// Let’s get wets! The formula for aqua success

If you've ever struggled to design efficient and effective aqua routines that challenge the whole body and keep participants engaged, Jennifer Schembri-Portelli and Melissa Cameron have the formula to ensure your classes deliver the goods – every single time.

Have you ever thought how useful it would be to have a formula to help you construct well-balanced aqua classes for a range of population groups? By systematically incorporating a sequence of Weighted, Energetic, Turbulent and Suspended moves, you can.

The success of this formula is achieved by basing each track around an interval exercise format.

On average, a five-minute track of music will see the instructor demonstrating each move approximately three times. The benefits of doing so are that;

  • on the first repetition the participant becomes familiar with the move
  • on the second round the instructor can observe, analyse and, if necessary, modify the move for the participant
  • on the third attempt, familiarity and momentum are built up to create amazing intensity.
Instructor tip
By planning, preparing and practicing routines in the water prior to pool deck demonstration, it becomes very clear if either instructor or participant will be unable to sustain the high-energy moves throughout the duration of the class!


The weighted component represents moves that have at least one foot anchored to the pool floor and require the recruitment of abdominals and torso muscles in order to remain stable. Designed to strengthen the core and increase postural awareness, weighted moves provide a change in intensity and are an acknowledgement that neither instructor nor participant is able to sustain high impact moves throughout the whole class. From a cardiovascular perspective, the weighted component provides a 'breather' in the routine, while also challenging the strength and coordination of participants.

Tips for instructing weighted moves
  • Encourage participants to keep their bodies as stable as possible.
  • Remember to emulate the water pressure on the body when demonstrating as it can significantly impact the intensity of weighted movements.
  • Pay particular attention to participants' posture as they will often raise their shoulders and/or grip their toes in order to stabilise, thus reducing the effectiveness of the movement.
  • Return to midline before switching arms/legs.
  • Explain to clients that the more water they move, the greater workout they will receive.

Weighted example: Arm Combination

  1. Start with both feet anchored to the pool floor, knees slightly bent to promote a stable base and arms outstretched in front of the body (photo 1).
  2. Draw the right hand to the side, thumb facing down (photo 2), then repeat with the left hand (photo 3).
  3. Scoop the right hand behind the body (photo 4), then repeat with the left hand (photo 5).
  4. Using the resistance of the water, extend the right arm back out to the side, palm facing down (photo 6) and then repeat with the left hand (photo 7).
  5. Draw the right hand back to midline, thumb facing up (photo 8) and repeat with the left hand to conclude the combination (photo 9).


The energetic component is incorporated into the sequence to focus on raising the heart rate, thereby increasing cardiovascular fitness. Energetic moves typically replicate a jogging action yet offer variety in relation to style, tempo and/or arm lines. This component is commonly used to build momentum in the class.

Tips for instructing energetic moves

  • To ensure that energetic movements are executed safely, the participant must exercise in water at chest depth. This minimises impact on the body, specifically the joints.
  • Ensure you offer participants a variety of jogging actions throughout the class.
  • Aim to incorporate jogging combinations that challenge the brain as well as the body.
  • Encourage participants to create 'white water'.

Energetic example: Jogging with double punch and pull

  1. Commence with a basic stationary jogging action.
  2. Once participants are jogging comfortably, start the arm combination by crossing the arms out in front (photo 10).
  3. Draw elbows back beside the body (photo 11).
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3.
  5. Slide hands forward (photo 12) and circle arms around to incorporate a breaststroke arm action (photo 13).


Turbulent moves are designed to further the cardiovascular benefits of the energetic component while adding elements of power and intensity. Characterised by eddies, the increased drag, viscosity and resistance created by turbulent moves require the recruitment of more motor units which results in higher oxygen consumption (VO2) in comparison to exercises performed when stationary.

Tips for instructing turbulent moves

  • As with energetic moves, the participant must exercise in chest-depth water. The T11 (eleventh thoracic vertebrae level) ensures turbulent movements are executed safely.
  • In general, turbulent moves should involve returning to midline before changing legs and repeating the movement.
  • Longer and larger limbs will create greater friction and water turbulence than shorter, smaller limbs. So, if a move is too difficult for the participant to perform efficiently, the leverage should be reduced.
  • The hand position, whether it be slice, fist or flat, will alter the turbulence created by the movement and as a result also alter intensity.

Turbulent example: Back kicks

  1. Commence with the right foot on the inside of the left knee, elbows drawn back beside the body (photo 14).
  2. Extend the right leg backwards while arms push the water forwards (photo 15).
  3. Draw both knees back to midline in a 'tuck' position, elbows drawn back (photo 16).
  4. Repeat with an alternating leg propulsion action.


Suspended moves are just that – suspended! During the execution of this component, feet do not come into contact with the pool floor. While suspended moves may not be incorporated into all routines, they are often introduced to add variety and can be used as a substitute or progression of a Weighted, Energetic or Turbulent move.

Tips for instructing suspended moves

  • Participants will often hold their breath during this component, so cue them to breathe!
  • Remember that suspended moves are not only for deep water.
  • Unless you have successfully mastered the art of levitation, it is important to demonstrate the majority of turbulent and suspended moves using an AquaFrame™. Allowing participants to witness your feet in a suspended motion provides clarity and precision in instructor cues.

It is recommended that all routines are planned in the water – and then it's up to you to ensure the pooldeck presentation emulates the movement in the water. Enjoy experimenting with this formula that works for both the participant and the instructor!

Melissa Cameron
As an instructor, training facilitator and member of the Water Exercise Training Service (WETS) team, Melissa is passionate about aquatic exercise and the possibilities it presents. Through her work with WETS, Melissa aims to bring youthful energy, innovation and inspiration to both the aqua arena and fitness industry as a whole.

Jennifer Schembri-Portelli
Jennifer, known throughout the industry as 'JSP', is one of the most recognised aqua fitness names in Australia. As the director of Water Exercise Training Service (WETS) she leads a dynamic team that has helped change the face of aquatic exercise. JSP believes in excellence in delivery, innovation in design and passion for spreading the fitness word. For more information visit www.wets.com.au