store. 

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