Water Fitness: Frisbee Fitness H2O

Lightweight, portable and easily available, the frisbee can facilitate a challenging workout when used as an aquatic tool, writes aqua educator Dominic Gili.


  • The frisbee can be given a whole new range of skills when it is immersed in water and used as an aquatic tool
  • The neutral buoyancy of the frisbee replicates the double concentric contraction the body experiences when working in the water
  • Held in one or both hands, the large surface area of the frisbee creates increased resistance for upper body workouts
  • The core recruitment and stabilisation required to perform movements with a frisbee in the water is intense, making the frisbee an effective tool for enhancing balance and stability.

Most of us will associate the frisbee with our childhood. Growing up, I spent hours in the park or at the beach with friends throwing, chasing, and sometimes even catching, the simple plastic disc. It was all about fun in the sun, with no thought given to any fitness benefits.

Since the late 1950’s, frisbee has developed a reputation beyond a recreational activity. The sport formerly known as ‘Ultimate frisbee’ (and now simply ‘Ultimate’ for copyright reasons) is now recognised at international competition level, with the rules and tactics similar to those of netball and soccer. Players of Ultimate require speed, agility, endurance, strength and coordination, and replicating this activity in the water is a challenging and engaging training activity for sport teams and school groups.

But the real workout begins when we take the frisbee below the surface of the water. For instructors keen to innovate their aqua fitness classes, the frisbee presents a great option. Lightweight, portable and easily available, the frisbee can be deceptively challenging in the water. It can be adapted into a traditional aqua fitness class while offering clients a very different and positive workout experience.

From a class design and teaching perspective, Frisbee Fitness H2O exercises are easy for clients to follow and make a great addition to a circuit style class. The time you allocate to frisbee-focused workouts within each class will vary depending on the clients in attendance.

The neutral buoyancy of the frisbee replicates the double concentric contraction the body experiences when working in the water. The intensity of total body workouts using the frisbee can be adjusted to suit all abilities, and like all resistance equipment the frisbee provides the body with unique biofeedback which builds better awareness and muscle engagement.

Upper body workouts

Held in one or both hands, the large surface area of the frisbee creates increased resistance. It is similar to kickboard workouts, but far more achievable as clients do not struggle with the lift force of the board’s buoyancy.

The intensity of the workout can be altered simply by flipping the disc. This is demonstrated with a simple push/pull motion while holding the frisbee with two hands. With the front of the frisbee facing away from the body, the greater challenge is on the pull phase (bringing the frisbee back towards the body) as the water is temporarily caught and held within the cupped shape of the frisbee. Conversely, when the frisbee is flipped to have the back of the frisbee facing away from the body then the challenge is on the push phase.

As with one or two-hand buoys workouts, both dynamic and stability training can be achieved using the frisbee. Using the push/pull motion again as an example, this movement with grounded feet offers great stability training, as the abdominal and core muscles work hard to maintain a stable foundation. To make the movement a dynamic exercise, continue the push/pull motion with the frisbee and cue a lower body movement such as jogging, hamstring curls, jumping jacks, tuck jumps, cross country ski or single leg kick.

Options for other upper body workouts include:
  • gliding the frisbee on the water surface, using one or both hands
  • slicing the frisbee through the water, holding it with both hands
  • gliding the frisbee up and down, side-to-side or in circles on the pool wall, using one or both hands
  • dragging the frisbee up and down, forwards and back, side-to-side or in a figure 8 motion, with one or two frisbees.
Teaching tip: when demonstrating one-hand frisbee exercises from the pool deck, use a big rubber band or elastic to attach the frisbee to your hand.

Lower body workouts

When the frisbee is placed under one foot (or both feet) with top side facing down, it provides a challenging workout. The experience is similar to a deep-water workout as the foot and frisbee simply hover over the pool floor, with only gentle contact with the floor allowing a smooth yet controlled sliding movement. Again, this has been done before with kickboard workouts, but with that tool there is an ever-present danger posed by the buoyancy of the board, which can cause it to escape to the surface and hit clients.

