TIPS FROM THE POOL DECK: Training seniors

The water may offer a safe and supportive workout environment, but there are still a number of safety considerations when training older adults.

The water offers a fantastic low-impact exercise environment, making it perfect for older adults. However, aqua exercise for seniors does raise a number of questions.

How much travelling should I program for older participants?

Some blood pressure and angina medications list ‘dizziness’ as a side effect. Ask any participants on these medications to make the decision whether they want to participate in the activity. While circle work creates turbulence, and therefore greater intensity, it can be viewed as ‘boring’ and ‘troublesome’. You’ve got more creativity than this surely! If you need a ‘fill in’ activity, try side steps and forward and backward motions with different arm line patterns rather than circle work for older adult aqua classes.

Is it OK for seniors to participate in deep water classes?

Whether somebody is suited to working out in the deep water is not related to ‘age’, but to variables such as water familiarity (is the participant confident in the deeper water?), body composition (the leaner the participant the more intense the workout) and medical conditions. People with gastric conditions such as peptic ulcers and chest conditions such as asthma may find the hydrostatic pressure causes discomfort. Suggest that participants do not wear a buoyancy belt for the entire class. It is also recommended that prone and supine activities are included in the deep water class. This will alleviate the hydrostatic pressure effects on the thoracic area.

Is it true that hydrostatic pressure isn’t great for seniors?

Although hydrostatic pressure (HP) may be an issue for some seniors, the benefits usually outweigh any negative effects. The HP effect compresses fluid from the vascular bed of the legs and forces increased circulation up to the torso. This may provide a therapeutic benefit for swollen limbs. The increased pressure is also responsible for forcing the blood away from the periphery, that results in enhanced venous return and subsequently improved cardiac output. This means there is less strain on the heart when exercising at a higher intensity.

Should I make seniors who hate using equipment use it?

Wisdom certainly comes with age, so, if the senior participant doesn’t want to use equipment they don’t have to! Sometimes people don’t like doing things because the activity is not great for their bodies. People with arthritis may find gripping equipment very painful. The knuckles may be stiff and therefore sore when hands are gripping the dumbbells, noodle or kickboard. It doesn’t mean never include the use of equipment, but rather strategically include a ‘release’ period into the exercise. A tip is to jog using the dumbbells without gripping the handle. Instruct the participant to push the buoyant piece of equipment using an open hand. This is an effective way of increasing resistance while avoiding the gripping action.

My senior participants say they can’t keep up with me in the water

You may be moving at ‘land’ speed. A great instructor will be able to use the appropriate cadence for the majority of participants in their class. Dance routines and exercise sequences can be easily created and modified utilising energetic and realistic combinations for all participants. The best advice I can offer is: learn how to move the water yourself and then teach your participants the steps to move water more efficiently. You are a leader, teach them how to move the water.


Jennifer Schembri-Portelli, aka ‘JSP’, is a skilled fitness and aqua professional with over 25 years experience. She also founded Water Exercise Training Service (WETS), an education provider whose aqua fitness qualifications are now delivered in partnership with AUSTSWIM. wets.com.au