Aqua Skills: ViPR water works!

When you combine the unique properties of water with the scientific anchors of the ViPR training tool, you get a workout that’s easily modified to every class participant, writes instructor and educator Ken Baldwin.

Anyone who has worked in the industry over the past 10 years will recognise ViPR as one of many ‘functional training’ tools available to use in workouts. However, ViPR is somewhat different to other tools as it was designed to take the definition of functional training literally and train the body in ways that mimic or enhance movements of everyday life. While many other tools also do this, they become limited when applied through different ranges of motion: dumbbells and barbells, for example, can only be moved in certain directions without being able to follow the true lines and directions that require push, pull, reach and rotation and become truly whole body integrated (WBI).

A little history

ViPR was invented by Michol Dalcourt, who at the time was a strength and conditioning coach for ice hockey players in Canada. He noticed that the ‘farm boys’ were beating all the elite gym-trained athletes on the ice by being stronger and faster. It became clear that the farm boys never lifted in the gym, but instead had stronger bodies through natural movement achieved on the farm by lifting, shifting, shovelling and dragging. Created in order to replicate and enhance these moves, ViPR’s role is to assist in ‘purposeful movement’.

Using the principles of physics combined with movement, ViPR (which stands for vitality, performance and reconditioning) transitioned into different modalities of exercise and has now become one of the most versatile pieces of equipment for loaded movement training.

Fast forward ten years and it’s common to see ViPR in most facilities, being used for everything from personal and small group training, to group fitness, strength and conditioning, elite sports and rehabilitation.

The fundamentals of physics and force are integral to ViPR, and include:

Gravity into ground reaction forces – harnessing force generated into the ground with gravity and using the resistance motion to generate upwards force against gravity to ensure proper motion.

Stretch to shorten (loading to unloading) – to jump, explode, throw or push, we need to decelerate and shorten the muscles like an elastic band to release power.

Multi-dimensional movement – freely moving in multiple planes of motion creates a rhythm, flow and movement that majestically imitates life and sport, making it look effortless.

Whole Body Integration (WBI) – acknowledging that the brain does not recognise muscles, only movement. We cannot truly isolate or segregate any part of the body, as it is interdependent and works as a unit. As Aristotle wrote, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’

ViPR works along the principles of vector variability, which takes into account how load is distributed through gravity not just in one plane of motion, but also in different lines of pull.

If we want a strong balanced body that is effective in all three planes of motion with gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum, we must have effective synergy between the 3-dimensional connective tissue structures in our body. To prevent areas of weakness, we must consider angles and vectors when we train.

Many traditional pieces of equipment offset these lines of pull, with cams and pulleys focusing on isolation of movement and limiting the true range of motion and generation of force.

There’s a ViPR in the water!

As an aqua fitness instructor for over 30 years, I have always been drawn to functional movement in the water and applied the principle to my classes. Thanks to its unique properties of buoyancy and propulsion when moving though gravity, water allows us to both enhance movements and make exercise less inhibitive.

Performed correctly, water exercise should have participants moving and feeling better after their class than before it, as water is a medium that doesn’t fully load the body.

There are many tools used in the pool to create resistance and power (dumbbells, noodles, kick-boards, gloves and bands), so as a ViPR Master Trainer with an aqua background, I was very keen to use ViPR in the water, as it facilitates WBI.

Physics of the pool

To understand how to apply ViPR in the water, we must first understand the physics and the properties of water and how they are either the same or completely different to land-based exercise.

Gravity – In the water, this pulls us down, but also in different directions due to the density of water compared to air. It is more difficult to harness energy to explode from the pool floor compared to land due to the water changing our body weight when it is submerged!

Drag – On land it’s called air resistance and in water, fluid resistance. This refers to the opposing force of the relative motion as the object goes through a fluid, and is different compared to the air.

Resistance – The power which acts in opposition to the impulse of pressure of the moving object.

