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Does Structure Really Matter?

by Jenni Lynn Patterson LaCour


As an AEA Aquatic Training Specialist and creator of S’WET™ I would 100% say that proper structure is fundamental to our aquatic fitness classes!

But why? Whether you’re a brand-new instructor, a life-saving substitute or veteran teacher, there should be a format (translation: structure) that a class is arranged and that is designed around a multitude of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the needs and ability of the class, size and shape of the pool, equipment available, purpose of the session, and water temperature.


Even though I’m speaking from a water perspective, land-based classes also follow a structure so that classes are safe, effective and attainable for the participants attending. If you’re already trained as an aquatic fitness or a land group fitness instructor, you know the components of a basic fitness class: Warm up, Conditioning & Cool Down. There is a WIDE range of formats to play with when it comes to plugging in your conditioning phase, but even with a proper warm up and cool down, what happens in between is crucial for the participant.


As trained fitness professionals, we take on quite a bit when it comes to helping our participants achieve their fitness goals, while also keeping them safe during their workouts. So educating ourselves in properly building and structuring our classes is an important role in our careers.


Here are AEA's Recommendations for Program Design:


No class can start without a warmup and end without a cool down, so it’s important to take both of these components seriously when designing your classes. Many of the top fitness education manuals and books will explain how starting classes slowly (without equipment) and with short lever movements (i.e., jogging, marching and/or traveling) is going to get all the body’s joints, tendons and ligaments ready for increased impact and heavier resistance as you lead into more strenuous movements.


My philosophy is that a lengthened muscle is a strengthened muscle; however, most people do not take the time to stretch, but the beauty of water (combined with an educated instructor) is using the buoyancy to naturally assist the body in lengthening while strengthening from the viscosity and resistance of the water. I tend to take my warmup component into 10-15 minutes because I want to work the small and important joints (hands, wrists, ankles, feet, hips, shoulders and spine) before really getting the waves rolling with longer levers (i.e., jumping jacks and Cross Country SKI) exercises.


Referring back to the chart though, you can see from the duration range in the conditioning phase, there is quite a bit of time to work with here, and this is where I like to share my WHY for how I structure my classes.


S’WET™ stands for Structured Water Exercise Training and the reason Structure is so important is to make sure we as aquatic professionals, provide an effective yet safe aquatic workout for all of our members, regardless of their fitness level and/or capabilities.

Giving students an adequate warm up to get the blood flowing creates the ideal environment to then proceed to block in the appropriate components for your conditioning format to give a total body aqua workout that will leave all of your students feeling accomplished and wanting to return for more.


What keeps them coming back? RESULTS! But how do we ensure results are made? Structure ☺ This is why I always incorporate cardiovascular stamina, strength & equipment exercises and plyometric power moves to keep students making waves, having fun, but getting the most resistance possible from the water that they can.


An example of how I may block a 45-60 minute class:



Even with a structured class plan, the water is the best equalizer to ensure we can offer every BODY an option (or modification) to work at their peak performance. This also allows us to regress and progress a lot of movements to suit each person’s abilities and ensure they feel successful after every class.


Structure for me started with ‘blocking’ my classes in a way that when we completed the warm up, everyone had a quick break to grab water or head over to the wall to start the wall section. After the wall we could easily grab equipment and hydrate before strength, and then another break to recoup oxygen levels and move onto Interval Training or another Cardiovascular stamina component before ending it all with a cool down.

The breaks between the blocks of movement allowed me to gather myself, but also for students to hydrate (#1) and get ready for the next blocked component of the class. Replenishing oxygen levels is imperative if we’re trying to maximize muscle contractions as well as push participants to reach their maximum levels of performance, so using this block method not only helped me structure a well-rounded and safe class, but gave my students the ability to max out their water workouts!


The conditioning phase of your workout is where you as an instructor really have to think about the purpose of the class, the people attending and your space/access to equipment. It's also the time for you to add your own flare to the exercises and patterns you're repeating. The sample bootcamp class provided above splits the 30-45 min Conditioning phase into Wall Work, Equipment Intervals and Strength/Cardio stationed work.


THIS is where the S’WET™ formula really takes shape, as I have spent years documenting and detailing how I structure each one of my classes, specifically during the conditioning phase, and have broken them up into the necessary blocks to ensure I'm providing a full-body, balanced, effective and safe workout for everyone in the pool.


However you choose to build out your workouts, it's imperative you revert back to the considerations discussed above, and detailed further in the AEA chart.

  • What is the purpose of this class?

  • Who are your students? What are their capabilities and limitations?

  • What depth of pool do you have to work with and what's the water temperature?

  • How much and what kind of equipment do you have access to?

If you show up to class every week with a memorized routine incapable of change, it may be time to rethink how you structure your workouts. Professional instructors should be able to adjust on the fly based on these varying conditions, but always coming back to the basic building blocks - aka STRUCTURE - of the workout.


Are you ready to learn the S’WET™ STRUCTURE? Get certified today!





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