Aqua balance

by Melissa Cameron & Stacey Dolliver

While balance concepts are frequently incorporated into classes at aquatic and fi tness facilities, they are often elements of the class, rather than the main focus. The ‘Aqua Balance’ program fuses the principles of existing wellbeing practices including tai chi/qi gong, yoga and Pilates, and explores their application in water through strength, core, stability and relaxation routines to music. Aqua Balance is designed to incorporate the physiological and psychological benefi ts of wellbeing practices with the benefits of aquatic exercise. In order for the concept to translate into a workable class format it was necessary to grasp an understanding of the theoretical background and key elements of each discipline.

By doing this, the inspiration was provided to create an energetic aqua exercise class with a wellbeing flavour.


Only selected components of tai chi, Pilates and yoga could be successfully integrated into the Aqua Balance class. The properties and principles of the aquatic environment – the removal of gravity and inclusion of buoyancy for example – dictated which elements could be eff ectively transferred. The breathing techniques and stability principles were the main elements appropriate to focus on for this style of class.

The tai chi influence encourages participants to concentrate on the flow of breath as it enters and exits the body, while simultaneously creating energy through movement. When performing the movement sequences, participants are encouraged to follow finger tips with their eye gaze to help calm the nervous system and aid mind-body connection.

The breathing and alignment principles of both yoga and Pilates have been integrated, forming the foundations of several movements to challenge balance and stability.

Principles of strength and conditioning training were also introduced to gain the maximum benefi t from the resistance of the water, i.e., the recruitment of core stabilisation muscles is required in order to remain balanced while performing movement patterns.

The ambience created by the water environment promotes a medium conducive to relaxation. Calm, flowing sequences have been used to capitalise on this.

While it is fantastic to incorporate a balance concept as the foundation of a class, it is important to also include a number of high intensity cardio tracks to keep participants warm and motivated, ensuring that they get the most out of the class. It is imperative to pay attention to the water temperature when structuring the class and deciding the order of the routines to music.

The combination of these many elements provides the essence of Aqua Balance. Each style is used to compliment one another and provide a rounded and well balanced aqua exercise class.


The focus for this movement is to concentrate on the breathing. This is an exercise to enjoy and relax into, rather than moving through the water forcefully.

• Begin with a wide stance. Think about lengthening the body, relaxing the shoulders and ‘turning on’ core stabilising muscles (photo 1).

• While inhaling deeply, bring arms up to end position (photo 2).

• While exhaling, push arms forward together, with palms facing away and out to the sides to end position (photo 3).

• To fi nish off the movement pattern, bring arms back in to position shown in photo 2 and then push them back down to the starting position shown in photo 1.


Ask participants to imagine that they are holding onto a chi ball in front of them. As they move their arms through the water, they can keep their bodies facing the front or follow their arm with their head and body so that they are turning their upper body and getting a greater range of motion.

• Begin with a wide stance. Think about lengthening the body, relaxing the shoulders and imagine that you are holding a chi ball (photo 4).

• Scoop the top arm away from the body until it is stretched out to shoulder height (photo 5).

• To finish this movement, bring the arm that is out to the side back in and under, so that the other hand comes to the top of the imaginary chi ball, and then repeat on the other side.


This exercise provides participants with an opportunity to use the resistance of the water to challenge their upper body.

• Begin the exercise with legs wide and arms out to the side (photo 6).

• Scoop both arms forward simultaneously, with fi ngers close together and palms facing inwards (photo 7). Round the shoulders when arms are at the front. Turn thumbs down, push arms back to the starting position as in photo 6.



Participants are encouraged to be aware of the alignment of the spine and strengthen the deep torso muscles.

• Begin the exercise standing with both feet together with one or both dumbbells in the opposite arm to the leg about to be raised.

• Lift the leg opposite to the dumbbell/s out straight, away from the body. As the arm holding the dumbbell/s is extended away from the body, the other hand is placed on the hip. Bring leg and arm back to the body to complete the movement (photo 8).


Complete a lateral leg raise with opposite dumbbell raises, as above, and then add a knee and arm lift combination.

• As the arm with the dumbbell/s is lifted up, the opposite knee bends so that the foot is lifted up to the other knee (photo 9).


In addition to strength, these movements also require the recruitment of core stabilisation muscles. Power and intensity levels can be adapted to suit the skills and abilities of your participants.


Use the AquaFrame to demonstrate this movement, unless you have successfully learnt the art of levitation!

• Sit on the AquaFrame and bring both arms out to the sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand, demonstrating to participants that the body is suspended in the water. Aim to keep the dumbbells under the surface of the water (photo 10).

• Keeping the arms outstretched, remain in a suspended, seated position and alternate legs to an outstretched position. This can be done at varying speeds (photo 11).


• Begin with a wide stance and arms outstretched to the sides, holding the dumbbells just slightly under the water and keeping shoulders relaxed (photo 12).

• Keeping one arm outstretched, push the other down towards the body, resisting the water and the dumbbell’s urge to push towards the surface. Slowly raise the arm back up to the starting position, again resisting buoyancy (photo 13).


Keep participants warm, interested and get them working hard with some cardio moves!


• Add a variation with some rhythm jogging: jog, jog, jog, hold. On the third jog, externally rotate arms and add a little pose. Repeat to the other side with attitude! (photos 14 & 15).


• Get your participants off the pool fl oor with some fast twists, getting knees up as high as possible. Arms are opposite to the legs! (photo 16).


• Finish off with some fun, travelling shoulder shimmies! (photos 17 & 18) As with any aqua routine, when choosing to implement a concept such as Aqua Balance, it is crucial to experiment with movements in the water before incorporating them into classes. The use of wellbeing practices in land-based exercise programs is becoming increasingly popular; however the application of movements in water may be considerably different and therefore require adaptation in order to deliver an effective benefit.

Aqua Balance suits a variety of population groups. Initially designed for mainstream participants, it has since evolved to cater for school groups, older adults, athletic participants, people recovering from injuries and others.

When implementing a concept in a class, it is important to keep in mind the capabilities and boundaries of participants and the properties of the aquatic environment. By adjusting power, speed and intensity of movements, routines can be adapted to suit the skills and abilities of all participants, thereby providing a physically and mentally inspiring challenge that won’t exceed their capabilities.


Melissa Cameron & Stacey Dolliver
With a background in dance, Melissa is passionate about aquatic exercise. As an instructor, training facilitator and member of the WETS (Water Exercise Training Service) team she strives to progress the reach and image of the aqua industry. Stacey is a vibrant Hobart-based freestyle and aqua exercise instructor, dance instructor, presenter, personal trainer and life coach with a passion for empowering people to realise their potential. Together, Melissa and Stacey’s mission is to promote aqua exercise to a younger instructor and participant market.