Where to Teach a Water Fitness Class – Deck or in Pool

Every Pool has Unique Features & Benefits - and no two programs are the same


One of the major reasons for maintaining and increasing attendance in any pool program is that the people who attend feel fitter and more energized because they get a good work out. In other words these people feel they are getting their “money’s worth”. Usually the major reason for adherence to attendance  is the Instructor, someone who gives 100% attention to every class, understands “water” teaching and takes the time to make everyone feel successful.  Because many Instructors teach a variety of programs to accommodate different fitness and energy levels, each program must offer suitable exercise for each group. Some people need the “boot camp” approach, others a lot of assistance or encouragement know as TLC (Total Loving Care). Therefore, one big decision for an Instructor could be:”Where is the best place to teach? Should I stay on deck, get in the water, or be in and out?


The two most obvious places to start looking are with sound and visibility. Can your students hear you?

Can your students see you and, most importantly, can you see them?


On deck: Your voice can project towards everyone more easily – the people in the pool can see your facial expressions which can help with understanding. On deck it is easy to wear a microphone (if one is available) to amplify instruction.

In the water: your voice is competing on the same level with water noise – there are more bodies blocking the sound of your voice to prevent it travelling as far. Unless you have a water mike (which is expensive) you may have to speak a lot louder which can damage your vocal cords.


On deck: The main advantage for teaching from the deck is the Instructor can easily be seen by all people in the pool and it is easier for the Instructor to monitor the skill and comfort level of all the participants. The instructor may easily move from one side to the end of the pool ( to be closer) to their patrons. There is minor water distortion when looking into the water from the deck, however, this should not interfere with an instructor’s coaching ability to check posture, correct body positioning and technique. If using music it can be turned on or shut off. If equipment is to be used it is easier to access and hand out.

In the Water: The main disadvantage for teaching in the pool is that the instructor may be seen easily by the people close by but (especially with a large group) may be partially hidden from view of others. Also,

the Instructor needs to watch everyone throughout the program which may not be possible when in the water and there is a large group. However, one main advantage for the people in the pool is that the Instructor is now on the same level so participants do not have to look up at  the instructor on deck ( which often hyperextend the neck) which may aggravate  the neck from constantly looking up to an elevated instructor. This is particularly relevant for people with arthritic joints or degenerated discs in the neck. Even long time participants will look at the instructor constantly to make sure of the movement. This prolonged looking up promotes poor posture and over the long term is detrimental to everyone.

A big advantage to being in the water is to offer motivation, demonstration and safety. When students see you do the exercise at a closer range they can try more easily to mimic the move for speed, technique and ROM.  Non-swimming clients may feel safer when you are right there for them. They often require a little more help to relax and develop good form. You can make corrections and show modifications easier – especially with moves that require extra balance or may lift the feet off the pool floor. You can show them how to anchor back down safely and assure them that they can stand up at any time as the pool floor will not go away. 

 Movement Intensity and speed:

In the water an instructor can get a better feel for the intensity, or lack of it , with any exercise. It is easier to gauge the correct speed and to decide if enough time is being allowed for the participants to complete each movement successfully. It is easier to show how to submerge the shoulders for protection, how to use the arms and legs for optimal ROM and oppositional movement, and to complete each exercise with more success.

When teaching from the deck it is easier for all of the participants to follow precise deck moves. Most people may learn faster and easier with visual cues – (especially “newbies”). The key to success is that the instructor performs deck moves safely and simulates correct water ROM and speed. When teaching on deck, with no water to create resistance around the body, it is too easy to revert to “land speed” for any movement – especially if using music.  Slowing down may initially be difficult for many instructors, who have been used to teaching in time to music on land. This is NOT possible in a water program where everyone is encouraged to “work at their own pace”  to “do their personal best” for all exercises. It is easier for someone in the water to learn by doing a movement slower and larger. Teaching at correct water speed must become a learned technique i.e. 1/3 to 1/2 land speed. All movement on deck needs to be exaggerated. A new person may take 4-6 repetitions to even start to learn the move so allow time to “get it”. The WaterART system of using 7 basic moves with working or body positions, helps people co-ordinate and learn how to move easily in the water. An instructor can encourage those who have been attending a class regularly to work at their preferred speed and number of repetitions.

As previously mentioned a major problem for the participants is to be able to hear every instruction given in a pool setting. This is why it is important to demonstrate the movement and talk at the same time. The Instructor must show and tell (explain the movement), not time moves or count repetitions.

Another “bad (deck) habit” that needs attention is leaning down towards the people in the pool when demonstrating. All exercises shown on deck must be done in the correct body position and good posture and cue all the people in the pool to do the same.  For deck teaching every instructor requires good balance and control for every movement. 

 Assistance for teaching on deck

One valuable “tool” when teaching on deck is using a chair to assist with demonstration. This is essential to assist with balance and eliminate impact from unnecessary jumping on deck.

