Let’s Talk Aquatic Fitness Equipment!

By: Tom Ford

Aquatic fitness equipment comes in all shapes, sizes, and materials, but when categorizing them the majority of aquatic fitness equipment is either resistive or assistive.

Resistive equipment usually is made of an injection molded piece of plastic. This plastic is usually neutrally buoyant meaning it floats but that flotation does not create resistance. The resistance is created as the individual moves the equipment through the water.

Assistive equipment is usually made of Styrofoam and Styrofoam floats. The amount of flotation provides the resistance. It is called assistive because Styrofoam will always want to push up to the surface assisting the user on the way up. Resistance is created when the user pushes or holds the equipment under the water. The resistance depends on the amount or thickness or type of the Styrofoam the equipment utilizes.

Pros and Cons of Assistive (Styrofoam) Equipment:

There are 2 types of assistive Styrofoam:

Closed-cell Styrofoam is more dense and solid (no holes). This type tends to last longer and is usually more expensive.

Open-cell Styrofoam is less dense with holes, less expensive, and more prone to getting waterlogged, getting ripped, or torn.

Styrofoam equipment can be solid or have a hollow center which can contribute to quicker waterlogging and faster breakdown.  A large majority of aquatic fitness equipment is assistive or made of Styrofoam.

A few pros to assistive aquatic fitness equipment are flotation and creating less impact. Flotation can assist participants to be more comfortable in the water, especially in deeper water.  It can also aid participants in performing certain exercises.  Assistive equipment provides help to eliminate stress on joints by reducing impact while exercising in the water.

Let us review assistive or Styrofoam aquatic exercise equipment! First, it provides flotation allowing users to have less stress on the body during exercise. Next it reassures users who are not as comfortable in the water. As for cost, assistive equipment can be less expensive in the short term but with a shorter useful life expectancy.  In other words, the equipment will need to be replaced more frequently.

Pros and Cons of Resistive (Plastic) Equipment:

With a resistive types of equipment, the user provides the energy or speed to create resistance. The shape and size of the equipment will also contribute to the amount of drag provided. The bigger and/or wider the equipment the more drag.  Size and drag will also affect a user’s ability to utilize the equipment effectively and safely.

Resistive aquatic exercise equipment can and does come in many shapes and sizes.  

Because of the process of making this type of equipment, the cost tends to be higher than the assistive type of equipment. That said, plastic is more durable than Styrofoam, so the longevity of resistive equipment is longer and therefore does not need to be replaced as often.

Now some resistive equipment does have moving or interchangeable parts. This can allow for progressive strength gains, but it can also create the possibility of broken, lost, or stuck parts.

Resistive equipment is omnidirectional. This means that whichever direction or plane the user is moving, there will be resistance. This allows for more complete muscle involvement and balanced strength gains while being utilized.

As a con, resistive equipment does not provide flotation. This does provide for more stress on all muscles and joints that are being utilized.

In summary, resistive or plastic aquatic exercise equipment does not provide flotation and therefore creates more stress on the muscles and joints being utilized. The useful life expectancy is longer, so less equipment is being purchased over time. This allows clubs and individuals to save money in the long run.

Both types of equipment; resistive and assistive, are useful, beneficial, and needed in aquatic exercise programs. Play with both types and find out what your clients want and need. Understand how both can be used effectively and safely for your clients. Utilizing both in your aquatic exercise programs will allow you and your clients to have- more fun, be creative, and produce more effective programming! Resist and assist on!

If you’re interested in trying a new piece of resistive aquatic equipment just entering the fitness market, check out boq Aquatic Fitness Equipment.  This hand-held omnidirectional pair of plastic rings provides self-powered resistance in a small surface area.  Its small size allows for portability and produces all the resistance you may need, boqs are designed for years of fitness and fun and are 100% recyclable.  If you’d like to experience boqs, join the creator, Tom Ford, at Atlanta MANIA®, July 19-21.  Punch, jab, and hook your way through the water with this innovative aqua gear.  Get registered today and save $100 on a 3-day weekend you will never forget. As a registered attendee of Atlanta MANIA®, you will receive a 10% discount on each set of boqs purchased.

About the Author: Tom Ford

A graduate of VA Tech with a BS in Exercise Science with an emphasis in sports medicine, Tom has over 35 years of experience in athletic training, personal fitness, aquatic fitness, injury prevention, and rehab. He has worked in professional, collegiate, and high school athletics as well as with moms, dads, and grandparents. Tom’s experience as an adjunct professor, personal trainer, health coach, aquatics director, and aquatic fitness equipment & programming creation continues to grow every day. One of the most important lessons Tom has learned is giving, listening, and respecting each person as an individual. He provides instruction and coaching with heart, integrity, and humor. Tom has created boq Aquatic Fitness Equipment and boqua Aquatic Fitness Programming to improve lives through aquatic exercise!

