Aqua Fitness:
The Biggest Challenges for 2023

by Sara Kooperman, JD

As the world of aqua fitness (along with everyone else), continues to emerge from the pandemic, tides of change and many new challenges are washing up on the shores for clubs, managers, instructors, and participants.  While some of these changes are being welcomed and are long overdue, others are presenting issues that may affect schedules, numbers, budgets, and the future of water exercise.

The biggest challenge managers will most likely face regarding aquatics fitness programs for 2023 is finding certified aqua instructors. When the pandemic hit, pools were closed. Therefore, many instructors left the industry, needing to find other sources of income and means of teaching. There is definitely a shortage of instructors despite the fact that facilities have reopened, and participants have returned. Knowledgeable Managers are also needed to maintain consistency with their programs. This means that if a program is called “aqua fit”, the class be taught should be consistent even when different instructors teach it. Students show up to take a class thinking it’s the same program they took on Monday (today is Wednesday), but because the instructor is different, the entire program has changed. Maintaining consistency between cueing references, physical demonstration, and musical selections is important. Using consistent and easy-to-follow choreography so the student does not feel lost in every class, will assist with growing your program attendance. The best thing to do in this situation is have the same instructor teach the same class at the same time, at least twice or three times a week. If this is not possible, work diligently to build a team of instructors that can encourage, support, and mentor each other. This may mean training land-based instructors willing to expand their teaching skills.

The biggest challenge for instructors of aquatic exercise in 2023 most likely will be finding an appropriate substitute instructor should they get sick, injured, or simply go on vacation. Finding an appropriate substitute can make or break a program. Students like consistency and high-quality and unless we can increase our instructor base by adding new instructors, we will be at a loss to maintain quality in our aquatic programs. if instructors can find a substitute when they need one, this substitute must be familiar not only with the program, but hopefully with the clientele as well. This means that an appropriate substitute must “take” the class at least once and be introduced to the students in the class.  This is difficult to do financially. Do we pay the substitute instructor to simply attend the class? Do we require the substitute instructor to attend the class before they teach? These are difficult questions to address. The manager should have a plan in place for unforeseen situations. This might be as simple as videotaping each instructor’s program so that when a substitute is needed, even last minute, a video of the class can be forwarded to the substitute instructor. This at least will make the substitute instructor familiar with the regular instructor’s music, choreography, and cueing. It is not perfect, but at least the substitute instructor will be familiar with what is expected.

The biggest challenge in 2023 for students, is to find classes that are led by quality instructors on a consistent timetable. This all comes down to us, needing more instructors and requiring consistency and quality of teachers. Participants are flooding back to aquatic exercise. This is a safe and comfortable environment for individuals that have been sitting on the couch and possibly walking in a mall for the past 2 1/2 years. Also, with the trend towards wellness, more and more older adults, and out of shape individuals are seeking a comfortable exercise environment. Aquatics provides this environment. But if we don’t have enough instructors, and we don’t have enough classes on the schedule, this will frustrate our participants and they will most likely leave to find something else more suitable.

In summary, recovering from the pandemic requires quality instructors, consistent training, techniques, and attracting and maintaining certified teachers. One of the silver linings from the pandemic is that aquatic exercise offers the perfect environment for someone to begin a fitness regime. The buoyancy of the water and cool environment makes it a more comfortable venue for most exercisers. It might be suggested that students are encouraged to wear nylon T-shirts or long sleeve shirts over their bathing suits, which may serve to cover their bodies if they are intimidated or uncomfortable or become chilled easily.

Another silver lining is that finding certified instructors or getting your frontline students to get certified is easier than ever. There are live training options at every mania, fit pro instructor conferences, and live stream and online recorded Certifications. Aqua programs like LaBlast, Zumba, and WATERinMOTION®, offer pre-choreographed options, making it easy to learn and teach a variety of formats. Maintaining one’s certification and getting educated is easier now than ever. The pandemic accelerated all AI (Artificial Intelligenc) offerings. Zooming is easier than ever, recordings are of higher quality, and Certifications are more plentiful than ever.

2023 Promises to be the year of aquatics! Let’s hope everyone takes the plunge!


About the Author, Sara Kooperman, JD

Sara Kooperman, JD, CEO of SCW Fitness Education, WATERinMOTION®, and S.E.A.T. Fitness sits on the Gold’s Gym Think Tank and the canfitpro Advisory Panel and was a founding board member for the Women In Fitness Association (WIFA). Recently nominated for the IDEA Fitness Leader of the Year Award, Kooperman won the 2022 Most Innovating Fitness Pro by Fitness Industry Technology Council. She is also an inductee into the National Fitness Hall of Fame, an Illinois State Businesswoman of the Year, and an esteemed panelist for IHRSA’s Talks & Takes Monthly Talk Show.


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