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Moving into the Deep

Moving your clients into the deep water training may offer new challenges,
benefits, variety and enjoyment for your participants.

The greatest challenge about deep water training (DWT) is that the body's center of balance changes and there is no base of support. The body hangs free in the water.  With land or shallow water training the feet can maintain contact with the floor to act as a stable base of support.  It should be noted a deep water workout is not swimming. This workout is designed to use the body as a unit for total body resistive training unlike swimming where the emphasis is on horizontal training and streamlining for efficiency.

The greatest benefit is that the workout can be done without any vertical joint stress. The body is surrounded by water, lifted by buoyancy and protected with hydrostatic pressure. This is a big plus for anyone with joint pain as this combination hold the joints in place, virtually pain free.   

In deep water the core muscles need to be strong to anchor the body for correct posture and balance. But, because most people do want to work to strengthen their abdominals, this type of training is worth a try. Often good core training is negated in shallow water programming because clients simply bounce off the pool floor, and/or move too fast to anchor down or work through the water to use it to its best advantage .

Deep water offers the same benefits as any other land or water fitness program in that an individual may train the same components of fitness namely: cardiovascular conditioning (aerobic and anaerobic), agility, balance, flexibility, coordination, muscular endurance and strength, function and fun. Perhaps the best benefit with deep-water training (DWT) is the ability to add intensity to increase and maintain muscle strength without the impact. In other words, if your goal is to burn more calories (and research says that having more lean muscle mass will help you to achieve this), then deep water training will offer multi-dimensional resistance to strengthen your muscles. This is an excellent benefit because not only are you burning more calories during the workout, you also burn more calories after the workout since your metabolism is increased.


In deep water the body can be used in a wide variety of positions from vertical to seated to sidelying  and many other positions to imitate free movement. This enables muscles to be targeted in a wide variety of angles to better support the body for effective daily or sports activities.

This comes from the feeling of lightness and freedom felt when supported with water. Additionally, the body receives a total water massage with every movement.

Deep Water Training:
Prior to going to the deep water depth where the feet are constantly off the pool floor, the Instructor might choose to start training in shallow water using a modified suspended technique with participants wearing a buoyancy belt to train for a total no floor contact workout.  When using a buoyancy belt the arms and legs are unrestricted and the participant can learn to engage and target specific muscle groups to tone the body. The belt allows the participant to move in all directions and balance a cardiovascular (aerobic) workout with muscular endurance and flexibility sets. Wearing a belt will allow each person to stretch through a greater range of motion in the water and thereby be able to achieve greater intensity and benefits.   

Training can be started using a "chair seated" position and advancing to work on the L or straddle sit, and side lying body postures. By maintaining good posture and body movement everyone is able to naturally engage the abdominal muscles (to maintain these body postures).This is also the time to learn the importance of sculling for balance, keeping the arms/hands at hip height so that the shoulders do not elevate and aggravate both the shoulders and neck areas. For effective DWT it is important to teach participants how to handle the water to assist posture and travel patterns.

Muscular strength is required to pull through the water as well as optimize cardiovascular benefits. Often muscles fatigue prior to the breathing especially if the client is not used to the multi-dimensional muscular work required to push down and through the water. In order to become skilled in deep water, participants will need good baseline strength to work at a higher level of intensity for cardiovascular training. Research has shown that blood lactate levels are higher in deep water, especially with an untrained clientele; therefore it may be necessary to take longer recovery or offer more intermittent stretching and active recovery  sets. Even a top athlete may be quickly challenged and fatigued compared to their sport on land since they may have little water skill and less body fat to keep them afloat.  Muscle conditioning should be interspersed with some cardiovascular sets to allow re-cuing of body alignment and prevent fatigue of the muscles so that the total duration of a program is completed effectively.    

Keeping muscles strong and performing enough specific muscle sets is very important to deep water exercise design.  In other words, programs should focus on performing at least 3 sets of approximately 8-25 repetitions when training a specific muscular group.  

Realize that a program does not have to do continuous cardiovascular sets to benefit the cardiovascular system. Generally speaking, most good programs provide interval training or sets of cardiovascular endurance sets interspersed with muscle endurance sets.  This will not only help clients to expend more calories - this will actually train the cardiovascular system to recover quicker from an exercise bout. Being able to recover from intense exercise quickly is an important feature of a healthy heart.