Summer Splash with SCW

Summer is upon us and so is outdoor pool fitness.  Don’t miss out on training in the beautiful Zen pool at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta Buckhead, July 19-21, at SCW Atlanta MANIA®. Come “Ride the Wave” with Manuel Velazquez, “Ballroom Blitz” with Louis van Amstel, and new to the pool “Country Fusion Aquatics” with Elizabeth Mooney, just to name a few of the awe-inspiring presenters and 15 water workshops. Get registered today and save $60.

No Pool, No Problem.  Join SCW online at the upcoming Live-Stream Active Aging Summit, July 27-28, with a whole track devoted to AQUA.  This virtual 2-day event features six focused rooms all related to Active Aging education and pre-con certifications including Ageless Training Academy Pilates with Leslie Bender, Functional Training Specialist with Dan Ritchie, Symmetry Postural Measurement with Patrick Mummy, and top-rated SCW Certifications. Registration opens soon so watch your inbox.

Stretches for Your Water Fitness Classes

By: Christine Alexander
Courtesy of Water Fitness Lessons

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible and healthy, and maintains the range of motion in our joints. Without stretching our muscles shorten and become tight. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching at least 2-3 times a week and notes that daily stretching is the most effective. Most adults should hold a stretch 10-30 seconds, but older adults get greater benefits from holding the stretch for 30-60 seconds. Bring the stretch to your full range of motion, but not past the point of pain. Avoid bouncing, which could lead to an injury. The other way to stretch is to slowly move a joint through its full range of motion. It is important to warm up the muscles before you begin to stretch. That means that for water fitness participants, the ideal time to stretch is at the end of class.

Muscles that need stretching include the gastrocnemius (calf), hamstrings, quadriceps, iliopsoas (hip flexors), adductors (inner thigh), gluteus medius (outer thigh), trapezius (upper back), pectorals (chest), anterior deltoids (front of shoulder), sternocleidomastoid (side of the neck), erector spinae (lower back) and obliques (waist). You probably don’t have time to stretch all of those at the end of class, but you can stretch the muscles that you worked especially hard that day. Sometimes instructors get in a rut of performing the same stretches – calf stretch, quad stretch, clasp the hands behind the back – all the time. One way to mix it up is to stretch a muscle you don’t usually include, like holding a side lunge to stretch the inner thigh, or giving yourself a hug to stretch the upper back, or bringing the ear toward the shoulder to stretch the neck. Here are some other ideas:

Use the Pool Wall. For the front of the shoulder, face the wall, stretch one arm to the side with the palm on the wall; turn away from that shoulder. For the hamstrings, place the bottom of the foot on the wall at hip level, then hinge forward from the hips. For the calf, do the runner’s stretch. For the hip flexors, stand close to the wall and lift one straight leg to the back, pushing the hip toward the wall. For the quadriceps, turn your back to the wall and place the bottom of the foot on the wall. For the waist, turn one side to the wall and place that hand on the deck, stretch the other arm overhead and lean in toward the wall.

Noodle Assisted Stretches. You can stretch the leg with a noodle under the thigh. It may be difficult for some participants to thread the noodle under the thigh, but most people can straddle the noodle like a bicycle. From that position it is easy to push the noodle under the thigh. Straighten the leg to stretch the hamstrings. Some participants will be able to push the noodle to the ankle for this stretch. If they can put the noodle under the ankle, pivoting and bringing the knee down becomes a noodle assisted quad stretch. With the noodle under the thigh, open the hip and bring the knee to the side to stretch the inner thigh. Sit on the noodle like a bicycle and put one ankle on the opposite knee to stretch the outer thigh. Still sitting on the noodle, grasp the noodle with both hands behind the back and push it toward the floor to stretch the chest. Hold the noodle in the hands like a rainbow and lean to one side to stretch the waist. Or stretch the waist by placing the rainbow on the surface of the water and rotating in a slow waist twist.

Dynamic Stretches. This means moving a joint slowly through its full range of motion. If the pool water is cool, dynamic stretches are the way to go. Extend the left arm to the side with the thumb up and walk in a clockwise circle to stretch the front of the shoulder; with the right arm walk counterclockwise. Make big figure eights with the arms to stretch the shoulders. Walk forward with the arms pointing down at an angle to the sides, dragging the arms behind you to stretch the chest. Swing one leg forward and back through its full range of motion for the hip flexors. Do a slow pendulum side to side for the inner and outer thighs. Or swing one leg to the side, cross it in front of the other foot, swing it back to the side and then cross it behind the other foot. A crossover step stretches the outer thigh.

