// Wetforce

by Marietta Mehanni


Dumbbells and noodles are popular aquatic tools, predominantly in shallow water, for resistance, turbulence and buoyancy type exercises. But can they be used effectively for a deep water class?

These two pieces of equipment can suspend the body very effectively, so yes, it is possible to consider utilising them for deep water training. There are several advantages for this type of training:

1. When using dumbbells, muscle strength is required to push the dumbbells through the water – strength which is not required when wearing a buoyancy belt.

2. The body, being completely suspended, then consequently requires greater muscle recruitment to manoeuvre the dumbbell or noodle through the water, and subsequently potential muscle imbalances can be highlighted.

3. Dumbbells and noodles can be held in various positions, thus providing countless exercise possibilities.

4. Each position places a different emphasis on muscle groups and joint actions.

5. Moving equipment through water will create turbulence, which in turn provides a greater stability challenge for the core muscles to maintain appropriate posture and alignment while performing the exercise.

6. Holding a dumbbell or noodle under the water will create intra abdominal pressure, which consequently has the effect of engaging the core muscles.



Bernoulli’s Principle states that a stationary body in water will always move towards any turbulence because of the negative pressure drag. The greater the turbulence, the greater the instability and the more intense the workout, as participants will need to work against the turbulence created by their own noodle or dumbbell as well as the turbulence that is created by other participants using these tools.


Archimedes’ Principle states that when a body is wholly or partially immersed in a fluid it experiences a vertical upward force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced and acting through the initial centre of gravity of the fluid displaced.

Noodles and dumbbells are buoyant objects; therefore, they can be used both to help float the body and to create resistance when they are forced under water. Generally, when the noodle or dumbbell is held low in the water the exercise becomes more strength orientated and repetitions are performed at a slower speed. However, if the noodle or dumbbell is held close to the surface, the movement can be performed at a faster tempo and the exercise becomes more cardiovascular.

Buoyancy assisted refers to any movements that move in the same direction as the buoyancy, e.g., after holding the noodle or dumbbell down in the water and allowing it to float.

Controlling the movement for muscle conditioning on the ‘way up’ can be used just as eff ectively as pushing the noodle or dumbbell downwards.

Buoyancy resisted refers to any movements that move in the opposite direction of the buoyancy, e.g. pushing/holding the noodle or dumbbell down in the water. This is effective for strength-based exercises and is also an excellent way to encourage the use of core stabilisers.

Buoyancy supported is when the body is supported by the water, e.g., holding the noodle or dumbbell under the arms and allowing the body to float. These types of exercises are helpful in providing finger releases.


As with any mode of exercise, there are contraindications when using buoyancy equipment. The main issue is the lengthy hand holds required to manoeuvre the equipment through the water. This can raise issues if participants have pathology in the joints of the fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

Pregnant women during the second half of their pregnancy could potentially have problems with the intra-abdominal pressure against their overstretched abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. It is recommended that, at this stage of their pregnancy,women use dumbbells and noodles predominantly as a buoyancy tool (held under the armpits) and under the water for only short periods of time.

Submerged dumbbell and noodle exercises are also contraindicated for people suffering from hernias and any other condition that may be aggravated by intra-abdominal pressure or abdominal bracing.


One of the implications of using the noodle and dumbbell for an entire workout is the issue of holding the equipment for extended periods of time. It is important that ‘grip releases’ are built into the choreography.

Dumbbells: When the arms are held straight down, the fi ngers do not need to grip the dumbbell as the buoyancy of the dumbbell pressing up against the hand will be enough to hold the dumbbell down in the water.

Another popular alternative is to put the dumbbell under the armpits whenever excessive fatigue is experienced, though this option should not be used as a permanent substitute as it defeats the purpose of using the dumbbell in deep water.

In this situation it would be more beneficial to use a buoyancy belt.

From a technical point, shoulder depression, scapula retraction and neutral spine (whenever possible) should be maintained. There is also a tendency to shrug the shoulders when hand-held buoyancy equipment is being used, so regular coaching on posture is necessary.

Noodles: Use a ‘buoyancy assisted’ method, allowing the noodle to float while performing a lower limb or stabilisation activity. Provide exercises where the noodle is supporting the torso so that the body and arms are allowed to move freely. Educate participants to not grip the noodle too fi rmly or for lengthy periods. Encourage participants to use only the palms of their hands or bodyweight to assist with controlling the noodle.



Begin teaching this exercise with arms suspended to the sides and focus on kicking one leg up and down with the opposite leg hanging straight down. For level 2, ask participants to press the dumbbells under the water surface. Encourage them to do this with their palms so that the fi ngers are not gripping the dumbbells. The third level is described below; encourage participants to press down with their palms rather than gripping the dumbbells.


This exercise is an eff ective oblique workout and also focuses on the lateral flexors of the spine. Make sure that participants pull their knees to their chest and that the feet flick kick strongly to the front. Ensure that the arm under the water is pressing the dumbbell low in the water to avoid excessive shoulder stress.


This exercise is most eff ective if the feet are reaching towards the bottom of the pool, the elbows fully extended and shoulders pressed down away from the ears. The swivel movement is initiated with the noodle moving from side to side. With the hips rotating to the front, the legs, with fully extended knees, cross over in a criss-cross action. Encourage participants to push the noodle down as low as they can and then twist the torso.


During this exercise two actions happen simultaneously. The fi rst is the knee moving towards the torso and kicking out to the side, and the second is the counterbalance action that occurs with the extended leg below. Initiate this exercise by teaching participants to bring the knee to the chest and kicking the foot to the side. Then ask them to swing the ends of the noodle in the opposite direction of the kicking leg. Once this has been achieved, ask the clients to swing the straight leg in the same direction as the noodle.


The easiest way to teach this exercise is to have the participants lie in the water so that their feet are pointing towards the front and their heads towards the back. In this position they look down the torso towards the pool deck so that they can observe the exercise demonstration more comfortably. This powerful exercise requires a strong kicking action and rotation through the torso to move the noodle over the hips.


This is one of my favourite exercises – and it’s certainly the most ridiculous to demonstrate on the pool deck! The kicking action needs to be strong, with the knee fully extended and the action initiating from the hip. The swinging action with the noodle and the free hand needs to be powerful as they pull across the body. This requires considerable core control to maintain stability in the water.

With imaginative use of dumbbells and noodles in your deep water classes you can harness the buoyant and turbulent properties of the pool environment to create workouts that are wet forces to be reckoned with!

Marietta Mehanni
Recipient of the 2007 Australian Fitness Network Author of the Year award, Marietta is also an award-winning instructor and presenter with over 17 years of teaching experience in both land and water-based group exercise. Recently qualified for international accredition (AFAA and ACE), she presents regularly at national and international conventions. Marietta is also a course coordinator, lecturer and examiner for Certificate III in group exercise and aqua exercise leadership.