Options for other lower body workouts include:
  • gliding the frisbee across the pool floor with one foot on the frisbee and the other foot grounded on the pool floor
  • gliding the frisbee across the pool floor with one foot on the frisbee and the other foot bouncing on the pool floor
  • gliding the frisbee across the pool floor with one foot, while the other leg is working suspended off the floor
  • holding the frisbee above the surface of the water with one hand (like a drinks tray), while the legs work suspended cross country ski or flutter kicks.
Teaching tip: always start with one leg grounded, to create awareness of the core stabilisation required, before introducing dynamic lower body movements.

Balance and stability workouts

Using the frisbee to enhance balance and stability might be the most compelling argument to try Frisbee Fitness H2O. The core recruitment and stabilisation required to perform all of these workouts is intense. The workouts can easily be compared to a Reformer Pilates lower body workout, as one foot slides while the other stays grounded. Even better, the water environment offers us more support to not only perform this movement forwards and backwards or side-to-side, but also in any direction, including diagonally, away and across the front and back of the body, or in a circular motion.

Options for balance and stability workouts include:
  • using one foot or both feet on the wall to glide the frisbee up and down, side-to-side and in circles
  • holding the frisbee with one hand above the surface of the water (like a drinks tray), while working one leg or travelling through the water
  • balancing the frisbee on the head while travelling or isolating the lower body.

Considerations and planning

As with all new equipment, it is important for instructors to get in the water to experiment with a frisbee before introducing it into aqua fitness classes. Here are some considerations when including water workouts using a frisbee:
  • Be aware that not all frisbees are the same. The diameter and thickness of the disc will impact on the intensity of the workout, so offering a selection to clients and explaining the differences can help ensure participants exercise within their limits. The thicker, more rigid the plastic and the larger the diameter, the greater the resistance and stronger the workout.
  • Be conscious of the potential for muscle fatigue and the impact on joints, and factor this into the design of routines; fingers, wrists and forearms are prone to fatigue when holding or gripping the frisbee for extended periods of time. Flat palm hand contact should be considered as an alternate to gripping. It’s wise to regularly ask participants how they are feeling.
  • Do not underestimate the high level of resistance that the surface of the frisbee creates, and always flip the frisbee to ensure a balanced muscle workout.
  • Clients with shoulder conditions may prefer to only glide the frisbee on the surface and/or only use their hand (rather than the frisbee) as an alternate to submerged frisbee upper body workouts.
  • Working a big range of movement helps recruit the full length of the muscle, from origin to insertion, and improves flexibility.
  • Working a faster, smaller range of movement will require greater core muscle engagement to stabilise the torso.
  • When using the frisbee under the foot, be sure to work at a suitable depth (with the water surface between the belly button and the chest) in order for the feet to make solid contact with the ground.
  • When using both feet on the frisbee, use a limited range of movement to avoid hyperextending the lower back.
  • Some clients may prefer to wear aqua trainers in the water to help avoid slipping.

Game on!

When working with sports teams and school groups, a water-based version of Ultimate could be great training to keep participants engaged with a fun activity that replicates sport-specific skills such as speed, strength, endurance, multi-directional movement and coordination. Depending on the ability of the individuals, the game could be played in the shallow or the deep.

In the US, Skwim is the name given to a game that is combines elements of Ultimate with elements of water polo. Goal lines can be created for teams to cross in order to gain points, or teams can simply be awarded points for making 10 continuous passes: either option can be great fun as well as challenging. All activity should promote travelling movement in order to take full advantage of the increased resistance in water.

Teaching tip: use a soft neoprene frisbee for activities that require throwing the frisbee, so as to avoid any injuries, and always assess swim competency of clients before starting any activity in the deep.

Special thanks to Mushi Harush (Israel), Susan Abel Sullivan (US) and Debi Godfrey (Australia) for their inspiration and workout ideas with the frisbee.

Dominic Gili

The founder of AquaFitnessOnline.com, Dom has been teaching aqua fitness since 1993. He delivers aqua workshops and new instructor trainings across Australia. A regular contributor to fitness industry publications, in 2012 he was named Australian Fitness Network’s ‘Author of the Year’. AquaFitnessOnline.com / facebook.com/AquaFitnessOnline