Ai Chi. These slow gentle movements are a form of dynamic stretching originated by Jun Konno in Japan. Ruth Sova gave the postures their names. The movements are breath centered and performed in flowing patterns. There are 19 postures, or movements, some for the upper body, some for the lower body. You can do an entire class of Ai Chi, or you can do some of the postures for stretching and relaxation at the end of class. Click on Jun Konno to see a 9 minute-30 second video demonstration. For more information you can purchase Ruth Sova’s Book Ai Chi: The Water Way to Health and Healing.

Yoga Poses. Water Yoga is another option for adding variety to the stretching part of a class. Many poses are performed standing, such as Mountain, Chair, Goddess, Triangle, Warrior I and Warrior II. Some are balance poses such as Tree, Side Leg Lift, Half Moon. Figure Four, Dancer and Warrior III. You can do poses without equipment, or you can add props like noodles or kickboards. For more information you can click on Christa Fairbrother’s 3-minute video demonstration, or purchase her book Water Yoga: A Teacher’s Guide to Improving Movement, Health and Wellbeing.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) Stretching. This may be the most effective technique for increasing range of motion. It involves moving the shoulder joint or hip joint in diagonal patterns through all three planes of motion. There are two diagonal patterns for the upper extremity, called D1 UE and D2 UE; and two diagonal patterns for the lower extremity called D1 LE, and D2 LE. Click on the links at the name of each stretch for short videos on how to perform the four patterns.

Controlled Articular Rotations (CARS). These are rotations around a joint either toward or away from the midline of the body. They are called controlled because they are performed slowly in order to flood the joint with synovial fluid. These motions improve the mobility of the joint. Rotations can be performed with ten joints: neck, thoracic spine, shoulders, scapula, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, ankle, and lumbar spine. To see video demonstrations of each of these movements, click on Larissa Armstrong-Kager, a practitioner of this technique.

As you can see, there are multiple options for the stretches at the end of your water fitness class. Try something new and let me know how it went. See you in the pool!

About the Author: Christine Alexander

Christine is a nationally certified water fitness instructor through the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA). She is the author of Water Fitness Progressions and of Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography and a blog. Christine has been teaching water fitness and mentoring other instructors for 30 years. She currently teaches 8 classes a week at Oak Point Recreation Center for the Plano Parks and Recreation Department.    

Balance … It’s Complicated

By: Cody Sipe
Courtesy of Personal Fitness Professional

Many people think of balance as a single thing and either they have good balance or they don’t, but it is much more complicated than that. Balance is a multi-factorial concept and proper balance is dependent on multiple systems and movement strategies. These three core concepts are critical to balance training: base of support, center of gravity control and limits of stability. Balance, at its simplest, can be considered to be control of the body’s center of mass over the base of support and within a person’s limits of stability.

Base of support (BOS) refers to the area beneath a person that includes every point of contact that they make with the supporting surface. In a standing position, a person’s foot position determines their base of support. A wide foot position provides a large and stable BOS, while a narrow or single foot position creates a small and more unstable BOS. A basic progression from larger to smaller BOS is as follows:
  1. Wide
  2. Shoulder-width
  3. Feet together (side by side)
  4. Semi-tandem
  5. Tandem
  6. Single Leg
The Center of Gravity (COG), also called Center of Mass, is located just below the navel and just inside the abdominal wall for most people, although some may have an altered center of mass due to abdominal obesity or poor posture. Postural control is the ability to keep one’s COG within their base of support during either static (feet do not move) or dynamic (feet move or change position) activities. If a person’s COG moves outside their BOS, then they will begin to fall and will need to make quick postural adjustments in order to regain their balance. How far a person can move their COG without losing balance is called their Limits of Stability (LOS).
A person’s LOS tend to decrease as they get older so that they cannot lean as far without having to take a step, but it can improve through training. The key is to move as far as possible in all directions (to their LOS) without falling.
For example, during a forward lean they should lean far enough so that their heels are about to come off the ground, while during a backwards lean they should feel their toes start to come off the ground. If they only stay within their comfortable range of motion, then they won’t challenge themselves enough to make improvements.
Since most falls occur during dynamic movements, such as walking, it is highly recommended to challenge COG with dynamic exercises. Walking (starting and stopping), stepping (on, off, over), and changing directions/turning are all ways to challenge COG control dynamically. Increasing movement speed and complexity add to the challenge.

