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Working in the deep

If you currently instruct shallow aqua classes, but have never ventured into the depths of the pool with your participants, this could be the year to discover the joys of teaching deep water aqua, says Dominic Gili.

If you've ever participated in a deep water aqua class you will know that it is an effective and challenging form of exercise. And that's not just anecdotal: research by Hamer and Morton (1990) demonstrated that a six-week deep water running training protocol effectively increased both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

The numerous benefits of deep water workouts include:

  • The supportive water environment ensures it is safe, non-impact workout which makes it perfect for rehabilitating athletes and those with back, hip and knee issues
  • The potential for improving flexibility and mobility due to the water's ability to support the body and the body's suspended position in the water allowing for an increased range of motion
  • The variety of intensity levels at which participants can work makes it ideal to accommodate a wide range of abilities and fitness levels within the one class.

With the use of innovative training methods and equipment, deep water workouts are the perfect challenge for those hoping to improve cardio performance and build strength in a safe and therapeutic environment.

Movement for resistance

Travelling any move in deep water provides a simple yet effective challenge for the entire body, as upper, lower and core strength are all required to drag the body through the water.

Deep-water moves that can be travelled are:

  • Running
  • Cross country
  • Breaststroke arms
  • Flutter kicking in a seated position
  • Cycling.

When travelling in the water, good alignment is paramount in order to train the postural muscles, with the ultimate goal of creating good habits for participants when they are out of the water.

Propulsion for elevation

The intensity of an exercise can be increased in the deep by working the body higher in the water. This is only possible by pushing the water downwards so the body can rise upwards.

The effort required to elevate the body is considerable, and as a result heart rate and cardio output increase significantly.

Moves that can be elevated are:

  • Treading water with eggbeater kick and sculling hands
  • Cross country
  • Flutter kicking with body in the vertical position.

Using equipment to build strength

Using equipment in deep water enables the load on the upper body to be increased, while also creating extra drag to strengthen the core and the lower body. Equipment also offers variety to routines and helps to target and overload muscle groups more effectively.

Dumbbells are ideal for those who are less stable in the deep, as they allow for independent movement on either side of the body.

Depending on the positioning of the dumbbells, they can either assist or desist balance. They are suitable for moves that enjoy a fuller range of motion, such as:

  • Cross country
  • Star jumps
  • Straight leg lifts.

Aqua noodles can present a great challenge, even for an experienced participant. The long thin flotation device can be placed between the legs or wrapped behind the body and under the armpits to stabilise the body and allow the limbs to work. It can also be secured in position in either one or both hands, or under the feet. Noodles require the movement of the limbs to be in alignment, challenging both balance and core strength.

Moves that can be performed with a noodle in the hands include:

  • Tuck jumps
  • Skipping
  • Tuck'n'Roll.

Moves that can be performed with a noodle under the feet include:

  • Tuck jumps (photo 1)
  • Single leg stomp (photo 2)
  • Alternate leg stomping in wide leg seated position
  • Breaststroke arms with body in upright position (photo 3).

Partners are equipment that fight back!

Ignite participants' competitive spirits by organising them to work in pairs or teams. If pairs are well matched, the challenge can take their workout to a new level, not to mention the social interaction enhancing the experience and leading to smiles and laughter – which is great for inducing happy healing hormones such as ecstatic endorphins and immune boosting killer T-cells.

Moves that can be performed in pairs include:

  • Both people flutter kicking in the seated position back-to-back
  • Both people breaststroking face-to-face, with soles of feet together (legs straight)
  • Both people facing same direction, one behind the other. Partner in front flutter kicking in the seated position; partner behind putting feet on partner's buoyancy belt and breaststroking
  • Both people facing same direction, one behind the other. Partner in front flutter kicking in the seated position; partner behind placing hands on buoyancy belt and karate kicking to move forward.

Teaching tips

Regardless of whether you are an experienced instructor or are new to teaching deep-water classes, it is important to be aware of – and able to communicate – vital information in order to help participants perform workouts safely and effectively.

Prioritising the following elements of a deep-water workout will increase participants' awareness and help them focus:

  • Range of motion – aiding flexibility and mobility
  • Stability – with the movement of the water constantly pushing up against the body, good postural alignment is essential
  • Strength training – working with power through the core, upper and lower body, focusing on muscle balance and educating participants by naming prime movers
  • Speed and aerobic/anaerobic training – high intensity cardiovascular workouts are easy to achieve in the deep with propulsion and body elevation.

Good demonstrations are vital in order for participants to execute moves correctly. The use of an aqua frame, mat and chair are essential. Rehearsing instruction of exercises in front of a mirror will also help you see the line of the arms and/or legs, and ensures your poolside demonstrations are the best they can be.

When dealing with coordination challenges it is worth considering whether you can introduce the move with the simplest option first. For example, when performing Cross Country, some participants have trouble working their opposite arm and leg. An easier coordination option may be to have the arms start out wide and then cross over in front of the body as the legs cross forwards and back. Once this is mastered, you can progress the move to opposite arm and leg movements.

When teaching a large group, requesting that all participants start with their right leg forward can help you manage an exercise more easily. For example, when cueing all to change while working a single leg kick, it will be much more apparent if everyone has changed legs or if every participant is working the same side.

By adopting smart training techniques and making effective use of aquatic equipment, deep water classes can offer the challenge needed to improve cardio performance and build strength in a safe and therapeutic environment.


Dominic Gili
Dominic is a dynamic and motivational aqua instructor and presenter. The owner of AQUAGILITY Fitness, he is a qualified workplace trainer, lectures for the Australian Institute of Fitness and presents instructor training workshops. Dominic's passion for education and development motivates him to help instructors achieve their full potential. For more information email aquagility@yahoo.com or visit www.youtube.com/aquagility