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Five Tips to Improve Aquatic Fitness at Your Facility

By Katy Coffey

Stop us when you've heard this before...

...Studio A is filled with a Pilates class. Students are half way through breathing the torturous V-Sit Crunches when another member walks into the studio, his music blaring so loud you can clearly hear the lyrics through his earbuds. He walks over to where all the free weights are stacked and begins to set up for his own workout.

Shortly after, the floor staff manager enters and asks an entire row of Pilates students to pick up their mats and scoot over...You know, because the gym has "a policy" there is always open space available.

"Sorry, but the Pilates class will just have to adjust and make room..."

...Over in Studio B, a choreographed strength training class has about 15 minutes left of their workout. In walks a preschool class who sits in the back of the room in a circle, and begins a delightful game of duck, duck goose. Their giggles (and screams) are contagious and most of the members in the back of the class have to stop their deadlift sets and just watch.

Do either of these scenarios seem WRONG to you? If your eyebrow raised at this odd behavior, you are not alone! These types of "accommodations" would never fly at any reputable fitness center.

A group exercise studio needs to run like a well oiled machine. You need quality equipment that is clean and not falling apart. If there is limited equipment because of space, they employ a reservation system. Once the class begins, the free space is closed and the space caters only to the specific group fitness. Stereo and microphones are in working order. And most of all, you need quality, certified and trained instructors who auditioned and proved they are capable of teaching the format in which they are licensed.

Land-based classes would never tolerate members doing their own workouts in a reserved space, or accept the concept of "sharing" that space with preschool programming. Yet when we look at how aquatic fitness classes are treated all over the country, those rules fly right out the window.

This is because when most gym members and facility managers look at their pool, they are not thinking that an aquatic fitness class is truly a LIQUID FITNESS STUDIO.

I have been managing aquatic centers for over 15 years now. Small 4-lane pools, massive aquatic centers with 4 pools, including a 10 lane lap pool and EVERYTHING in between. I understand 100% the challenge of balancing a pool both chemically and programmatically. I also know that every time I walked into a new facility I see the exact same thing when it comes to aquatic fitness classes:

  • Guaranteed lap lanes available from open to close always catering to the swimmers (no matter the popularity or size of the aqua fitness class).

  • No sound equipment (mic or stereo), or full expectations of the instructor to invest in their own equipment.

  • Dry, rotted or child-bitten equipment shared with children’s lessons.

  • Popular aquatic fitness classes running during the same time as swim team, lessons or family swim.

  • And the most terrifying but not entirely shocking, is meeting staff with 0 certifications or licenses.

If this is not acceptable in our land-based classes, then why is it tolerated for our aquatic members?

I have 5 key suggestions to help transform the way your facility approaches aquatic fitness. We encourage you to share this information with your facility and help us change the perception of water-based workouts.

  • Certification Matters! You would have a lawsuit waiting to happen if you allowed just anyone off the street to help teach a TRX class. Now mix in the drowning potential and you can see why we put such emphasis on education. Just because they are qualified to teach a general land group fitness class does not mean they are educated to teach in water. Please do not miss how important it is.

  • Equipment Matters! Treat your aquatic equipment like you would your studio equipment. Equipment should be organized, rinsed with fresh water (like we would spray down studio equipment) and most importantly kept separate from any other programs. Equipment should be budgeted to be replaced yearly and never left to be dry rotted, lack of padding in the handles or chunks missing.

  • Sound Matters in the pool environment. Some key things to remember are: A stereo system with at least 100W of sound. Providing a mic for instructors who teach on deck. Being aware of acoustics and working with your facilities director on creative ways to buffer echo in concrete facilities.

  • Smart Dual Programing - Spoiler Alert: Aquatic fitness never mixes well with swim lessons. Take a look at your pool schedule and see if there are opportunities to carve out “studio time” -- 1-2 hours a day, that the majority of the pool is catered to the aquatic fitness class. Prime time swim lessons should most definitely cater to families, but popular time blocks of aquatic fitness should also be considered. If your aquatic fitness class takes the entire shallow end, you can allow your deep end to be utilized by ADULT open swim, or water jogging. Maximizing the time to allow as many people as possible.

  • DO THE MATH! As your class popularity grows, let the space to host those members grow too. I am not saying that 10 people in a class should get all 6 lanes of the pool. But I have seen aquatic fitness classes grow to 40+ members and pool managers continue to ask us to move over so we can accommodate 1-2 lap swimmers. Catering to the 40 will have a better ROI for ONE HOUR then catering to 1-2 lap swimmers who have access to the pool all day. There are no set rules on spacing, as every pool is different in depth, slope and program focus. A fair rule to stand by is every participant should be able to stand on one leg and swing that leg 360 degrees around them and never touch the next person.

Managing aquatic fitness classes and maximizing your pool’s programming potential is no easy task. Keep chiseling away at designing this time as a liquid studio. Consider the member’s point of view and begin to ask questions about what would you prefer if this was a class you were taking.

I promise you, with a little time and the right investment, the aquatic fitness program will grow, and your facility will begin to attract even more in popularity.


About the Author:

Katy Coffey is a S’WET™ MASTER TRAINER teaching aquatic fitness in Boston, Massachusetts. She's been working in aquatics since 2002 and currently holds Instructor Training certifications for the American Red Cross, ASHI and YUSA. She is also an AFAA Certified Group Exercise Instructor, an AEA Aquatic Training Specialist, Master Trainer with Aqua Body Strong and holds a collective of 15 additional fitness certifications for both land and aquatic fitness training.

Contact Katy here:




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