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Target Foam Weights -Advanced Equipment Programming

Foam weights (often referred to as dumbbells or hand weights) may be utilized in either deep or shallow water depths. This equipment universally seems to be one of the most popular pieces of equipment ( after noodles) yet may be more challenging to use safely and therefore should be carefully and individually programmed especially in a group setting.


Weights may help a person

1)        to assist with suspended movements,

2)       or provide adequate overload for resistance training to the upper body strengthening sets

3)       or even provide a great system of balance assistance especially for a newcomer.


With that said, a person will need to know how to choose to work more intensely or easier (float or add balance assistance).


Foam Weights are often the most misused pieces of aquatic equipment because they need to be pushed against buoyancy to effectively create work. Often, people use this equipment too soon to strengthen upper body muscles and they should progress intensity gradually just like the land gym. Additionally, the key to quality resistance work with buoyant equipment is to control the joint action both on the downward push against buoyancy as well as the upward ascent. The importance here is to not let buoyancy assist on the upward movement with speed nor break the surface of the water.  This often makes this equipment difficult to control especially for those people who are weaker or cannot stabilize their core properly. Uncontrolled arm movements could easily result in overworked shoulders as well as aggravation of the neck area. Shoulder impingement occurs when the shoulders are abducted and internally rotated – which is so easily done in water. Therefore, upper body dumbbell strength work is generally not recommended for those with shoulder and neck injuries. One on one or well supervised programming with specific exercises may be an option.


Foam Weights may vary in terms of buoyancy because of their diameter and core composition. A small dumbbell or less dense foam provides an easier strength (resisted) workout when compared to the denser and thicker rings. This affects program design and depending on if the equipment is used to assist or resist buoyancy creates an entirely different program goal.  For buoyancy-assisted work, using a smaller foam dumbbell makes the exercise more difficult because the individual will have less foam to help them float, balance or stay suspended. Conversely, the wider and thicker dumbbells make the work easier when using this equipment for floating, balance exercises or to assist suspended movements but more difficult to control for buoyancy resisted work. 


Always, be cautious not to do too much upper body strengthening with a participant too soon. Start slowly and work gradually to increase the duration of the sets or number of  exercises. Movements for strengthening the muscles,  should be slow and controlled , so that there is eccentric loading on the way up to the water’s surface (or in the direction of buoyancy). Buoyancy Dumbbells may also be anchored in the water for some shoulder stabilization work or additional drag for the lower body.


For the protection of the shoulder, the water should completely submerge the joint during any dumbbell use especially when using the arms at full arm length so that the shoulders do not become impinged and the tendons overly stressed. Dumbbells may be placed under the arms as long as the shoulders do not ride up. When used in the hands or under the arms always be careful to avoid elevation of the shoulders which accentuates poor posture. These muscles are generally quick to fatigue so we recommend that you reassess your shoulder position frequently and you may actually release the weights  and hand hold position and simply let the foam weights float on the water.


Dumbbells or any hand held piece of equipment should be held lightly with two fingers and never gripped otherwise this may cut of palmar circulation or raise blood pressure and be dangerous for people with high blood pressure. Also check the wrist so it is neutral and not over extended  the wrist because of the potential  risk and injury to the carpal tunnel.



Equipment can be used to develop every component of fitness including a combination of flexibility, cardio respiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, agility, balance and coordination. Well-conditioned muscles allow movement that will improve cardiovascular capacity. Improved CV conditioning allows people more efficient mobility.


Adding equipment to your workout can be a great benefit to your participants. Equipment provides an opportunity to add variety to your program yet challenge the workout. Equipment also allows participants to enjoy the workout with NEW enthusiasm, and EQUIPMENT may be used as a means to attract new participants to your programs.


But, having equipment at poolside does not mean that it is suitable for all participants as most aquatic classes contain a variety of participants of varying age groups, skill levels and personal goals. Instructors should use equipment only as a means to overload the musculature of the body when they feel the participants are ready to progress or assist the client if they need to get moving off the wall.


In water, it is normal for the upper body muscles to fatigue quicker than those in the lower body, especially in the untrained person – so program with care. An athlete with a strong cardiovascular system may not have sufficient muscular strength (especially core strength) for sustained muscular activity; therefore,  it is important to train participants to pace themselves throughout the workout and balance using equipment and not using equipment. A great way to introduce equipment is intervals of a few good exercises rather than trying to do too many exercises too soon.


 More information on  programming:

 Foam Weights Workout DVD018

 DVD060- Advanced Dumbbells and Understanding Shoulder Impingement


 Instructors utilizing Advanced Equipment should progress their qualifications to
 Sports Conditioning Specialist Certification & Training.  


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