Marietta Mehanni

Smiling Hands

Written by Marietta

November 28, 2013

Happy hands is what I like to call them, though after use, you usually end up with tired arms. This is another unique tool from OKEO, an Italian company that is bringing fabulous new aquatic exercise tools into the Australian market. It’s classic smiley face design belies it’s hidden power in the water, though the level of movement intensity is dependant on it’s application in the water.


This tool is a similar concept to both the hand paddle used by swimmers and the webbed glove. It is a large hand held circular tool that increases the surface area applied through the water. One of OKEO’s latest developments in the Smile Hand design is the extra hole, which give this tool the two eyes. The thumb is placed in one of the ‘eyes’ and the other fingers are positioned in the ‘smile’. Another improvement is the concave shape which makes it easier to hold and use in the water. It fits snugly in the palm of the hand, so it is more comfortable for the fingers and wrist joints.

The design of the Smile Hand requires the palm of the hand to face the direction of travel. To move in the reverse direction, will require a very firm grip on the Smile Hand, resulting in fatigue of the hand and forearm muscles. This is not to say that the Smile Hand should not be pulled backwards through the water, but these actions should be kept to a minimum.

The Smile Hand can be used as a buoyancy tool, as the body can be completely suspended by pushing the Smile Hand under the water. This can be used for both shallow and deep water exercises.

Like the hand paddle, the Smile Hand is best used when the larger surface area is manoeuvred through the water. For example, a cross country ski with alternating arm reach. When using the Smile Hand, the palm will need to be turned forward when the arm extends to the front of the body. To take the arm back, the palm will need to flick around so that the thumb is pointing to the thigh as it passes next to the body. Working with the slicing action will not be effective at all as the side of the Smile Hand is narrow and using it in this way will defeat the purpose of this tool. Another hand action that uses the same principles of surface area verses turbulence is sculling. Using the Smile Hand for sculling activities encourages the figure of 8 action necessary for this activity. This is great for beginners who have not developed this skill. It can also be used in more advanced sculling movements that would challenge both your regular attendee or athlete.

One of the potential contraindications of using the Smile Hand is fatigue in the hand and forearm muscles. This is caused by the constant gripping action required to hold on the Smile Hand. In order to avoid excessive fatigue in theses muscles, finger release exercises need to be incorporated. Finger releases can include: allowing the arms to float to the surface and resting the palms on the Smile Hand while the legs keep moving under the water, pushing the Smile Hand down into the water so that the arms are straight and releasing the fingers. Another option is hold the Smile Hand between the legs and the use the tool as a floatation device while incorporating upper body movements. The bonus here is the adductors are worked isometrically while the heart rate is maintained.

Smile Hands are therefore contraindicated for participants who have arthritis in the fingers and wrists. Elbow and shoulder injuries are also potential contraindications, though this may depend on the length of use and the range of motion that is performed.

Teaching with the Smile Hand can be challenging for those not familiar with the properties of water. New participants will require coaching on how to turn the Smile Hand into the direction of movement (palm leading through the water). It is also common to have participants attempt to “slice” the water with the Smile Hand, but this creates ineffective movement in the water, and does not provide the appropriate muscular effect. A quick tutorial prior to the commencement of the class can greatly assist in teaching the hand and arm movements to the participants.

Aqua should no longer be considered the poor cousin of group fitness, and with the growing numbers of participation and demands for more classes, investments in this area will only add more to the program.

Exercise 1. Straight Leg Swivels

This is a deep water exercise where the legs can fully extend. This exercise requires considerable core control to maintain good posture. Also the emphasis is on moving from the waist rather than from the hip or knees as most participants will try to attempt to do. Make sure to keep the chest lifted and relatively stable while the lower body is rotating.

  1. Start with knees extended and legs directly below torso. Bring the right leg across the front of the body. Ensure that the left palm is facing the front and the right palm is facing the back. Both arms are fully extended.
  2. With a powerful torso twist, swap the position of the legs so that the left leg swivels to the front of the body and the right leg twists behind. Using the Smile Hands, push the water in the opposite direction to create the swivel action.
  3. Return back to the starting position by swivelling the right leg back to the front of the body and the Smile Hands at the side of the body, pushing back in the opposite direction.

Exercise 2. Deep Water Frog Tucks

This deep water move is an effective adductor exercise that can also elevate heart rate if performed with speed and power. Basically the legs perform a ‘Double D’ action, by circling the legs out and in, in a vertical position. The arms and Smile Hands mimic the strong leg action.

  1. Start with knees pulled up towards chest, elbows flexed and arms lifted to chest height. Smile Hands pressing down in water in front of chest.
  2. Push legs out wide with Smile Hands pressing out into the water on either side of the body. It is important to maintain an upright torso position when abducting the arms and legs
  3. Adduct legs with a powerful squeezing motion. Also adduct the arms and Smile Hands in towards the torso. This should propel the body upwards slightly and should be felt in the inner thigh muscles
  4. Start the movement again by pulling in the knees back up to the chest and the arms and Smile Hands back up to the chest

Exercise 3. Baby Crawl with Alternating Arms

This exercise can be performed in any depth as the body is horizontal in the water. It can be a travelling move, by pulling the Smile Hand harder in towards the body. Ensure that the Smile Hands stay under the water, otherwise the body will start to sink.

  1. Start by lying prone in the water and alternate knees, pulling up towards the torso. Extend opposite arm to leg forward with the Smile Hand angled so that the palm is pushing forward
  2. As one leg extends behind, pull in the opposite arm towards the torso. Angle the Smile Hand so that the palm is turned in towards the body. Whenever the hand moves forward or back, it is important to use the large surface area of the disc rather than the edge. This is to make sure that the participant stays afloat and stable in the water

Exercise 4. Baby Crawl with Sculling Arms

This exercise can be performed in any depth as the body is horizontal in the water. It is a stationary move as the arms counteract the leg action, so no movement forward or back should occur. This is a great cardio move that can be included in a circuit or when there is no travelling space available.

  • Start by lying prone in the water and alternate knees, pulling up towards the torso. Both arms work in unison, alternating from side to side, so that when one elbow is extended, the other is flexed. Make sure to angle the Smile Hand so that the water is scooped in and away from the body. This is referred to as the Smile Hand sculling action.

Exercise 5. Horizontal Jack

This exercise is very effective in working the pectorals, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, abductors, adductors and cardiovascular system. It is a ‘big’ exercise, so each participant will require enough room around them to stretch their arms and legs out.

  1. Start by lying prone in the water and abduct legs and arms to either side. Ensure that the Smile Hands are angled in the water so that they will be scooping the water forward to the front of the body.
  2. Move arms forward in a butterfly action as legs adduct to the midline.
  3. Pull the arms back through the water on either side of the body ensuring that the palm of the hand is pulling the Smile Hand in towards to the body.
  4. Abduct arms and legs to return back to the starting position. The total action is similar to a butterfly stroke with the arms staying in the water and the knees remaining extended.

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