Buoyancy – The capacity to remain afloat in a liquid or rise in air or gas. This is the upward force that fluid exerts on an object less dense than itself. This also varies with the depth of the water: the more submerged the object is, the more upwards force is exerted.

Speed – This applies when using the other properties together, affecting the equation of force equals mass times acceleration (F=ma).

Lever length and surface area – Lever length is the same as on land, whereby the further away from the pivot point the mass or object is, the harder it is to move with power and speed. Surface area is different in water than it is on land. If water can pass through the object instead of going around it, less resistance is produced.

Before exploring the exercises, it is important to understand the fundamentals of ViPR’s six step program design that apply to this, and all ViPR workouts.

Series. This is the exercise category applied when creating movement with ViPR. The series includes lift, flip, carry, tilt and shift.

Exercise. The gross movement pattern being performed with the ViPR, e.g. ViPR Uppercut.

Hold. How the ViPR is held/gripped. This changes the lever length, the force produced, the vector of movement and the speed. Grips include neutral, wide, narrow, carry-on-end and shovel.

Footprint. Where the feet are positioned and where they are moving to when performing the exercises. These could be narrow, wide, staggered or moving in various directions.

Handprint. This is the finish position of the arms or arm movement while performing the exercise. Different hand motions engage different muscles.

Threshold. Threshold and metabolic demand are ramped up by increasing the reps, sets, weight, speed or range of motion (ROM). With ViPR, complexity of motion is also added, and this may be a change of direction or a combination of speed and going through several arcs of motion.

By applying all of the scientific anchors of ViPR to the aquatic environment, we can create a great workout that can be tailored to everyone. One of the major benefits of ViPR is that an exercise can be modified almost instantly to tailor it to the individual by changing one or more of the 6 steps of ViPR programming to progress/regress the base move.

ViPR exercises in the pool

The following exercises show varying degrees of intensity. Some are good mobility exercises (reconditioning phase) and others are vitality or performance-focused, with greater speed and resistance. In the water these exercises will enable greater range of motion and whole body integration due to drag and buoyancy, and some of them will be more intense and metabolically demanding because of the extra resistance and range of motion working against the properties of water.

Lateral shift travel

This exercise is designed for upper back and scapular mobility while focusing on lengthening the spine and driving from the hips. In this exercise, the water creates more flow and balance with a slight increase in resistance as you travel.

Lateral tilt

This exercise is stationary, stepping into the move to create a good long line through the body and extending. Again, the water enables you to move further through range of motion with the ViPR.

Squat reach

This exercise is stationary, with a good lengthening of the fascial lines, focusing on hip drive and a long spine. The water enables a great range of motion while supporting the body weight with the principle of buoyancy.

Rotational shift

This exercise starts on one side of the body and goes through a rotation from the hip, finishing on the other side. This is a hip drive around the body, keeping the ViPR vertical, working against drag and resistance in the water, creating a long spine. This is a great exercise in the transverse plane and can be progressed by using a wide ‘On Ends Grip’ as demonstrated.

Lunge forward uppercut

This exercise is performed either travelling, or stationary with alternate legs. The hip drive motion starts on one side and finishes on the opposite shoulder. A great flowing movement, the extra drag and resistance of the water really increase the challenge.

Squat rotational reach

This exercise is a simulated long reach block with a rotation of the hips across the body and a reach finish with the ViPR parallel to the body. In the water this exercise can be performed stationary, alternating sides, or travelling and adding intensity with the greater resistance of force, drag and buoyancy.


Ken Baldwin is an ex-military Physical Training Instructor with over 30 years’ experience in the fitness industry and a vast knowledge of all areas of training. A Master Trainer for FAI, ViPR, Schwinn Cycling, BOSU, Twist Conditioning and an Institute of Motion coach, Ken is also the Director and Education Manager for Perform Better Australia. perform-better.com.au
Thanks to Clem Jones Aquatic Centre & Karen Baldwin, ViPR Master Trainer