About the Author: Cody Sipe

Dr. Cody Sipe has an extensive background in the fitness industry with 20 years of experience as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, program director, exercise physiologist and club owner. He is currently an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Research in the physical therapy program at Harding University. He has spent his career researching, developing and practicing the most effective training strategies to improve function in older adults. He has completed certifications as an ACSM Exercise Specialist, ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, FallProof Balance and Mobility Enhancement Specialist and more. His secondary area of expertise is in the prevention and management of chronic disease conditions, especially those that accompany the aging process such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. In 2005 he was honored with the IDEA Program Director of the Year award.

U.S. Drowning Rates Increase: Swimming Lesson Accessibility Can Save Lives

Courtesy of CDC

Drowning deaths were higher in recent years

Over 4,500 people drowned each year in the United States from 2020–2022. This is about 500 more drowning deaths each year compared to 2019. Groups already at higher risk saw the greatest increases in deaths, including young children and older adults of all races and ethnicities, and Black people of all ages.

Drowning deaths differed by age

  • Drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages 1–4.
    • Drowning increased by 28% among children ages 1–4 in 2022 compared to 2019.
  • Adults 65 years of age and older had the second highest rate of drowning.
    • Drowning increased by 19% in adults ages 65–74 in 2022 compared to 2019.

Drowning deaths differed by race and ethnicity

  • American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) people had higher drowning rates than any other race and ethnic group.
    • Although drowning did not increase among AIAN people during 2020–2022, rates in this group remained higher than those of any other race or ethnicity.
  • Black people have the second highest drowning rates.
    • In 2021, drowning increased 28% among Black people compared to 2019.

40 million adults do not know how to swim

Basic swimming and water safety skills training is a proven, effective way to prevent drowning. Some groups of people are less likely to report taking swimming lessons.

  • More than 1 in 3 Black adults (37%) reported not knowing how to swim compared to 15% of all adults.
  • About 2 in 3 Black adults (63%) reported never taking a swimming lesson.
  • About 3 in 4 Hispanic adults (72%) reported never taking a swimming lesson.

Differences in access to swimming lessons are one barrier that could contribute to these outcomes. Swimming lessons can be expensive or may not be available in some communities. When swimming lessons are available, some people may be hesitant to participate due to complex social and cultural factors. Everyone should have access to basic swimming and water safety skills training.

The U.S. National Water Safety Action Plan helps states and local communities identify actions that can prevent drowning. The plan has specific recommendations for improving basic swimming and water safety skills training. It focuses on increasing access to swimming lesson programs that meet community needs.

Identifying issues that increase drowning risk

Identifying why drowning has increased and why some groups of people or communities are at higher risk requires better data. We need to understand how to make basic swimming and water safety skills training more accessible. Reported barriers include:

  • Swimming lessons too expensive or not accessible.
  • Fear of water.
  • Pool setting or training not welcoming.
  • Feeling uncomfortable wearing traditional swimwear.

Many more barriers exist, and some are complex and not well understood. We can develop and carry out inclusive programs that best meet each community’s needs when we understand a community’s unique social and cultural elements. Better data give us that insight.

Historical and social factors and the pandemic may be contributing to inequities

Many Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native people report lack of access to pools as a barrier to swimming lessons. Racial segregation led to few options and many of the available pools were often poorly maintained or too shallow for swimming. Many public pools closed after racial desegregation and communities built fewer new pools over the decades. The legacy of this and other discrimination may influence current generations’ attitudes about and participation in swimming lessons.

During the pandemic, many public pools closed, which limited the availability of swimming lessons. Once pools reopened, many facilities faced shortages of trained swimming instructors and lifeguards. This has further reduced access to swimming lessons.

Over half of U.S. adults have never taken a swimming lesson

Only 28% of Hispanic people and 37% of Black people have taken swimming lessons.

Take steps to reduce drowning risk

Increasing access to basic swimming and water safety skills training can reduce the risk of drowning. Here are 5 tips to get started.

Public health professionals and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments can

  • Make basic swimming and water safety skills training available and affordable for everyone in your community.
  • Determine whether new policies or laws are needed to improve access to safe swimming.
  • Identify areas that don’t have safe places to swim or take swimming lessons. Build or revitalize pools in these areas.
  • Make it a priority to have diverse, equitable, culturally appropriate, and inclusive swimming and water safety skills training.
  • Use the U.S. National Water Safety Action Plan [4.3 MB, 48 pages] to create state and local action plans. CDC was one of many contributors to the plan, which was created by drowning prevention organizations and hundreds of volunteer experts across the country.

