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Learn to Work with Buoyancy

One of the first things noticed when entering the pool is that (for most people) the body suddenly feels lighter.  This is due to the lifting effect felt from the buoyancy of water combining with the built in buoyancy of the body. This "lighter" feeling will be slightly different for each person depending on their body composition. People with more body fat will be able to float easier than someone with more muscle mass. Athletic types with really dense muscle mass and minimal body fat will require more buoyant assistance in order to stay afloat to exercise effectively.  

Different strokes for different folks! In order to get a successful workout, each person needs to choose the correct level of buoyancy for the exercise. To make this decision ask the question: "Is the equipment required to assist the body to make the exercise easier to control"? or "Is the equipment being used to create more resistance for more intense training?" Each exerciser may require different levels of buoyancy so it is incumbent upon every Instructor to be aware of their participants' capabilities and the levels of buoyancy that can be offered with each piece of equipment.  For safety, especially when using hand-held equipment, the shoulders need to be submerged for the protection of the shoulder joint and neck area. Buoyant resistance is felt on the downward push but more control is required on the upward movement which may be difficult for someone with less muscle strength. Anyone with shoulder or neck problems should be advised to use extreme caution with, or not use, hand held buoyant equipment. Therefore choose wisely.

Using Foam "weights" or Dumbbells:  In many pools these are often the first choice for adding buoyant equipment to an exercise program, mainly because they "appear " to equate to that used for weight training on land. However this is categorized as advanced equipment because of the possibility of buoyancy taking over the upward ascent of the dumbbell and lifting the shoulders past a safe joint range. So use with caution.  Dumbbells can come in a variety of strengths so someone with more "built-in" body fat and less strength should be advised to use a lighter or "open cell" weight and those with more muscle mass can be guided to the denser "closed cell" type.  Cuing for safe exercise should encourage slow controlled movement in both directions to work through optimal muscle length. Using fast jabbing movement can become momentum with no real strength gains.

Happy Hand "weights" or discs:  These might be a better choice for someone "moving up"  to using buoyant equipment. Although they provide lots of buoyancy they are much easier to handle since the amount of resistance can be adjusted by changing the position as held in the hand.  The easiest use is holding straight down in a sliced position, next holding to "cup" the disc to catch more water, and finally, to hold as an open face and use the full diameter of the disc. As with dumbbells cuing to keep the shoulders submerged is still important. The discs can be used in many positions to target superior core strengthening and, as with any exercise where exertion is required, cuing to breath out on effort is a must.

Kick Boards:  These are used as a swimming aid but for regular aquatic exercise there is very limited choice for safe or effective exercise.  These boards often have "a mind of their own" and can pop-up out of the water and fly an amazing distance. This can be extremely dangerous in a group class therefore should only be used for advanced programming such as with a finning program.

Noodles:  Although often classed as "fun" equipment the pool noodle has come a long way since its first introduction to water exercise in 1994. Now there is a choice of buoyancy levels which makes it useful to just about every type of pool program - from support for fragile people to high level resistance for the advanced user. The noodle provides effective training in both shallow and deep parts of the pool, however a non-swimmer should never be allowed to exercise in the deep with only a noodle for support since it is possible to fall off or become entangled and unable to control the buoyancy.

Buoyancy Belts: These are a must for working in deep water or for assisting suspension in shallow.  Because of body composition each person should be fitted with a belt that suits their buoyant parts.  For example someone with a buoyant bottom may require more buoyancy around their front.  In this case a block belt can be more useful since the blocks can be placed around the body to balance the buoyancy.  Blocks can be added or taken off the belt.

Adding buoyancy: Both the noodle and buoyancy belts can be used for suspended exercise while adding additional buoyant equipment to the hands. But once again, caution must be the number one priority to maintaining shoulder protection. If the added hand buoyancy pops the shoulders up and out of the water the efficacy of the exercise is lost as the resistance levels vary between water and air to place them in jeopardy.

Finally, every Instructor should get into the water to try out each exercise planned for a program using buoyant equipment -  then monitor the participants closely to offer the best, safest and most effective workout.

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Details on Buoyancy Shorts

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