// Intense workouts with aquatic intervals

by Vibeke Ostermark

Working out in water is often perceived by those who do not participate in it as being a gentle or ineffectual form of
exercise. This is far from being the case, and the variety of training that can be done in the water is also far greater
than even those familiar with aquatic exercise may realise.

I have been a personal trainer and an aqua instructor for over a decade, and by combining my knowledge and skills from both disciplines I deliver challenging, fun and effective workout sessions which blow the idea that aqua training is only for little old ladies in frilly hats right out of the water. I frequently get my clients’ heart rates up to 80 to 85 per cent of their maximum in the water during an interval training session, working against the water resistance for one to five-minute intervals. Those who believe that water aerobics is for people who just want an easy workout should try doing 20 push ups on the side of the pool, followed by working the larger muscles with flutter kicking across the pool or holding onto the side. When this is kept going for a duration of four to five sets lasting one to two minutes with a short rest period in-between, doubters will quickly realise that while there’s no gravity, the water’s resistance is equally tough and can provide equally as challenging a workout.

Taking up to seven water-based classes per week, I have tried to change the way both the participants and the general public thinks of water exercise. The common perception of it as being only for elderly, injured, unfit and overweight people makes it hard to draw in a young, vibrant crowd and to change the negative mindset. Many of the younger participants that have ventured into the water to experience the interval training sessions I deliver cannot believe how hard the workout is. Having been converted to aqua fitness, most of them become regular attendees – and then find themselves faced with the task of convincing their friends that it really is a great workout which delivers the toning, weight loss and fitness benefits of land exercise.

Being immersed in water, the abdominals have to be continuously switched on in order to not only move through the water at a good speed, but to maintain balance while doing so. Changing the body’s direction and breaking ‘calm water’ creates an even greater need for core strength. Movement through the water to a fast tempo will also build more resistance and intensity, with the turbulence and eddy drag which is created pushing participants off balance. Constantly changing direction, therefore, will create a more challenging workout for your class. Incorporating wall work, such as the push ups on the side of the pool, will keep the participants more focused as they do not have anyone in front of them, and working side-by-side with other class members will increase the turbulence, forcing them to work harder in order to stay balanced.

Working at high intensity through intervals gives participants an opportunity to challenge their cardiovascular fitness and muscle endurance. Adding dumbbells to a fast tempo workout will mean that in addition to the abdominal muscles working hard to stabilise the body in the water, the arm muscles will also be challenged, and the larger leg muscles recruited for stabilisation.

Using fast-paced music of 140 to 150BPM (as earlier) and encouraging participants to work with the beat will get their adrenaline pumping and keep the resistance level high. Playing tracks that last for one to two minutes or longer and encouraging the participants to work to their max for that duration, with the promise of a short break inbetween, is also a great way to keep raising the intensity.

Letting the participants know at the start of the session what heart rate they should be aiming for will also ensure that they work at their maximum heart rate. You can get them to take their pulse for 15 seconds every 10 minutes or so, which will let them know how hard they are working and whether they need to increase their intensity.

I generally structure my aqua classes in the same way as my personal training sessions. I begin the session with a three to five-minute warm up to release synovial fluid in the joints and prepare the muscles before the main workout. The body of the session then works like any other land-based exercise session, incorporating cardio, strength and a decent stretch for three to five minutes at the end. Do not stretch longer than this as the body temperature will decline quickly in the water.

My hope is that people will soon start to realise what great workouts you can have in the water, and that the benefits can be just as good as with land-based exercise.


Vibeke Ostermark
Vibeke has been an aqua instructor for over a decade and runs water-based classes at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. A presenter at The Aqua Summit, she has been a swimming coach for 15 years. Vibeke runs her own personal training business as well as lecturing in Cert III and IV in Fitness and Community Recreation. For more information call 0401 138 338 or e-mail vo2@iinet.net.au