Aquatics training providers can

  • Assess community needs to understand barriers that keep people from taking swimming lessons.
  • Use or adapt existing aquatic programs that demonstrate respect and cultural understanding of people in your community so everyone feels welcome.
  • Identify partners in your community that can help you connect with people at the highest risk of drowning.
  • Ensure water safety information is part of swimming lessons, such as wearing life jackets and supervising children in or near the water.

CDC supports young families by working with partners in several ways. These include collecting data to better understand drowning risk and barriers to swimming lessons and working with partners to improve access to effective basic swimming and water safety skills training, especially for people at increased risk of drowning.

Everyone can

  • Learn how to swim. Take basic swimming and water safety skills training. This is hands-on training that takes place in the water.
  • Make sure children get basic swimming and water safety skills training.
  • Find swimming lessons in your area.
  • Pay close attention to children—even those who have had swimming lessons—whenever they are in or near water, including pools, bathtubs, and even buckets of water.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before and during swimming and boating, and wear life jackets.

See Preventing Drowning for more drowning prevention tips.

How to Rewire Your Brain for Health

By: Austin Perlmutter, MD
Courtesy of Austinperlmutter

Each day, with each passing moment, our brains are changing. This reality reflects an incredible opportunity as well as potential risk. So how do we harness brain change for our benefit, rather than watching as our brains change for the worse? In this article, we’re exploring the science of rewiring the brain and practical steps to take to ensure it goes in your favor.

The idea that the human brain changes across the lifespan is one of the most potent ideas in all of neuroscience, countering hundreds of years belief that brain was generally “fixed” in adulthood. In scientific circles, brain rewiring is called “neuroplasticity,” and the basic idea is that the strength and number of connections between our brain cells is dynamic and is altered by our interactions with the world around us. Brain rewiring can be observed at the level of an individual brain cell, or at the level of network changes and activation patterns across large areas of the brain.

Neuroplasticity is believed to be driven by a host of different pathways at the molecular and cellular level. While the specifics are complex, the general theme is that the activity of brain cells changes the strength and number of connections between them. This concept was famously described by psychologist Donald Hebb, who proposed that brain cells “that fire together, wire together.” 

The effects of neuroplasticity on our understanding of human brain health are far reaching and significant. For example, neuroplasticity after stroke is believed to help explain recovery of lost brain function, while neuroplasticity linked to meditation is related to beneficial effects of this practice on cognitive and mental health. But while neuroplasticity is generally seen as a positive, it’s important to understand that this is not always the case. Early life adverse events (ACEs) and other forms of psychological trauma may lead to long-term brain issues through neuroplasticity.

How do we harness neuroplasticity for our benefit?

One of the most critical ideas to understand as it relates to benefiting from neuroplasticity is incredibly straightforward: our brains are always changing, and we get to decide if that change is directed at better or worse brain health. To this end, taking a more conscious role in directing our brain change for our benefit means paying attention to what we consume and how we consume it. Here are 4 key steps:

1. Build healthy new brain connections with novelty, artistic experiences, and new learning. Research shows that when we stretch our brains it may activate healthy neuroplasticity. This can be anything from learning an instruments or language to traveling, practicing a new language, trying public speaking, or engaging in artistic pursuits.

2. Activate neuroplasticity pathways through exercise. Of all the activities linked to healthier brain function and prevention of dementia, exercise may be the most important. One reason for this appears to be through physical activity’s effects on neuroplasticity. In a host of studies, researchers have shown that people who exercise demonstrate changes in brain imaging and lab analysis suggesting an amping up of healthy neuroplasticity. Moving your body for 20-30 minutes is therefore an incredible neuroplastic tool.

3. Mitigate the effects of chronic stress when possible. Stress is a part of all our lives, and there’s no doubt that some stress is both healthy and helpful for our brains. However, chronic, unmitigated stress is linked to host of brain issues, and the mechanism is in part through its effects on neuroplasticity. To this end, evidence-based stress-mitigation practices to consider include meditation, time in nature, breathwork and other mindfulness practices. For some, seeking the care of a mental health professional can be an important step in this process.

4. Skip highly processed food and excessive alcohol consumption. While the effects may be more subtle for many dietary changes, research shows that consuming an ultraprocessed diet is linked to a variety of markers of unhealthy brain changes. This work suggests that eating too much junk food including foods and beverages with added sugar may compromise healthy neuroplasticity. Alcohol use has been associated with lower levels of BDNF, a protein involved in neuroplasticity.

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