If balance becomes a problem the chair can be used for support and maintaining posture – especially when a “:slo-mo” or large ROM leg movement (such as a skateboard or bicycle ) is being shown. The instructor can hold the chair with one hand and keep the support leg closest to the chair. Thos leaves the outside arm and leg free to demonstrate at the correct size and speed.

Any rebounding moves that require one or both feet to come off the pool floor can be demonstrated easily in a chair.  For example: when demonstrating a tuck jump in neutral in shallow. The instructor sit to show how the shoulders can stay submerged, both knees can be lifted easily with both hands under the knees, then the feet placed back to the pool floor.  To show how to progress and travel the jump, the legs can both reach forward and down to the deck or be pulled backward – without any impact on the instructor’s body.  All suspended movement can be shown in shallow easily using a chair – this will definitely add core strengthening to any instructor’s own fitness regimen.

If teaching a deep water program the chair is invaluable for demonstrating most seated, tilted or pendulum body positions. Standing it can be used for balance support to show a “one leg” movement in vertical-  such as the one leg “box pattern” to target the abductors. It may not be possible to do everything with the chair but maybe this is the time to jump in to demonstrate.

Another item that should be available for deck teaching is a mat to prevent slipping and impact. This should be large enough to demonstrate on without tripping.

Using Hand Signals in both depths:

Although the primary use for aquatic mitts is for balance control they offer a large colored area that can be seen quite easily. They can also be used to gain (fast) attention – when clapped together they make an echoing sound. Therefore they can become a very useful and effective tool to assist with demonstration both on deck and in the water. Using the same, standard hand cues week after week will allow everyone to learn your communication system easily. All working positions for shallow can be demonstrated with visual cuing (see ideas -chapter 3 in the Instructor manual) . Movement can be directed safely. To initiate travel get the class moving by using the arms like a “runway director”. Use one or both hands to point left or right, wave both hands towards yourself to bring the class forward – use a “palms forward” push away from your body to get everyone going backwards.  Hold the hand up for a stop sign and show an exaggerated scull motion. Stand on one leg and show the hands in the “I surrender” position for a balance check.  Transcribe a “halo” above your head to get people moving in a circle – then go the other way to make them walk against inertia. ….and so on.  To use hand signals effectively while teaching in the water, lift the arms higher than the “heads in the way” to allow everyone to follow direction. When you change directions or the exercise simply clap – people have to look to see what you are going to do -you do not have to yell instructions.

Do you have a lot of talkers in your program?  Try working with hand signals only for a few minutes in every class – you will have everyone’s undivided attention.  But for real effect do a complete program with hand and arm signals and exaggerated demonstration only.  People will tell you it was the “best class ever” because they paid attention and actually completed every exercise without the interruptions and disruptions of people talking. Learn to mime all exercise – Invest in a long mirror and practice your movement in front of it – start by talking to your “participants” (for show and tell), then stop talking and mime the movement. This will help you train for “mirror” teaching as you face the class: i.e. you go to your left to get everyone to go right and vice versa. Take a critical look at yourself as you practice, and ask yourself : “Am I working in good posture”?  “Am I working at the correct speed for water”? “Are my movements easy to follow”?  “Would I enjoy taking a class with this Instructor?  You may learn a lot about yourself.

So where do you want to teach? Do you have the choice?

Teaching a successful pool program is not for the faint of heart. Unlike a land program where the floor is flat and it is possible for each person to work more or less in unison, teaching a water program comes with a variety of environmental and physical challenges that must be worked with (and around). The ultimate goal is to provide each person with a safe and effective workout. Each pool location presents its own set of challenges since no two pools are exactly alike.  There can be a difference in configuration, depths and space. But, having said that, a lot of the “challenges” fall into the same category at every facility.

First – take a look at the deck which (of necessity) has to be a solid layer of cement with no “bounce”. It  may be skid-free or slippery (tiled). There can be lifeguard chairs, chair lifts, slides, posts and other “clutter” that restricts space for clear or 100% safe movement.  Add to this, equipment that may be needed in the program, and participants’ water bottles along the edge of the pool, and it can be like working in an obstacle course.

Look at the water – is the pool all one depth or changes gradually from shallow to deep?  If so, does it run shallow to deep longitudinally or across the pool?  Are the shallow and deep areas separated by a buoy line or wall?  Are there steps or stairs and where are they? Is it possible to get in and out of the pool quickly?

Noise levels: waves or splashing sounds as soon as there is any movement in the water, There can be fans blowing to keep the air moving, water running down a slide, and, of course, people talking. You may or may not want to use music.

Some facilities do not give their Instructors the choice of where they might teach the pool program. Some mandate staying on deck, others encourage the Instructor to be in the water full time.  Some of the latest thinking (and priority) with a large number of facilities is that, for safety reasons, every Instructor should be able to teach from both places and that means being able to demonstrate, and correctly perform, every exercise that is included in the program.  An instructor whether teaching on deck or in the water should be dressed professionally -bring and sip water to stay hydrated, and definitely be wearing proper water shoes and aquatic mitts (when not using equipment) and be ready to jump in at any time.