Shallow & Deep H20 Training – Similar Yet Different

Depending upon the configuration of your pool, you may be able to choose between shallow only and/or deep-water depths to offer a vareity of program options. Although, it IS preferable to keep everyone attending the same class in the same depth of water – often this is simply not possible. Classes have grown too big and offering two depths simultaneously provides students with more space to really move (and travel). Often there is also a preference in water depth (bottom contact and/or non bottom contact). Because no two people can realistically move at the same speed or range of motion in the water you must design a program that can be adjusted to suit each individual when planning your class You want to provide a good workout BUT one size does not fit all. So learning how to adjust basic moves to keep everyone moving – is key to success of your class.

Therefore, you may need to offer a combination of the two depths within one program -that way you can keep everyone moving and happy!

The decision should be : “which depth is the most suitable that will allow everyone to get the most benefit out of their time in the pool?” Generally speaking the Instructor must choose which depth is suitable for their people ( although both depths provide unique benefits). Factor in that some participants are real “water babies” and think one depth is better than the other, all have unique skills and bodies, and some people may be fearful of taking the feet off the pool floor.

In other words, the instructor has to suggest the most suitable water depth and help participants to be aware of the similarities and differences found at each depth. The instructor must keep both groups moving and benefitting (which is the most difficult to teach as deep water movements are 1/2 to 1/3 slower than land speeds (if participant utilizes full range of motion). Therefore, the instructor should be prepared to teach many levels and two different programs = simultaneously!

Similarities between Shallow and Deep Water Depths

It is possible to teach the same biomechanical moves to clients in both depths for both cardio and muscle conditioning, but because of the differences in pool floor contact, they must be trained to use the correct working or body positions to maintain good body alignment and perform each movement correctly through their best ROM. Adjustments for levels of intensity and/or modifications can be offered for each water depth. The rule of thumb is: Always allow your participants to choose their best level and work-out at their own pace (intensity and speed).

In both depths the properties of water can be used to assist movement or add extra resistance. Inertia currents can be used for balance checks and core strengthening. Hydrostatic pressure increases with depth to protect joints with a water bandage.

Buoyancy can lift or float the body upwards so care must be taken to adapt to this change. Each person’s buoyancy depends on body composition: (the ratio of fat free mass (muscles) to the amount of body fat). Every participant has to learn sufficient water skills to move efficiently to attain a workout suitable to their body type especially if/when any buoyant equipment is added to the program.

Differences: Shallow versus Deep H2O Depths

Shallow water training depth is defined as using water – waist to chest depth where the feet can maintain contact with the pool floor. Here the base of balance is at the feet.

Working positions are used in a shallow depth to give

a) the option of keeping the feet in contact with the pool floor for the entire program –

Extended – standing tall , Neutral to submerge the shoulders and Modified Rebound, a combination these two working positions to allow one foot to remain in contact at all time.


b) to allow the feet to be lifted off the pool floor BUT CAN returned to the pool floor to stand up at any time. (Rebound, Modified Suspended or Suspended).

Movement: Once warmed up in shallow it is simple to incorporate travel patterns for cardio and travel or remain stationary for specific muscle conditioning.

Shallow H20 Basic moves can provide benefits for training all components of fitness ( CV, muscular fitness, flexibility, posture as well as filler movements to thermal-regulate of for active recovery. These movements may be used individually or in combination with each other. There are infinite ways to utilize these movements. These are:

  • Marching/Jogging ( easy starting movement as most people can march or pedal their feet).
  • Rocking transfers the weight from one foot to another and works on falling and recovery.
  • Skiing works on  hip mobility by striding the legs.
  • Walking is #1 functional movement that always has one foot in contact with the pool bottom (although we can leap or jump a walk).
  • JAX is a movement that works in the frontal plane and works on abduction and adduction of the shoulders.
  • Jumping may be easy heel pops to work the ankles or an explosive jump to engage the quads and gluteals.
  • Kicking is a great movement forward to stretch the hamstrings, gluteals, erector spinae and, with a flexed ankle, the calves.

All of the above movements yield many more variations or creative ways to add variety and cross training benefits to a program.

