Aqua dextrous: to deep or not too deep?

By designing routines with movement patterns that are suitable for use in both shallow and deep water you can cater to all participants while maximising pool space, say Melissa Cameron and Stacey Dolliver.

Have you ever instructed a shallow water class in which some participants chose to work in the deep – or vice versa? It’s a situation we have both experienced in our regular classes, and for this reason we have explored the concept of designing routines with movement patterns that are suitable for use in both shallow and deep water. This has a number of benefits, including:

  • Variety. Using both the deep and shallow ends of the pool at the same time allows variety for both the participants and the instructor.
  • Maximising pool space. There are instances when the number of participants you have for a class require you to use both the deep and shallow ends of the pool. In addition, some pools have a very sharp drop-off going into the deep end.
  • Participant preference/ suitability. For example, a participant in your shallow water class may have back problems and therefore prefer exercising in the deep water.

Deep vs Shallow

Participants often ask ‘Do you get a better workout exercising in shallow or deep water?’ We believe that a lot of it comes down to the individual; the effort they put in, their movement technique and their ability, i.e. they get out what they put in.

There are, however, some discrepancies between the two that will alter the results of the participants’ workout, including;


  • Hydrostatic pressure (the pressure exerted by the water on the submerged body) increases as the depth of the water increases. Therefore, there is a greater degree of hydrostatic pressure when exercising in deep water as opposed to shallow water.
  • Participants who have back injuries often prefer deep water as there is limited impact on the body.
  • The property of buoyancy plays a major role when exercising in deep water, as participants need to remain afloat. Keep in mind that participants who are lean/ have a high muscle mass, will be inclined to sink and may struggle to exercise in the deep. Therefore, ensure they have adequate equipment to assist them to perform moves with correct technique. Alternatively, of course, they may prefer to work in the shallow water.


  • Participants have an opportunity to anchor feet down to the pool floor, therefore using their core stabilising muscles more effectively.
  • The pool floor can be used as a medium to rebound off/ propel from in the shallow water. Many participants love the feeling of being able to jump freely when performing turbulent movements.
  • There is greater opportunity to create ‘white water’, allowing participants the satisfaction of visually witnessing the effects of their hard work.

The importance of music selection

Whenever you participate in a land-based aerobics class, music is an integral part of the class; however the benefits of using music are often overlooked in aqua exercise classes. Don’t be afraid to play around with different tempos and beats. Rather than just using music in the background, incorporate it as a major element of the class. Use it to motivate both yourself (as the instructor) and your participants. Let the music determine the movement!

Music plays a major role when participants are exercising in varying water depths within the one class, as it ensures all participants perform the movement patterns for the same length of time and assists in maintaining the intensity level.

The importance of movement selection

When choreographing any aqua exercise class it is vital that you keep in mind the properties and principles of movement in water. Don’t be afraid to come up with new movement patterns or ideas, but do be cautious about their application in water.


  • Keep the focus on how the movement feels when immersed in water and allow this to dictate the movement selection, rather than incorporating moves that look/ feel good on land but lose their effect in the water.
  • Unless you have successfully mastered the art of levitation, it is important to demonstrate suspended moves using the AquaFrame, so that participants can see how the move should be carried out.
  • Do not over-complicate the choreography. There is not necessarily a direct correlation between elaborate choreography and the intensity of the workout!

As you play with the movements, consider the variety of options that just one move presents – begin with a base movement and then provide options. As with land-based exercises, altering the speed and intensity of a movement pattern has the power to adjust the effect of the whole routine. Explain these movement modifications (options) to your participants to allow them to tailor the routines to their needs. The more you educate them on how to utilise water when exercising in it, the more they will gain from the class.

The moves

Check out the following moves, specifically designed to be used in both the shallow and deep:

Combination 1 (8 counts)

Shallow Option

Deep Option

Weighted base for the first three arm movements, then add mermaid legs (double leg front flick kick) when the arms slide backwards as the participants become more confident.
Arm combination on the following beats – arms begin out to the front (photo 1):
1 – slide right arm out to the side (photo 2)
2 – bring arm back to starting position (photo 1)
3 – slide left arm out to the side (photo 3)
4 – bring arm back to starting position (photo 1)
5 – open both arms to the side (photo 4)
6 – bring both arms back to starting position (photo 1)
7 – slide both arms backwards, via sides of the body (photo 5)
8 – bring arms back up together (photo 6).

Legs begin in a tuck position when both arms are out to the front (photo 7); they extend to a star position as the arms travel to the side (photo 8), then draw back to tuck as the arms return to the centre. Similar to the shallow option, when the arms slide backwards the legs perform a mermaid (forward flick) action.



Combination 2 (8 counts)

Shallow Option

Deep Option

Legs wide and weighted, heels glued to the floor. Arm combination on the following beats:
1 – both arms punch together to the front and cross over (photo 9)
2 – pull arms back to the sides (photo 10)
3 – both arms punch out to the side (photo 11)
4 – pull arms back to the sides (photo 12)
5 – both arms punch together to the front and cross over (photo 9)
6 – pull arms back to the sides (photo 10)
7 – punch both arms to the pool floor (photo 13)
8 – pull arms back to the sides (photo 14).
As the participants become confident with the arm combination, start to jog and continue with the arm combination.

Use the same arm lines as in the shallow, change the lower body movement to legs in a seated position, 90º angle at the hips and knees, feet parallel to the floor OR deep water jogging.



Combination 3

Shallow Option

Deep Option

Start with the right foot tapped next to the left with the right heel off the floor (photo 15) – body is angled and arms out to the sides. Body changes on the following beats:
1 – Change to left leg tapped and body angled in the opposite direction (photo 16)
2 – Change back to the starting position (photo 17)
3 – Change back to left leg tapped (photo 16)
4 – Pause (don’t move)
This move is more ‘dancy’ than a normal twist, so more of a hip/knee action. Incorporate a Latin-style arm action – with aqua hands.

Long lever version of the shallow option – keep the legs as long as possible and squeeze together.



Combination 3

Shallow Option

Deep Option

You need to pick up your right leg to press it down on the first count (photo 18):
1 – Stomp the right leg to the pool floor (photo 19)
2 – Pick it back up again (photo 18)
3 – Repeat the right leg stomp (photo 19)
4 – Change legs so that the left leg picks up (photo 20)
5 – Stomp the left leg to the pool floor (photo 21)
6 – Pick it up again (photo 20)
7 – Repeat the left leg stomp (photo 21)
8 – Pick up the left leg again (photo 22)
9 – Jog (photo 23)
10 – Jog (photo 24)
11 – Jog (photo 23)
12 – Pause (don’t move)
13 – Jog (photo 24)
14 – Jog (photo 23)
15 – Jog (photo 24)
16 – Pause (don’t move).

Long lever version of the shallow option – keep the legs as long as possible and squeeze together.


Melissa Cameron & Stacey Dolliver
Although her background is 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.