Deep-water exercise is often categorised as being for older participants or rehabilitating participants only. The reason for this categorisation is because deep-water exercise has virtually no impact on the joints of the ankles, the knees, the hips and the lower back. There is no "impact" and, therefore, no "impact shock". The participants are completely suspended in the water and, while they receive a vigorous workout, almost all of the jarring to the joints is eliminated.
But deep-water choreography is a fantastic way to motivate your students and to challenge them in a systematic yet exciting format. There are a variety of pieces of equipment that can be used in deep-water exercise; each provides different benefits and different challenges. One can use handbars, noodles, flotation belts, buoyancy cuffs, aqua gloves, fins and paddles in addition to the body’s own limbs to keep suspended and train effectively in deep water.
The AEA distinguishes between flotation equipment and buoyancy equipment. Flotation equipment is used to maintain neutral buoyancy and body positioning while suspended in the water. Buoyancy equipment, although it does “float”, is incorporated to increase intensity of the workout when moving the equipment towards the bottom of the pool. Keep in mind – one piece of equipment may serve as flotation as well as buoyancy resistance depending upon how it is used.
If you were in the shallow water and pushing down with foam barbells, this would be resistance. In deep water the foam barbells provide resistance when simply held in the hands near the surface of the water. This can help suspend the body vertically rather than creating resistance. Yet, when you push handbars through the water, while using a floatation belt to suspend the body, you can use the shape of the handbar to create resistance, along with the buoyancy effect that the handbar naturally has.
If you are suspended on handbars without an additional source of flotation, you must watch for shoulder impingement because the placement of the arm is perpendicular to the placement of the body. Also, hand-held flotation equipment can present a safety hazard for non-swimmers; optimum safety is found with flotation equipment attached to the torso.
Floatation equipment is a terrific way to increase range of motion for the lower extremities. Floatation belts, noodles and handbars give the lower body a freedom of movement that can help maintain or increase energy expenditures during exercise. This freedom of movement allows for increased creativity as well as increased length of a workout session.
Buoyancy is one of the most beneficial attributes of aquatic exercise. Buoyancy reduces the impact shock while still maintaining great resistance on the body’s musculature. Because of this buoyancy effect, slow, full range of motion activities are easier to accomplish and exercise can be maintained for longer periods of time because the body is not experiencing the somewhat painful effects of gravity exercise (such as the jarring and pounding).
Both buoyancy and drag equipment are excellent ways to suspend the body in water through submerged movement. Buoyancy equipment obviously enhances the buoyant forces that are in opposition to gravity, hence pushing the body upward. Drag equipment enhances lift – the action or an instance of rising.
Drag equipment includes gloves, fins, paddles, and even your own shoes and body’s limbs. When drag equipment is used to suspend the body, it requires extra energy expenditure. Drag equipment has no buoyancy properties in and of itself. If Aquafins are placed on the hands, then the arms must work to keep the entire body upright and floating. This makes for a terrific upper body workout while still maintaining freedom of movement for the lower body. When the Aquafins are placed on the lower extremities, the legs must work to keep the entire body afloat. However, sometimes drag exercises (such as suspension moves with gloves or fins on the hands or wrists) can only be maintained for short periods of time because some aqua participants do not have the necessary strength. This is why drag equipment combined with flotation and/or buoyancy equipment often provides a preferred combination in the deep end.
Combining two types of equipment is an excellent way to ensure that you get an effective, productive and enjoyable workout. Try using both a noodle and gloves in the deep end. Combine a flotation belt with Aquafins. Be creative! The larger the shape of the drag equipment, the harder it is to move through the water. However, the larger the equipment that you utilise, the easier it will be to sustain the body in a suspended position because of the increased lift potential. In respect, the longer the lever (more surface area), the more drag occurs with the movement. Also, participants that can move more forcefully in the water (individuals that have stronger musculature) will also be able to more easily maintain a position of buoyancy. Therefore, longer limbed participants may have an easier time maintaining a vertical position in deep water than shorter participants – assuming similar physical strength and body composition.
Another influence on deep-water exercise is an individual’s body fat percentage. The higher a person’s body fat percentage, the more buoyant they will be in the water. The lower a person’s body fat and the higher their lean muscle mass, the more they will tend to sink and the harder they will have to work to maintain a buoyant position. This actually is a nice effect of deep-water exercise. Individuals with elevated body fat need to work out – they may not have the muscle strength of other participants do, yet they can get an effective deep-water workout. The buoyancy effects of water combined with the participant’s own body fat will help to suspend them. This will make the workout a bit easier. This is very important when someone is working with drag equipment.
Individuals that are higher in lean muscle mass will have to work harder to maintain a buoyant position because they will tend to sink in the water. This means our stronger, leaner participants will naturally be getting a harder workout and can be challenged by training in the deep. Velocity, or the speed at which one moves, affects not only the intensity of the workout but also affects the efficiency of the workout.
If you double the speed of your movement, the drag force increases – not by a factor of two but by a factor of four. This means that if you double your movement speed it increases the drag intensity four-fold. Therefore, the lever-length, the size and shape of the selected equipment, the velocity, and the amount of buoyancy can all affect the intensity of your deep-water workout.
In deep-water exercises it is important to maintain proper body alignment. Often people tend to lean forward too much or lean back too much because they don’t have the core stability to maintain correct posture. Stabilisers must work to align the body and maintain vertical posture. Moving longer levers increases the challenge to the core muscles (the abs, the back, and the entire trunk region). When the stabilisation is challenged, the core muscles activate to maintain proper body alignment and greater demand is placed on the abdominal and back area. This increased overload to the muscles does not "hurt the body"; this stress is a good stress that challenges the body and helps strengthen the muscles that may have atrophied due to age or inactivity.
