Marietta Mehanni

Frothy Foam Ideas

Frothy Foam Ideas, blog, Marietta Mehanni, aqua instructors, aqua fitness, buoyancy dumbbells

Written by Marietta

November 28, 2013

What class would be complete without some exercises devoted to using the humble dumbbell? From the original milk containers that were one of the earliest floatation aids used in aqua classes, the dumbbell has many uses, including:

  • Suspended exercises in shallow and deep water
  • Buoyancy resisted exercises for the upper body
  • Core stability exercises
  • Adding intensity to shallow cardiovascular exercises
  • Buoyancy-assisted aid for people with disabilities and non-swimmers

The Dumbbell

Dumbbells come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and densities. This will determine how it can be used and the population group who will be able to incorporate it into their workouts.

For example, a lighter dumbbell will have more buoyancy and be more challenging to hold under the water. However, it will be much more effective for buoyancy-assisted exercises. It is essential to keep this in mind when older adults are using these, as tender and arthritic hands and fingers will suffer from the firm grip that is required to hold these under the water.

A range of shapes is available, which will determine the level of manoeuvrability in the water. The range of movement, joint angle, and body position decide which exercises are best with circular dumbbells.

Another variable feature is the handle grip between the two foam sections. These can range from soft grip material to PVC tubing. Older adults will have a preference for the soft grip/padded handles. Also, dumbbells with a more oversized circumference handle will be easier to hold and place less stress on the thumb joint. The length of the handle will determine the type of grip and exercise that can be performed. Short handles will be limited to single-hand grips, whereas longer handles will provide enough space for both hands to grip the bar. It will also allow the dumbbell to be held comfortably under the knee, between the thighs and under the armpits.

Using a single dumbbell

Most everyday movements are unbalanced, e.g., carrying a shopping bag or a child, getting in and out of a car, bathtub or bed, and even reaching for something up high and tip-toeing on one leg to extend further.


Balance is a critical component of fitness that has become more important, especially for the aging population. Balance training requires the opportunity to be unstable, and water provides a safe medium to develop this skill. Moving a buoyant object in one hand not only challenges the core stabilisers but is also effective in ensuring that each side of the body is worked equally.


When starting stability training with older adults, begin with a stable base of support – feet in a pyramid or astride stance and with both hands gripping the dumbbell. Once proficiency has been developed, the next level would be to hold the dumbbell with one hand and perform a similar action. Bring the feet closer together to make the same exercise even more challenging and less stable. It is essential always to encourage good technique – abdominal bracing, lifting of the pelvic floor, keeping the shoulders down and retraction through the scapulae.


If you have never used one dumbbell, it will undoubtedly make you think creatively. The best place to start is to use standard moves that you use regularly and then apply the single dumbbell concept. Some exercises are more challenging or functional with only one dumbbell. Activities like Rock n Roll (suspended move with the body flipping from a prone to supine position and back again), which can be performed with two dumbbells, noodles or aqua belts, are much more challenging with one dumbbell.

How to handle a single dumbbell

Double Grip

Dumbbells can be held with both hands on the handle, with the dumbbell in either vertical or horizontal positions. To control the dumbbell in either position, the handle must be long enough for both hands to fit side by side comfortably. Older adults find this an easy grip as both hands are manoeuvring a single dumbbell (rather than one in each hand).

Foam Grip

Both hands grip the foam parts of the dumbbell. Holding the foam means that the dumbbell can only be held horizontally. If the foam sections are large, it could be an issue for participants with arthritis, wrist problems or RSI, as the fingers need to spread wide to hold the foam sections. The alternative option is to place palms on either end and press against the dumbbell to keep it in position.

Hand to Hand Pass

The dumbbell passes from one hand to the other, and the exercises can be performed with the dumbbell in either the vertical or horizontal position. Opening and closing the hand allows the fingers and the muscles in the forearms to release, which is very important when using the dumbbell for extended periods. It does require more coordination, but start your participants in a stationary position and develop proficiency before adding the added challenge of moving the lower limbs.

Both arms must move through the same plane for this grip to smoothly transition from one hand to the other. If arms are alternating, e.g., forwards and backwards, passing the dumbbell from one hand to another is tricky. The other alternative is to have a transitional move that allows both hands to grip the dumbbell so that the dumbbell is passed over to the opposite hand quickly.

Leg Grip

Another position to hold the dumbbell is between the thighs or under the knee between the calf and hamstrings. Holding the dumbbell under the knee quickly destabilises the body, so the core stabilising muscles are activated immediately.

This effectively improves balance and core stability and incorporates upper body exercises that are “dumbbell-free”. It also provides a “finger break” for the hands, primarily if the dumbbell has been used for an extended period.

Using dumbbells in water

When dumbbells are submerged, intraabdominal pressure is created. This pressure causes the abdominal wall, lower back muscles and pelvic floor to brace against the internal pressure. The result is an ‘abdominal brace’. Thus, using the dumbbell in an aquatic environment is an excellent form of abdominal training. It also occurs without conscious thought from the participant, which is effective for those struggling with connecting with their bodies and activating the appropriate muscle group.


Submerged dumbbell exercises for people suffering from hernias and other conditions that may be aggravated by intraabdominal pressure or abdominal bracing are contraindicated.


“Hail” to the humble dumbbell, the mainstay of aqua classes not only in Australia but around the globe. This basic aquatic tool is a highly effective buoyancy aid and resistance apparatus. The dumbbell’s versatility is unlimited, and we are still finding new ways to use it in our sessions.

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