The shallow depth can make it easier to move faster BUT always cue to stay within an optimal ROM for the exercise chosen.

Deep water training is defined as having the water level between neck and shoulders. The feet are off the bottom of the pool at all times. The center of balance is at the chest. Deep Water Training provides an open environment free from gravity and impact. There is more resistance to work against since 80-90% of the body is surrounded with water.

In deep water training, all movements are exaggerated. There is no stable base of support; therefore the abdominal group have to work to maintain good posture. The arms and/or legs will be needed to balance the move to facilitate travel. Abs work 100% of time so movements must be trained in good posture. The bonus – At all times there is negligible stress and wear and tear on the joints.

Deep H2O Basic moves keep people moving need to be carefully programmed to insure that upper and lower body movements are synergized. All movements performed properly require advanced core work and cueing of the arms and the legs are imperative for optimal body position and benefit. Again, all movements may be utilized for training all components of fitness. These are:

  • Skiing /Striding ( you can’t walk as you can’t really touch the bottom)
  • Marching/Jogging (the basic movement that often helps patrons feel the difference)
  • Cycling ( you can’t technically rock or transfer your body weight but you may pendulum which is a more advanced abdominal strengthening movement – not a CV or filler movement) You cannot jump in deep water either and tuck jumps pull the head under the water or create a very awkward movement which isn’t optimal for anything other than assisted hip flexor work).
  • JAX ( must perform arm opposite the legs or the head will submerge)
  • Kicking should be exaggerated ( not just a flutter kick ) with greater range of motion and downward resistance.

Unique Deep H2O Body positions allow for variety in terms of movement and angles of pull for muscular contractions. Each body position provides a different angle or position to train muscles for posture and strength through the complete length of the muscle . These body positions can be used to push and pull the water to travel, work against resistance or take it easy and float.

The following are the suggested body positions- all utilize the abdominal core to maintain position and can be used in a mix and match combination for cardio or held in position for specific strengthening.

Seated: Pretend that you are sitting in a chair in good position for upper-body strengthening. Hips and shoulders aligned, hips slightly higher than knees. Avoid bending forward at the waist. Keep the shoulders stacked over the hips and the core engaged to hold the body in the water chair.

Vertical: Envision standing tall in the water. Keep the heels, knees, hips, and shoulders in line.

Side lying: Use abdominals to maintain posture and side-lying alignment. Relax the neck or use the water to support the weight of the head. Avoid pike or fetal positions.

‘V” sitting: Keep the shoulders in line with the knees. Engage abdominals to hold the feet (or foot) out of water. NOTE: This is a very advanced body position that should be avoided by participants with low-back problems. Utilize for high performance athletes who are trained and skilled.

Prone: Laying on the stomach or front of the body. Envision a crawling position. Keep shoulders slightly above the knees. Avoid hyper-extending neck – turn head to the side to see instructor

Incline: Tilting or leaning with an extended body position. Incline, forward, side, back. There can be many degrees of tilting or inclining

“L” sitting: Seated so that shoulders are aligned over the hips. Legs out stretched or in an ‘L” position. More challenging than seated position

Kneeling: Keep the abdominals tight to avoid hyper-extending back. Stack the shoulders in line with the hips and knees.

With all the above-mentioned body positions and to improve or optimize posture while preventing back discomfort, always cue to engage or anchor with the abdominal core. Superior Abdominal strength is required for changing and maintaining deep water body positions.

Basic movements for the deep include Jogging/Marching, JAX, Skiing/Striding, Kicking, and can be performed similarly to shallow water except the legs have to do all the work without help from the pool floor. The other moves Walking, Jumping and Rocking must be changed because there is no pool floor for push off. Here, a bicycle move can be used in place of walking or jumping for good cardio. Rocking is replaced with a pendulum movement – side to side or forward to back. However in this instance the “work” is mostly for the abdominal core rather than cardio.

Of course there are a lot more that can be written about the benefits of both water depths but these basic similarities and differences can get you off to a good start to add options to your participants and variety to your programs.

One last word of advice – make sure you can do all the moves in both depths yourself before you try any out on paying customers. Be sure you can demonstrate and explain all the moves. In other words be able to SHOW & TELL!