Whenever you add a directional variation, you further increase the challenge to the musculature. If you take a deep-water skiing movement and add a directional change, like forward momentum to the movement, there is an increased challenge to the stabilising muscles. Therefore, if you took a traditional deep-water exercise like a straight-leg skiing motion and moved it forward instead of staying in a stationary position, this would increase your energy expenditure (calorie burn) as well as increase the challenge to the muscles.
According to Newton’s Law of Motion, an object remains at rest or in a state of uniform motion unless acted upon by a force. This means a deep-water aquatic will tend to stay in one place unless they are acted upon by an "outside force". This outside force could be a current in the water or the exerciser’s own limbs working to propel the body.
Motion can be both movements "within" the body and movements "of" the body. Traditionally deep-water exercise is performed as a movement "within" the body. This would be when you do a straight leg ski in one place or a jogging knee-lift in one place. The movement involves your limbs (not your body location) to create your own resistance.
When you add a movement "of" the body, this refers to physically relocating your body travelling from one place to another; moving from one part of the pool to another part of the pool. A combination of a movement "within" the body, such as a cross-country skiing, along with the movement "of" the body, travelling from one end of the pool to the other, will increase the intensity of your workout.
Viscosity is a theory of friction between molecules. Molecules tend to adhere to each other. This is cohesion. Water also tends to adhere to a submerged body. This is adhesion. If you took your hand and immersed it in a bucket of sand, the hand would come out clean. The sand would not adhere to the hand. When a hand is immersed in a bucket of water, the hand emerges covered in water. Water adheres to the submerged body, the submerged hand. Viscosity affects the resistive forces.
Water has 12 times the resistance of air. This is why your movement in the water is so much more laborious. Movements in water are slower and demand more energy expenditure as opposed to similar movements in air (or on land). When one performs deep-water exercise, more of the body is submerged. Water adhering to the submerged body can increase the intensity of the movements and also slow the movements down slightly. Slower movement does not mean a less intense workout. Slower movements mean more control, more strength and more power is being used during deep water exercise if the exercise is performed with intensity.
Deep-water exercise tends to work more effectively at a slower beat-per-minute rate than shallow water exercise. Deep-water exercise works at approximately 120-128 beats per minute. This is a step exercise beat-per-minute tempo. While the music appears 120-128bpm, the deep-water exerciser performs the movements at 60-64bpm. Water exercise is half the speed of land exercise.
In shallow water exercise, movements are typically performed at 130-140bpm, the same bpm as low-impact land exercise. Yet, in the water, the movement is performed at half-speed, 65-70bpm. Because in shallow water more of the body is exposed, shallow water exercise is faster than deep-water exercise.
There are many ways to increase the intensity of exercises as well as increase the creativity of deep-water exercises. If one were to take cross-country ski action and move it forward and back, this would probably be easier than taking that same cross-country ski action and trying to move it side-to-side. A laterally travelling cross-country ski pattern would take great energy expenditure (legs moving in a forward and back motion but arms too to pull the body to the side). Specifically, the surface face of the pattern being performed creates a half-moon. Instead of moving that moon towards the end of each point (forward or backward) we are moving the whole moon to the side. This creates greater surface space that we are resisting against and thus a harder. To enhance intensity and develop creativity, try moving other exercises side-to-side. Some of these movements may seem unnatural but it is simply that they are harder and create greater challenge both physically and mentally.
Additionally, taking typical movements and either pointing the feet or flexing the feet can greater challenge the participant as well as engage different musculature. Pointing the foot adds between four and eight inches onto the lower part of the leg (depending on the individual’s foot size). This increased lever length will serve to increase intensity. Additionally, a pointed foot will engage the gastrocnemious, or calf, which will force a different usage of musculature. In comparison, flexing a foot would shorten the lever, typically making any exercise slightly easier. It will also engage the front of the shin (anterior tibialis). Flexing the foot to create a shorter lever will allow the movement pattern to be performed faster as compared to a pointed foot variation. This faster tempo will help to create diversity of movement as well as alter intensity.
There is no right or wrong when pointing or flexing the foot. This variation in angle of the lower extremity merely creates change and can serve to fight boredom, create muscle balance, and maintain intensity in deep-water exercise.
Another way to add variation to deep-water exercise is to use one leg independently or both legs simultaneously. When performing a deep-water jog, try only jogging with one leg at a time, curling the other leg under the body similar to the way a chicken wing would be folded under the breast. This focuses the body on using one leg completely devoid of assistance on the other leg. This is often used in rehabilitation to ensure that patients are not overcompensating with a stronger limb. In traditional deep-water exercise classes, this creates a new challenge and a creative exercise variation. Be sure when performing single leg movements that both legs are used equally so imbalances are avoided.
Similar to the way a deep-water jog can be performed one leg at a time, side-to-side leg extensions (oblique work) can be performed one leg at a time. A noodle is underneath the armpits, circling behind the body and opening in front; the body is held suspended by the noodle. The exerciser moves side-to-side with the ankles touching and the knees touching.
Extend the legs out to the side (parallel to the bottom of the pool and the surface of the water), then the legs swing under the body in a tucked position ending with the legs extending out to the other side. This exercise works the obliques, the latissimus and the abdominals. The side-to-side extension can be performed with both legs or with a single leg – after the tuck-through, a single leg or both legs can be extended out to the side. This single leg extension could be the top leg only or a bottom leg only, providing a nice variation.