Deep water training has grown in popularity over the past 15 years. Athletes and sporting groups are appreciating the benefits of both sports specific training and recovery in deep water. Certainly for the general public, it has been a fitness option that has grown steadily.
Traditionally, exercising in deep water involves running, cross country skis, jacks and variations of those base moves. To provide variety to a classic deep water class we need to think ‘outside the square’. A great place to start is to use ideas from your shallow water classes and see if they are effective in deeper water. Some exercises will be challenging to make work in deep water eg: pendulum and rocking horse, which are moves that required the pool floor to stabilize the movement. Overall however, you will be surprised with what you can achieve.
Straight leg / Bent knee actions
Most exercises performed in deep water can be divided into 2 broad categories, Straight Leg, and Bent Knee actions. Straight leg actions require the core muscles to stabilize the torso as the levers are pushed through the water. There is a strong emphasis on balancing the range of motion, otherwise the participant will travel or lose postural alignment.
Bent knee actions are more physically demanding because the upper body is also used to change the body’s position in the water. This movement pattern requires the knee or knees to come into the body before a new position is performed eg: kick to front and side, the knee needs to come in towards the body before kicking to either the front or the side. The arms also assist with positioning the body either in an upright stance or in the side lying position. This also increases the level of coordination required and the core stabilizing muscles are used more dynamically.
Power, being a combination of strength and speed, is effective at elevating heart rate quickly. Exercises that require explosive movement or a shift in inertia to achieve the desired position are all power moves. Bent knee actions use changes in momentum to get the arms and legs in the ‘right spot’. Straight leg actions performed over a shorter range of movement with the emphasis on tempo and gluteal action are also effective in increasing heart rate.
Teaching participants in a completely suspended environment is very different from shallow water classes. When someone first comes to a shallow water aqua session, they learn the concept of what their body feels like to be buoyant and having to work against resistance and turbulence. Gravity still plays a small role as they are able to push off from the bottom of the pool. When they are completely suspended, this is a totally new experience and they require more time to develop an appreciation of their body awareness and how it will move in this environment. More verbal cues and imagery are required to assist participants to effectively perform the appropriate movement pattern.
Instruction in both Bent Knee and Straight Leg actions, need to be explained to the participants prior to the class so that there is better appreciation of the exercises. Establishing cue words eg: Tuck, what is it, and how does it move the body through the water, is helpful with correcting exercise execution.
Using familiar moves (from shallow water) in the deep water was effective in teaching fitter participants, and it also added the challenge of not stabilizing on the bottom of the pool.
Traditionally most instructors have focused on buoyancy aids being held by the upper body or worn around the waist. The Hydro Ankle adds both resistance and buoyancy to the legs, and allows the body to become suspended while the arms are free to move. This is a great tool for intermediate to advanced participants who need the added resistance to their lower bodies to achieve higher levels of intensity. Exercises like forward kicks are more challenging as the glutes have to activate strongly to bring the leg down through the water.
The Hydro Ankle also challenges stability in the water because the natural reaction is to let the legs float to the surface. The core stabilizers need to work much harder to keep the legs down under the water to keep the body upright.
Ideally this piece of equipment should be fitted prior to entering the pool, as this can be challenging to undertake in the water. Also the Hydro Ankle needs to be fitted firmly to avoid sliding up and down the ankle while the legs are moving in the water. This device is easy to implement into a class format, as most standard exercises are appropriate. Participants can put the floats on if they want to work harder and do the same class as everyone else.
From a choreography and moves aspect, the Hydro Ankle provides a wide range of exercise options. Most standard impact, suspended and deep water exercises are appropriate. For traditional deep water activities the Hydro Ankle is useful for those who find it difficult to stay afloat with a buoyancy belt as it provides additional floatation.
Adding a resistance and floatation tool to the lower extremity can place considerably more stress on the core stabilisers and on muscles surrounding the lower back, pelvis and hips. Depending on the specific injury and activity, use of the Hydro Ankle could either provide support to the lower limbs or be contraindicated.
The Smile Hand is similar to a paddle, but it has a much larger surface area. By the nature of its design, the flat surface of the Smile Hand needs to be utilised, as any movements with the side of the tool results in a loss of power and effectiveness. This requires participants to ensure that they turn the palm in the direction of travel, thus advantageously providing a balanced workout of the upper body and arm muscles.
This equipment is an excellent tool for any sculling movements, as it encourages rotation with the hands. Simply holding it in the water will also allow the participant to float effectively – great for those who have trouble floating, and for stabilising the body while performing suspended movements.
Circular movements, like breast stroke, figure of 8’s and forward and backward pulls, can be more challenging because of the amount of drag and turbulence that can be created. The Smile Hand is thus a piece of equipment that can allow participants to effectively develop upper body strength with regular use.
Because of the powerful movement that can be created with the Smile Hand, the muscles in the fingers, forearms and shoulders will fatigue. Make sure to allow for finger releases, which can be done by pulling the thumb out of the gripping hole and resting the hand on top of the Smile Hand, while performing a movement with the lower body to maintain heart rate.
This equipment requires some instruction to participants before use, in order to explain and practise the technique of turning the palm into the direction of travel. This can be achieved by having them move their hands slowly through the water and focusing on ‘flicking’ the wrist to change direction of resistance. For demonstration purposes, it can be easier to show the palm direction without holding the smile hand. Verbally cueing where the thumb is pointing will also assist participants to get the rotating flicking action that is vital for use of this tool.