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Taking a fresh approach to aqua fitness can reinvigorate your classes, impress your participants and renew your passion for instructing this unique form of exercise says Dominic Gili.

When we think back to our school years, many of us will fondly remember one special teacher that may have kept us entertained with funny or intriguing stories, been kind and understanding or simply offered structured and easy-to-understand information.

After interviewing several leading instructors in the fitness industry, I’ve discovered a common denominator in their approach to instruction. Many aim to strike a balance between the following:

  • Innovation and creativity
  • Reliability and consistency
  • Positivity and motivation.

This successful formula helps them design classes that not only keep themselves focused and stimulated, but also keeps their participants engaged and motivated.

With this in mind, let’s consider what is within our control when it comes to refreshing and innovating the way we can more participants to reap greater benefits in our classes.

Training method: interval training

Interval training involves alternating fast and slow periods during a cardio workout. The intervals are pre-determined, measured by time, repetitions or distance, and performed with a work/rest ratio.

The following benefits of interval training are well documented and supported by research:

  • Improves oxygen utilisation
  • Improves the ability to burn fat
  • Improves heart efficiency
  • Reduces insulin dependency.

Music with programmed intervals makes an instructor’s job easier as the music manages time and participants find it motivating to be able to manage their level of intensity for a specific and consistent duration.

Exercises and routines

We can apply several variations to exercises to ensure diversity within our aqua fitness classes. For example, we can design classes to suit our client groups by simply changing the range of motion or the speed at which a move is performed.

Exercise variations include:

  • Speed increases or decreases
  • Range of motion increases or decreases
  • Adjustments to lever length
  • Added propulsion and bounce
  • Added suspension
  • Working asymmetrically – e.g. working with one arm and both legs
  • Working counter intuitively, challenging the brain to engage
  • Varying the working axis or plane – upright, supine, prone, side
  • Isolating one side – e.g. working with one leg only or one arm only
  • Adding equipment (see below)
  • Using the wall for support, as a motivational height target, or as a prop
  • Travelling – forwards, backwards, in circles and in figure 8 patterns
  • Adding 180 degree and/or quarter turns
  • Adding rhythm changes – e.g. single, single, double pattern.

Adding variations to exercises, moves and routines can help us focus on cardiovascular endurance, core strength and specific muscle groups.


The inclusion of equipment such as aqua dumbbells, noodles and kickboards is always a great way of combining cardio and strength workouts. Two innovative pieces of equipment that some aqua instructors may not have used are Noodle Sticks (half length noodles) and the Gymstick H2O.

A noodle stick is a short version of the commonly used aqua noodle, and offers a combination of both resistance and buoyancy. A very functional piece of equipment, it is easier to manoeuvre than its longer cousin. Exercises that use the Noodle Sticks include the noodle push/pull with back kick (photo 1) and Straight-arm lift and pull down (behind) with kick in front (photo 2).

Gymstick H2O is an effective fitness tool that combines a graphite stick, chlorine-tough resistance bands and the resistance of the water to provide one dynamic workout. The band resistance can be varied by simply rolling or unrolling the bands around the stick. Exercises that use the Gymstick H20 include cross country arms and legs (photo 3) and shoulder press (photo 4).


Every time I participate in an aqua fitness class I tell myself ‘I’m not going to work too hard as I have to teach later this afternoon’,but as soon as the music starts I hook into the beat and an hour later I’m exhausted!

The physiological effects of music when exercising are well documented. Research2 has demonstrated that, in addition to being a motivational tool for fitness classes, music can play a role in positively affecting respiration and heart rate, physical strength, the rehabilitation of gait disorders (through rhythmic stimuli), endurance performance and rhythmic accompaniment upon learning fundamental motor skills.

There are numerous CDs and playlists available for the specific use of aqua fitness classes, so finding one that excites you and motivates your participants won’t take long.

Ourselves and our participants

The saying ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ holds true for aqua instructors. For example, if we want participants to stop chatting in class we need to hone our people management skills, be proactive and set expectations and boundaries around the issue of talking in class.

Other skills instructors can focus on are:

Motivation. Many participants attend fitness classes because they find it difficult to motivate themselves. To get the most from participants you should aspire to connect with people of differing abilities, fitness levels, genders and ages. By acknowledging their varied reasons for attending, and honing a way of instructing that speaks to a wide-ranging demographic, you will hit upon your own recipe for motivational success.

Education. Share your knowledge with participants. Use easy-to-understand language to explain not only what to do, but why you want them to do it. Educating participants helps them gain trust and confidence in you as an instructor. People always respond positively when I explain what muscle groups are being targeted by a specific exercise, or the benefits they can reap from specific training methods or moves. I often remind participants that they carry their children or grandchildren on one hip, repeatedly carry grocery bags in one hand or may have a single-handed tennis swing – and that asymmetrical exercises in the water are therefore functional and very beneficial.

Professionalism. Setting high standards and having a professional attitude may help gain the respect of participants and colleagues before you even demonstrate your first move.

Arriving to class 10 minutes before start time, introducing yourself to new participants, sharing technical knowledge, remembering regulars’ names and offering exercise alternatives or corrections for participants that need them will all contribute to credibility.

Dominic Gili
Named Australian Fitness Network’s Author of the Year 2012, Dom’s passion for aqua fitness is contagious. He has delivered dynamic water workouts since 1993, and now presents training to new and existing instructors across Australia. The founder of and author of numerous articles, Dom continually aspires to inspire. Visit the Facebook page ‘aquaFitnessOnline’ for more information or email Dom at


  • Gibala,M. (2009) Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism 2009 Vol. 34 No. 3 pp. 428-432
  • Beckett, A. (1990). The effects of music on exercise as determined by physiological recovery heart rates and distance. Journal of Music Therapy, 27, 126-136.

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