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How Aquatics Will Save Your Gym

by Katy Coffey

A recent survey by The New Consumer and Coefficient Capital asked 3,500 Americans if they had tried working out from home during the pandemic. 76% of people said yes. More importantly 66% stated they preferred it! And among millennials, 82% answered yes to working out at home with 81% claiming the switch is more preferable than the gym.


So in the age of booming at-home fitness programs like Peloton, Daily Burn and Beachbody On Demand, one has to ask the question, is there anything a gym can do to draw back their fleeing membership?


The answer to that question: THE POOL. But only if managers look beyond offering the basics of lap swim & lessons.



Let’s first look at the specifics of why in a post-pandemic world facilities should focus on aquatic programming.


Since March 2020, the CDC has not changed its stance on the safety of a properly run pool stating, the “CDC is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes COVID-19 spreading to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds, or other treated aquatic venues.”


Let’s repeat that. No reports of COVID-19 spreading to people through pool water.


An April 2021 study in the UK published by Swimming.org states the “virus does not survive” in pool water. In fact, their results found that the pool actually “inactivates COVID-19 virus in 30 seconds.”

The research established that 1.5mg per litre of free chlorine with a pH between 7-7.2 reduced the infectivity of the virus by more than 1000 fold within 30 seconds. Additional testing of different free chlorine and pH ranges confirmed that chlorine in swimming pool water was more effective with a lower pH – which is in line with current guidance for swimming pool operations.


Essentially patrons are bathing in proper sanitation. Most countries also have strict air quality standards in their indoor pool facilities so with proper ventilation, any possible virus transmission will either pull up and out of the facility, or would drop back into the water to be neutralized. Outdoor pools, of course, have plenty of ventilation, but also the UV rays of the sun to help combat the virus.


So there is no doubt that the pool is by far the safest place for your members to work out. Yet most managers still look at their pools as a money pit, and oftentimes this may be true. Therein lies the problem. The pools have been run the same way for years.


Here is where aquatics could change the outcome of your facility.


Right now we need to pivot away from only catering to 1 lap swimmer or 1 swim class at a time, and instead consider how many more members can be served safely within an aquatic fitness class.


Depending on your pool depth, 3 lanes can serve up to 15 members with proper social distancing in a shallow water class. And this number can be doubled if offering a dual depth circuit class. You can learn more about how circuits might help your facility in my article on the AEA Website.


The pool should be the center point of your fitness schedule. These classes can safely host quality group fitness, servicing a variety of abilities and intensity levels. And with seasoned certified aquatic fitness instructors at the helm, your facility should be able to replicate what is missing on land and bring those at-home members back to your pool.


To do this make sure your pool is following some key advice:


Certification & Education is key.


A group exercise class coordinator would never hire a TRX instructor to teach a spin class, or a yoga instructor to sub Hiit Boot Camp. So why do we keep doing this for aquatic fitness classes?


It is essential that licensed and properly trained fitness instructors are safely teaching the format offered. The same goes for the pool. Your 16 year old lifeguard cannot and should not be your group aquatic fitness instructor, nor should your favorite personal trainer sub a Stand Up Paddle Board fitness class. (True Story: I once attended a subbed class where the trainer actually warmed us up using burpees!!!)


There are an abundance of certifications & training programs out there! Check out the AEA Alliance page for just a quick snapshot of options available for your instructors. And if you’re looking to find an experienced instructor in your area check out Swim & Sweat’s People 2 Pool Instructor Finder Tool!



Can’t find a qualified instructor who will draw in the people? Consider hosting a specialized instructor training at your facility! Hosting a public event is often free to the facility. The host site simply needs to carve out a few hours in the pool during an 8 hour training, as the remainder of the time trainers will be working with instructors in a classroom setting. As an added bonus, host sites typically get 1-2 instructors trained for free!


Need a recommendation of companies worth hosting? Here are just a few of my favorite I have personally hosted:


Invest in your pool’s tools and programming.

I know I know, there is literally no money right now, hence the reason we need people to come back to our facilities!!! If you are trying to introduce new programming to ensure safety, handing out pool noodles with bite marks and dry rotting hand buoys is not a message of safety & sanitation.


With a little investment in new aquatic equipment, you may just see some dramatic results. Check out AEA Aquatic Training Specialist Craig Yaniglos’s podcast interview where Craig offers some creative tips for aquatic fitness facilities struggling with their budgets to help raise money and awareness for their communities. He also discusses how investing in specialized programming and equipment can draw new participants and memberships to a facility.

Encourage your staff to attend fitness conferences.


Companies such as SCW Fitness, Fitness Fest & IAFC can inspire and change not only your staff, but even your members. I personally love attending these events, and every year I invite my students to attend as well. I have seen them fall in love with the new wave of aquatic fitness and have even inspired a few to become instructors as well.



Get into the pool and try it yourself.


No really. I am floored by the number of managers who have never stepped foot into the pool and actually sampled the workouts offered by their own instructors at their facilities. Better yet, take my previous recommendation and go to a fitness festival or workshop yourself. Educate yourself under a master trainer. Feel how the water can transform your workout. Touch the products they are demonstrating and see how their shelf life is much longer than the dollar store noodles purchased each year for your members.


Over the past 12 years I have personally followed each of the steps above at 6 different locations and each facility had the same outcome: maximum number of enrollment for individual fitness classes, measurable growth in membership as the community grew in popularity through these classes, and most importantly fostering the heart of giving back to the community. Added Bonus: once they saw their needs were being met, the aquatic fitness members were the first to give back during donation season!


The pool doubles as both a fitness center and a community center. It can give freedom of movement to the injured, push the limits of the elite athlete and protect the mama to be. The pool self cleans all your equipment - more than 7 times stronger in sanitation than required to dismember the virus - and if properly set up, can also be the total body gym your members need.


So yeah, the pool might just be what saves your gym. Are you ready to use it?


Katy Coffey is the Sr. Director of Aquatics for the YMCA of Greater Boston. She is a S’WET™ Master Trainer and an Aquatic Training Specialist Trainee with the AEA.

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