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Why Does One Size NOT Fit All?
Water Exericise - The Wave of the Future
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New Instructors Coming to Water Fitness
The Healing Benefits of Water Exercise
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Training the Internal Obliques with Water Fitness
The A to Z Resolutions for 2016
Happiness is .... Fun in the Water
Try Some Exercise in the Water Gym
Why WaterART Muscle Works!
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Specificity of Training -What is this?
Shallow H20 Training
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Shallow H20 Training

You don't have to be a swimmer to get into the water for exercise, you can be any age, a former athlete or someone who just want to get off the couch. All you need is the desire to do some exercise in pleasant surroundings and come home with that "I want to go back" feeling.

Working in the water is unique as compared to regular land exercise because of water depth, the movement of the water and the consistency of a buoyancy and resistance that affects every exercise.  For most people shallow water training is the place to start.

For a successful work out everyone needs to find a place in the pool where they can stand tall and feel comfortable. The ideal depth for shallow water training is to work at waist to chest depth with the feet firmly on the pool floor. Some people (especially nervous non-swimmers) may need to start a bit shallower but remember it is important to keep the hip bones  (iliac crest) covered with water for best back protection. Once everyone gets more acclimatized and confident  finding the best depth will become second nature.

One big difference between land and water training is the body's position for balance. On land, the  centre of balance is at  the pelvis whereas in water the feet provide the stable balance for support.  As soon as several people start moving through the water some other properties of water will "kick in" to challenge balance and core strength. Turbulence and/or inertia currents can lift the feet off the pool floor therefore balance skills need to be trained right at the start of the program.

First train sculling (using a figure 8 movement with the hands) to support the upper body in good posture, then check for the best balanced position at foot level.  Try a one foot lift while sculling, now take one hand out - then both.  If balance becomes a problem go back to "square one" and start over. Don't forget to challenge balance on each leg.  Most people have a predominantly stronger leg. Another way to train balance is to offer oppositional movement such as oppositional arm to leg movement  - swinging the right arm forward as the left leg steps ahead and vice versa - as when walking (correctly) on land. This can be trained with an easy cross-country movement in a stationary position.

The water offers natural healing powers because it is simple to eliminate joint stress by surrounding or submerging them for protection during a workout.  This is the reason you need to train the shallow water working positions which offer both protection and challenge to every workout.


The "Neutral" working position places the water at neck depth to keep the shoulders submerged. But do not cheat and go to deeper water! Learn to bend the knees in a forward/back lunge or side to side squat position or use the cross country sliding motion. This will engage and challenge abdominal strength to stay submerged as the core will be fighting both buoyancy from the water and any "built in" body composition.  The arms can be used for upper body strength training or to balance leg movement. 

For anyone who has to fight buoyancy, or has lower joint problems the best working position to use is the "modified rebound" whereby the squat downward to submerge the shoulders is alternated with standing to return to waist/chest depth, and more gravity, to relieve any discomfort.  This position can be used stationary or travelled in any direction using a variety of arm movements to focus on upper body strengthening and improved postural alignment.

The regular "rebound" working position  can be added to most basic moves  to overload the legs to add challenge for the more athletic participant . Here the emphasis is to power the body up out of the water then landing in a soft bent-knee position to power up again.  The action is to propel the body upwards with sufficient force to lift the waist line out of the water  - no bobbing allowed!. This can provide up to 25 - 50% vertical stress or impact on the joints when landing back on the pool floor, therefore aggressive rebounding is NOT for everyone.  A downside to using rebounding is there is less work,  resistance or protection provided for the upper body as it is in air 50% of the time.  To test if you are using the rebound move  for best effect  - you should feel tired after 30 secs of energetic rebounding.

The shallow water "suspended" working position is designed to keep the feet off the pool floor for the entire time of the exercise. This requires superior abdominal strength to both hold correct body position and the head above water. Arms and hands can be used for assistive sculling or work in opposition to balance the movement. For those people who lose good alignment or cannot keep the feet off the floor for the entire exercise they can return to the neutral working position to slide the feet, maintain ROM and good form.


Another option to add suspended exercise to shallow water training is to use a noodle or belt to modify and assist suspension. Either method allows the body to be trained without impact in unique positions through a variety of lever lengths resulting in stronger muscles.

The  noodle provides options to target the same muscle groups or basic move in different body positions and buoyancy levels.

For example:

Holding the noodle around the waist can offer side lying or vertical positions where the buoyancy assistance is equally divided between the top and bottom halves of the body.  Changing to a straddle (noodle "bike" .position) or sitting in swing position lifts the body upward so more anchoring is required to work downwards in the water.  Kneeling on the noodle has all buoyancy under the weight of the body to cause an unbalanced situation requiring good core strength and oppositional arm assistance to maintain the kneeling position.

For anyone who cannot at first control suspended noodle buoyancy try using the "around the waist" or "straddle" position for basic moves with the feet contacting the pool floor. This will train for ROM and the "lifting" feeling of buoyancy with the knowledge that the feet can touch the floor for support at any time.

What is the best way to  put your shallow water participants on the fast track for success?

#1 Always take time to introduce skills - Sculling - oppositional moves

#2 Work with the properties of water - buoyancy- resistance - inertia - turbulence

#3 Allow everyone to "feel" the action provided by the movement

#4 Make it FUNctional.

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