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Protecting Yourself & Your Students

by Jenni Lynn Patterson LaCour

Thinking back to my first experience in an aquatic fitness class, I can remember my "swimmer mindset" changing forever. After years of staring at the pool floor in my lap lane, discovering vertical water fitness was a game changer!

Thankfully I was able to meet my future mentor, FitMotivation founder Mark Grevelding, at an AEA certification training shortly thereafter, and the flow of my aquatic fitness journey began. Making waves and breaking a S’WET™ was filling up my classes with students of all abilities and ages, but like many starting out, I soon came to realize I needed more education. Specifically, I needed to serve what became my most precious and fragile demographic of clientele - my arthritis community, or as I like to call them, my S’WET™ Silver Squad!

I knew a small amount from my personal training certification and some education workshops I had previously attended, but I had to seek out more information. Thankfully the AEA (Aquatic Exercise Association) offered the Arthritis Foundation Leadership Program. This course and the continuing education that I received helped me discover ways of accommodating both my land and water participants, and I found myself being able to give my students multiple modifications during their classes and sessions. Soon I started to see 20-year olds working next to my 80-year olds and BOTH were able to adapt the movements to their needs no matter their abilities or restrictions.

Eventually, the dreaded moment arrived when I needed to find a substitute instructor for my arthritis classes. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack?!

I came to realize there were very few aquatic instructors educated in arthritis guidelines, and after months of trying to find a sub, the aquatic director decided to pull a land instructor onto the pool deck. Please hear me out, I am NOT shaming land instructors who graciously offer to help cover water classes...But not surprisingly, for a land instructor who may have never even taken an aquatic fitness class, let alone understand how different movements are felt in the water, this scenario did not go well.

Sadly, I returned to my classes with a flood of complaints! I heard it all:

  • "He told me to do twists and I told him I wasn’t allowed to. He then insisted 'you can't hurt yourself in the water.'"

  • "She had her back turned to us for more than half the class duration!"

  • "He gave the class extra large hand buoys which I couldn’t grip and then shamed me for putting them on the side of the pool when my hands and shoulders hurt."

  • "She kept insisting that I jump higher and wouldn’t listen to me when I told her this was hurting my back and knees."

Needless to say I was horrified! As an instructor who cares deeply for their students and their well being, I couldn't believe the aquatic director allowed someone unqualified and uneducated teach such a special population without the proper training. Isn’t the purpose of serving all populations to help them live a healthier and more movement rich lifestyle?!

Can you imagine the uproar if a yoga class was subbed out by a Zumba trainer who didn't know a downward facing dog from a warrior pose? Or a pilates class subbed by a CrossFit instructor who insisted everyone push themselves beyond their limits because..."you can't hurt yourself" stretching? I posed these questions to management but got no real answers. I got the same message a lot of us hear: "It was just a water class" and they were "in a jam."

I know I’m not the only instructor or educator that truly believes we have a responsibility to protect and help our clients/students. This is why education and structure mean so much to me, because they SERVE people’s lives for the better. A "great personality" and "rocking playlist" will never cover up the fact that an instructor lacks the education and training in a specialized format.

In arthritis training, we’re taught to keep an open line of communication with our students, even after the class has ended. This allows us to inquire about useful information such as The Two Hour Pain Rule: if exercise-induced joint pain lasts more than two hours, then the program was too intense or difficult, thus the previous routine needs to be restructured to accommodate these individual’s specific needs/abilities.

As my aquatic career has evolved, I still continue to S’WET™ it out with my able bodies participants, but my arthritis and active-agers hold a place near and dear to my heart. Watching my students build their strength and balance and increase their everyday activities truly helped me understand why I chose this career.

I continue to educate myself with more specialized education as this is what not only helps me evolve as an instructor, but better serve my community and ensure their safety during each workout. This also increases their trust in me, knowing I will do my best to work within their capabilities and seek out modifications for movements that they may need extra care in performing.

So as we begin a new year, my ask to instructors is please seek out further education. Find specialized programs and certifications that will further your own experience and skill sets. Besides keeping your career interesting, it will allow you to offer even more programming and class options in the future.

And to the directors and facility management, PLEASE STOP allowing unqualified and untested staff to teach formats they have no training or education in. Invest in your team! Insist they educate and train more. If not for themselves, for your students and members to whom all of us have a responsibility to serve and protect.

It is all of our personal and professional responsibilities.


Jenni Lynn Patterson-LaCour is a NSCA-CPT (National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer), AEA Aquatic Training Specialist & CEC Provider, AFAA Group Fitness Instructor & CEC Provider and NASM CEC Provider. With a Bachelor's Degree in Health Psychology, Jenni Lynn combined her knowledge of neuromuscular and physical conditioning with her love for swimming and aquatic fitness to create S’WET™.

S’WET™ combines muscle, strength and high intensity interval training (HIIT) with advanced cardio, plyometrics, unique equipment from around the world, and a splash of fun!

Contact Jenni:


New Workshop Coming 2022:

In an effort to help facilities expose their land-based instructors to the philosophy and practice of aquatic fitness, the S'WET™ SQUAD team has built out a brand new comprehensive workshop, TURF TO SURF: Effective Strategies to take Land-Based Exercises to the Pool! It's the perfect way for instructors with little to no experience with water fitness to get their feet wet and learn how they can "aquafy" their repertoire.

Stay tuned for details on how you can register to attend, online or in person!


Now's your chance to join in online! Take one class, two or three, a whole week or sign up for all 28 sessions! Best yet, if you can't attend the LIVE session with Jenni Lynn on the date and time of the class, you'll still get access to the recorded version to follow along at your own pace!




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