The bottom line:
Realize that when exercising  in deep water it is a lot easier to cheat on training i.e. float or shorten range of motion rather than use muscle power to pull long levers through the water. Therefore participants need to be trained to move and perform exercises correctly to gain the benefits. Too often they only use the assistance of buoyancy for lifting up in the water and are not sufficiently skilled to push down and through the water against buoyant resistance.

The best suggestion for deep-water exercise is to perform more quality of exercise than quantity of exercise. In other words, train to use the muscles through an optimal range of motion and with good technique. Allowing bad posture, or using fast momentum and small movement will not train muscles purposefully.  This does present more difficulty for training -  however this will yield greater results! Therefore, take the time and do it right!

Please see our suggested buoyancy belts and noodles. Using the proper buoyancy equipment is key for a balanced total body workout and to maintain proper posture positions for optimal core work.  

Choosing a Belt
Body composition plays a big part in finding the correct amount of buoyancy required for that particular body type. A belt is important for each person to find the buoyancy that provides the correct amount of support; one that keeps the head above water easily, the shoulders submerged, and does not tilt the body forward. A belt should help place the body in ideal posture and body position.  Choose a belt that works for you!

It needs to be mentioned that a belt should feel “uncomfortably tight” (snug) when put on before entering the water. Once in the water the hydrostatic pressure or the bandage effect of the water takes over and a “traction effect” pulls the body into a slimmer line. If a belt is not fit properly on land – it will ride up in the water and will not be effective for posture and abdominal training. By utilizing a buoyancy belt, your arms and legs are unrestricted and you may engage and target specific muscle groups to tone your body. By maintaining good posture and body movement everyone is able to naturally engage the abdominal muscles (to maintain vertical or any other body postures). The belt allows the participant to move in all directions and balance a cardiovascular (aerobic) workout with muscular endurance and flexibility sets. A properly fitted belt is worth investing in. It can make a huge difference in training results - especially posture.
Features and considerations of different Buoyancy Belts
a) SOFT JOG BELT  offers a soft fit around the waist. This belt provides a slimmer buoyancy belt fit without too much large lumbar support. Some people may have the most of their body fat in their buttock and leg area. Often a smaller buoyancy belt size is best choice to balance their body composition properly with water exercise. Adding too much buoyancy may tilt the body forward in water. Note the length of the strap is the same for all the sizes of belt, so a over buoyant people may be best served with a small belt sizing. Be sure that the waist band strap does not over stretch out. There are elasticized and non elastic straps. If several people utilize the same belt - we recommend that the pool offers non elasticized straps so the belt may be secured tight around the waist. Elasticized straps may inadvertently stretch out easily over time. click here

b) BUOYANCY BLOCK BELTS  may be spaced around waist. Blocks can be removed for less buoyancy or added blocks provide more buoyancy Adjustable buoyancy belt  usually come with 5 blocks. Some blocks have a softer or harder foam which may change the total buoyancy of the belt. Clients may choose to add or subtract blocks based on workout  and buoyancy level preferences.  All belts should be worn snug around the waist and should keep the head above the water. Over  buoyant people may need 3-4 blocks whereas "sinkers" may  need extra blocks. There are two sizes of blocks with the block belt model. Kids need the smaller blocks while more buoyant adults require the bigger blocks.

The challenge with block belts  is that these are not easily adjusted (ie if the strap is not re-buckled properly after a block has been removed the belt may not stay tight if the buckles are not faceted properly. Most people don't realize this so if a belt strap doesn't stay tight -check how the black strap was threaded through the buckle. One side of the buckle has teeth that will secure the strap while the other side allows the strap to loosen up. To view two types of block belts click here.

c) JOG BELT are typically manufactured with a soft of soft flexible foam. The added lumbar support provides more support for the lumbar spine for people who are  "flat backed" or typically more athletic types. The belt strap is adjustable up to size 48" waist with quick release clip. If the belt tilts patrons forward they may flip the lumbar support to the front of the body; however, potential abdominal stability is decreased.  To view belt click here.

d) CUFF BELTS  Typically these are utilized for advanced buoyancy on the feet for resistive exercises but may be easily clipped together for a cuff belt. A feature of these cuffs is that buoyancy may be removed if the person requires less buoyancy, or, for athletes who are less buoyant, this is an ideal way to provide assistance to their body. (i.e. if they sink too much in the water often the arms over work and the body positions becomes compromised). Additionally, cuffs may be worn on the arms for arm resistance. To view cuff belts click here.

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