// For strength, cardio endurance and stability - simply add water

by Jennifer Schembri-Portelli

The moves described in this article are suitable for a personal training client or for inclusion in a mainstream aqua class.

It is well documented that the effects of training whether on land or in water will depend greatly on the exercises selected for the population group or individual within the selected environment. If providing clients with water workouts, ensure your hydrodynamic knowledge is regularly updated and personal aquatic skills are practiced and experienced prior to delivering the session.

Consider how great it would be to transform your pool into a weights room. Sounds like a novel idea? Well, it’s easily achieved and not really a recent innovation – centuries ago the Greeks, Romans, Chinese and British successfully used water baths and pools for exercise and therapeutic purposes.

This article comprehensively describes three simple, yet effective, water exercise moves that may be combined to create part of a personal training program or aqua routine:

1. Explosive hitch kick
2. Vertical abdominal curl
3. Explosive leg curl.

In general, these moves encompass the exercise principles of strength, cardiovascular endurance and stability – and they are great fun to do as well.

The explosive action of jumping in water rather than on land utilises the principle of buoyancy, which reduces the jarring of joints. The continuous jumping and scooping arm lines generates a lower water pressure creating a suction effect. The body then moves into the area of greatest turbulence, requiring the client to recruit deep core muscles to maintain balance and stability. The resistance provided by the moving body then increases the intensity and the cardiovascular capacity required by the participant, which results in increased fitness benefits.

The best method of conveying a particular exercise is to demonstrate from a position where all participants can clearly observe your movements.


Step 1: Commence the movement by balancing in a squat position on the left leg. Note that the right leg is placed in a 90 degree angle (photo 1).

Step 2: Maintain the position of the right leg as you propel off the left leg, attempting to bring it up as high as possible. More importantly, attempt to return the left leg to the starting position in a quick, but controlled motion (photos 2 & 3).

Step 3: The arms can either be used in a scooping action in towards the body, or raised above the water for a more intense workout.

Step 4: Perform between 4 and 8 reps for beginners, 8 to 12 reps for intermediate participants and up to twenty for fitter athletes. Participant pointers: Keep the raised knee at a 90o angle. Coach the participant to imagine the pool floor as a trampoline, and to bounce off the floor to achieve the explosive controlled movement pattern.

Trainer tips: Buoyancy will assist the leg movement towards the surface of the water, but more energy and intensity is required to return the leg to the starting position.


Step 1: Although this is an awkward move to demonstrate from poolside, participants find it a very effective abdominal exercise when working out in slightly deeper water. It is imperative that the instructor initiates the correct starting position, and then coaches arm and leg movement patterns through the complete range of motion.

Step 2: Prior to commencing the move, instruct participants to recruit the abdominals and maintain a stable core.

Step 3: Place foam dumbbells behind the knees (photo 4).

Step 3: Lower the leg which performed the hamstring curl back to the starting position and once again use the trampoline analogy to create an explosive high energy move (photos 7 & 8).

Step 4: Perform between 4 and 8 reps for beginners, 8 to 12 reps for intermediate participants and up to twenty for athletes.

Step 4: Without moving the torso, slowly and with control allow the knees to rise to a 90o angle to obtain an Lshaped seated position.

Step 4: Once in the L-shaped seated position, remain balanced for just under five seconds, and return to the starting position.

Participant pointers: Knees are directly pointing towards the pool floor. Use an effective figure-of-8 hand culling action to remain in a stable position. Perform between 4 and 8 reps for beginners, 8 to 12 reps for intermediate participants and up to twenty for participants with excellent core control.

Trainer tips: Explain that this move may require strong core muscles. Teach the hand action first and then the lower body movement. The buoyancy of the dumbbells will force the knees up quickly, so it requires precision and balance to prevent tipping over.


Step 1: Commence in a squat position with both feet flat on the floor, the hands will be beside the body with palms facing up and ready to scoop towards the surface (photo 5).

Step 2: Propel off the left leg and perform a hamstring curl with the right leg. Encourage participants to try and kick their bottoms with the left leg (photo 6).

Participant pointers: Do not lean forward but aim to keep a straight back and tight abdominals.

Trainer tips: Remember that clients who carry higher than average body fat are more likely to float and therefore require positive coaching to forcefully push the leg down to the starting position.

The client may be familiar with swimming, but this does not necessarily reflect their ability to transfer their aquatic skills to exercising in a vertical position, so ensure that you give precise instructions and closely monitor the way in which they are carried out. While preferable, it is not always possible for the trainer to be in the water with the client in initial sessions.

It is also important that you don’t fall victim to prescribing land-based exercises for a water workout – it doesn’t work. For example, a personal trainer who prescribes a bicep curl without a buoyancy aid with the expectation of increasing bicep size is obviously lacking hydrodynamic knowledge – have a try you may be surprised.

In order to achieve a quality water exercise technique, it is of utmost importance for the trainer to observe, analyse and then modify any movement to suit the aqua environment. Water significantly reduces the stressful effects of gravity and can, therefore, provide an exercise environment ideally suited to the needs of specific population groups and personal training clients who are undergoing rehabilitation or require elements of low impact training. For strength, cardio endurance and stability – simply add water!

Jennifer Schembri-Portelli
JSP has specialised in water based training for over two decades. Her business WETS (Water Exercise Training Service)
provides strategic advice to instructors, clients and organisations seeking to use the benefits of exercising in the aquatic
environment. JSP has significantly influenced the development and profifile of exercising in water within the fitness industry.