8 habits of highly effective aqua instructors!

There are a number of factors to consider if you want to get the best out of yourself as well as your class participants.

Why are some instructors popular with members, while others have trouble establishing credibility or respect?

Whether you’ve been teaching for 10 months or 10 years, the challenge as a fitness instructor is to aim to be the best you can be. In order to win over clients and consistently provide the best workouts, we must consider our delivery, evolve our methods and consider the anatomy of a great instructor.

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression! Over the years, participants come to know what makes an instructor great. In their time in the pool they have seen it all – the best of the instructors and the rest of the instructors. Some of them take their classes very seriously – as if their lives depend on them (and they do), so when a new instructor turns up to teach, they take a very keen interest.

Over the years I have asked countless class members what, for them, makes an instructor stand out from the crowd. Their responses invariably include:

  • They turn up early, set up equipment and start the class on time
  • They dress suitably, look professional and ooze confidence
  • They can assess clients’ needs and consistently deliver great workouts.

There are also a number of other factors to consider when aiming to get the best out of yourself and your classes:

1. Practise new routines in the water

Whether your class is choreographed or freestyle, try all the moves in the pool before you instruct them to ensure they are suitable for the water medium. Remember: not all land-based moves translate well to the water. Also, be conscious of allotted pool space before cueing travelling and/or directional changes.

2. Manage your class firmly but fairly

Good instructors get on the front foot when managing talkers in class. If appropriate, at the start of each class designate talk times so participants know when they can and cannot chat.

A great tactic when managing talkers is to ask clients if they think it’s fair for you (as the instructor) to have to manage talking and, once they’ve said ‘no’, whether they can commit to not chatting so that everyone gets the best out of their workout.

3. Teach your class content with empathy

Having some awesome moves up your sleeve is all good and well, but how you teach those moves is of equal importance:

  • Work with a class plan, whether that be memorised or on paper
  • Spend time preparing various class plans that you rotate on a weekly or monthly basis to ensure you offer your regular clients a variety of workouts
  • Challenge clients by offering workout intensity levels to ensure all clients are working at their peak; if some don’t get to the highest level you may inspire them to get there in future classes
  • Know where you want to take clients with each workout and keep checking in with them by asking questions, e.g. what their rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is
  • Demonstrate workouts at water speed and be conscious of your demonstrations, e.g. comment on where the surface of the water should be relative to the body
  • Educate clients by explaining why the exercise and movements are beneficial
  • Ensure safe practice is always a priority: offer clients feedback on their posture and alignment before and while performing each workout.

4. Think about your music choices

The music you use can profoundly impact your class. Have you ever been at a wedding or party, just itching to dance, when one of your favourite songs comes on? Cue running to the dance floor grabbing your friends on the way! That’s what your class is like for participants.

Find a happy compromise between your musical tastes and those of your participants. That underground club banger that gets your heart racing probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. A mix of current and classic mainstream pop music is always a good place to start.

Remember to mix up your playlists rather than using the same music every class. Try various musical styles from dance, pop, ‘60s/’70s/’80s, rock’n’roll, swing, Motown or themed music such as Christmas, Halloween, Australia Day and Valentine’s Day. Interval music formats such as ‘Tabata’ can also shake things up.

5. Use equipment strategically

Using equipment, such as noodles and flotation dumbbells, in aqua fitness can ensure the strength-training component of your class hits the mark. When using any handheld flotation equipment, remember:

  • some clients may not be able to hold equipment for extended periods of time due to the stress and strain on shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers
  • collecting and returning equipment slows down the flow of a class.

When it comes to incorporating equipment:

  • introduce it after the cardio/conditioning section of the class
  • design routines so the resistance equipment is not always held in hands, e.g. place them between legs, under knees and under armpits
  • remind clients that they are welcome to perform routines without the equipment if they experience any discomfort.

6. Continually learn and upskill

Never stop learning or evolving as a teacher. If you feel bored and stale, it’s likely your clients do too.

Here are some tips to rejuvenate your classes and rekindle your love for the fitness industry:

  • Jump in the water and challenge yourself to come up with five new water workouts
  • Attend other instructors' classes to get a fresh perspective
  • Brainstorm with other instructors
  • Attend a training workshop or fitness conference such as FILEX.

If you cannot find any upskilling events taking place in your area, why not contact a presenter to see if they are willing to present a Master Class or workshop at your facility? Most presenters are keen to conduct trainings and will come to your centre as long as you have sufficient numbers of fellow instructors keen to attend. The first step is easy: get on the phone or send them an email.

7. Be social

Most participants are now online, giving us a great opportunity to stay connected with them outside of class. In saying that, don’t discount the power of good old fashioned face-to-face contact. Here are some ways to connect, both on and offline:

  • Join clients for coffee after class to build rapport
  • Organise special events outside of the fitness facility to establish a social network – the opportunity to chat and laugh with a like-minded community can be much appreciated
  • Collect email addresses and send out newsletters with helpful health tips, articles, research or videos
  • Start a facebook group to share news and build a social network (but be sure to moderate the page).

8. Seek out opportunities

As much as we love teaching aqua fitness classes, paying the bills is important, so why not proactively promote yourself (cue your social media networks) to seek out new opportunities? Ask clients and friends if they know of any pools in your local area so you can potentially start your own classes. Apartment blocks, nursing homes, retirement villages, schools, clubs and even private homes present possible opportunities.

Investment in equipment to get started is relatively inexpensive. Fitness Australia has sample contracts to help get you started should you decide to branch out and become a roving aqua instructor.


Dominic Gili was named Australian Fitness Network’s Author of the Year in 2012. Delivering dynamic water workouts since 1993, he now also presents training to new and current instructors across Australia. The founder of AquaFitnessOnline.com, and author of numerous articles, Dom continually aspires to inspire. facebook.com/AquaFitnessOnline