the hi’s and lo’s
of instructing aqua

A move that’s easy to perform in water is not always so simple for aqua instructors to safely demonstrate from the pool deck. But with a little planning and the right tools, the challenge can be overcome, says Jennifer Schembri-Portelli.

The joys of instructing aqua are many and varied.However, as with all professions, occupational hazards and safety requirements present themselves at many levels. The fun elements of performing amazing moves in a buoyant environment top the list for the participant but sink to the bottom of the list for the land-based aqua instructor!

Buoyancy vs gravity

A simplistic explanation of these physical laws might be: gravity is experienced every time you jump and the earth’s atmosphere pulls you back down to the ground, whereas buoyancy is an upward force associated with the aquatic environment. Floating in the air is really the same as floating in water.

Buoyancy is determined by the density of an object – with density being defined as weight per volume. If the density of an object exceeds the density of water, the object will sink. For example:

  • A log floats because it is less dense than water
  • A rock sinks because it is more dense than water
  • A ship floats because, although it is made of steel, which is denser than water, it encompasses a volume of air and the resulting shape has an average density less than that of water.

As people’s body compositions are different, some float more easily than others!

Demonstrating buoyancy in a gravity atmosphere – i.e. poolside – is the ultimate challenge for the aqua instructor.

Buoyancy in a gravity atmosphere

Achieving effective aqua demonstration on the pool deck involves mastering confident, controlled and balanced safe movement patterns.

Emulating a buoyancy-affected move in a gravity atmosphere is not only challenging, but also potentially risky. Often, the instructor’s modified demonstration does not reflect the true picture of how the body’s position, posture and propulsion should look when performed in the water.

It is a shame, however – and a recipe for a lacklustre aqua fitness session – not to include buoyant, propulsive and turbulent moves in a class, regardless of age, fitness levels and water familiarisation. After all, the ability of the water to provide a supportive environment for high intensity exercise with no jarring of joints is one of the reasons participants choose to workout in the pool.

The challenge

If we consider some common aqua moves, a discrepancy becomes apparent between the ease of performing the move in water and the difficulty of performing it on land.

The move Performing the move
Tuck jumps Easy to perform in the water
Difficult to demonstrate on pool deck
High leg kicks Easy to perform in water
Difficult to demonstrate many repetitions on pool deck
Remaining suspended Easy to perform in water (with good sculling hands or buoyancy aids)
Requires levitation powers on pool deck!


Tuck jumps are a favourite move for many population groups, especially the deconditioned. It’s not unusual for participants to perform 20 tuck jumps continuously – something that most would be unlikely to achieve on land. In addition to the fitness benefits it promotes, the ability to perform so many plyometric moves makes participants feel good about themselves.

Let’s take a look at how to demonstrate another creative aqua move – the heel clicker.

Heel clicker

  • Start demonstrating the move from a balanced body position.
  • Abduct one leg out and hold it up (photo 1).
  • Hop off the other leg, bending from the knee and bringing the heel up towards the heel of the leg already held out to the side (photo 2).
  • Holding arms out laterally, bring the hands together at the same time as the heels click (photo 3). Think Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain!

The heel clicker is an excellent exercise that recruits the adductors and abductors while also delivering a cardio workout. While it can be easily performed for more than 30 seconds in the water, it is not advisable for instructors to perform this move on an unprotected and/or slippery pool deck. To demonstrate the move safely, it is recommended that an effective aqua teaching tool and a protective mat be used.

The WETS AquaFrame™ (photo 4) is a unique teaching tool that allows suspended, plyometric and high intensity aqua moves such as the heel clicker to be demonstrated precisely, with fundamental consideration being correct posture for both instructor and participant. Using the WETS AquaFrame™ intermittently during the class protects the instructor’s joints from sustaining injuries synonymous with working on unprotected pool decks. The teaching tool is only used intermittently throughout the class, and instructors are encouraged to follow specific guidelines.

A buoyant future

A personal aside – or a ‘word from the wise’ if you will! I have been instructing aqua for over 25 years and am now in my mid 50’s. I attribute my continuing successful instructing career to:

  • having an appreciation of the scientific principles of movement in water
  • having the creativity to combine flowing movement
  • following specific OH&S and instructor guidelines to safely deliver an effective and efficient aqua demonstration technique.
  • By adhering to the following simple steps you can increase the success of your own instructing career.
  • Practice all choreography in the water on numerous occasions
  • Creatively design the routine with the flowing transitions
  • Review and trial the routines with a range of population groups
  • Marry the routine with motivating music
  • Establish how to safely and efficiently emulate the move on pool deck
  • Utilise effective teaching tools.

Jennifer Schembri-Portelli
Jennifer, aka ‘JSP’, was presented with the prestigious 2012 Fitness Australia Award for Most Outstanding Contribution by an Individual to the Fitness Industry. She strives to continually create opportunities to keep the aqua industry alive and vibrant. As founding director of Water Exercise Training Service (WETS), she leads a team who provide advocacy for the aqua fitness industry and are Australia’s leading provider of the aqua fitness qualification. For more information on all things aqua visit