Aquatic Step

Aquatic Step

Aquatic steps are not available at every facility, but if yours has them, then you have the opportunity to spice up your classes with some new exercises. Think “outside the box” and rather than just transferring the gym’s step aerobics class to the pool, use some water specific exercises instead. My thanks to Julie Twynham whose MAAP workshop in 2006 provided me with a lot of ideas for using aquatic steps.

                                                                                              Chris Step Water at Elbows

Aquatic steps have rubber on the edges of the bottom to help keep them from sliding around too much. Ideally the water should be deep enough so that when you stand on the step, the water comes up to your elbows, as in the picture to the right. Some aquatic exercises to try are:


Chris Step Rocking Horse 1   Chris Step Rocking Horse 2

Rocking horse with the front foot landing on the step and the back foot landing on the floor.

Chris Step Skateboard 1   Chris Step Skateboard 2

Stand on the step with one foot and skateboard with the other. Bend your standing knee to get a deeper sweep with the pedaling foot.

Chris Step Kick & Lunge 1   Chris Step Kick & Lunge 2

Stand on the step with one foot; kick and lunge to the floor with the other.

Chris Step CC Ski 2   Chris Step CC Ski 1

Cross-country-ski with the front foot landing on the step and the back foot landing on the floor.

Chris Step Squat 2   Chris Step Squat

Try some squats, with both feet on the step, or with one foot on the step and one foot on the floor. When you squat on a step, less of your body weight is supported by the water’s buoyancy.

Chris Step Log Jump 3   Chris Step Log Jump 2   Chris Step Log Jump 1

Log jump to one side of the step, tuck above the step, and log jump to the other side.

Chris Step CC Ski Suspended 2   Chris Step CC Ski Suspended 1

Cross-country ski, suspended, above the step.

Chris Step Tuck Pike Land Down 1   Chris Step Tuck Pike Land Down 2   Chris Step Tuck Pike Land Down 3   Chris Step Tuck Pike Land Down 4

Hop up on the step, pike, tuck and land on the step, then hop down to the floor.

Chris Step Fall Sideways   Chris Step Fall Sideways Tuck   Chris Step CC Ski Side-lying

Fall sideways off the step, tuck, extend the legs to the side, and cross-country ski side-lying back to the step.

Chris Step Chest Stretch 3   Chris Step Hamstring Stretch

You can even use the aquatic step for stretching. For example, walk around the step dragging your arm behind you for a chest stretch. Put one heel on the step to stretch your hamstrings.

You can create an entire class with the aquatic steps or use a few of these exercises in a circuit class. You might also want to use them for some games at the end of class. Set some aquatic steps up around the shallow end of the pool and play follow the leader around them and over them, pausing on top for some squats or Yoga tree poses or anything else you can think of. For more ideas on incorporating aquatic steps in a lesson plan, see my book Water Fitness Progressions. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there.

Chris Book Cover    IMG_4509

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander




Rubberized Equipment

Bands and tubing, used for resistance training in land exercise, have made their way into the aquatic environment. Chlorine is hard on rubberized equipment, but chlorine resistant bands and tubing are now available. It prolongs their life to rinse them in fresh water after every use, but even so you have to inspect them for deterioration before using them with your class.

Many of the same exercises done with rubberized equipment on land can be done in the pool. The equipment has to be anchored to something and the resistance is in pulling away from the anchor point. In the water, the anchor is usually another body part, such as the opposite hand or a foot. When designing exercises you have to consider whether the body position is practical in the water (for example, a reclining position will not work), whether your participants can maintain good alignment with the exercise, and whether your participants are able to attach the band to a body part that is under water. Bands can be tied in a loop and placed around the ankles for leg exercises, but I am not a big fan of that. Some people have difficulty getting the loop around the ankles for one thing, and the instructor has to untie all the knots after class. You can buy a set of flat bands and a set of loops to solve one of those problems. If your participants have difficulty getting a loop around their ankles you can get tubing instead. It is fairly easy to put your foot through the handles of the tubing, and the tubing is also long enough that you can step on it while holding the ends in your hands. The down side is that tubing is significantly more expensive than the bands. I use the bands and focus mainly on exercises for the upper body.

When using bands for the upper body in shallow water, the participant is usually in a stable lunge or squat position. In deep water, often you have to perform a stabilizing leg movement, such as jog, cross-country ski or jumping jacks while focusing on the arms. Here are some band exercises you can try:



 Bowstring Pull                                                                       Works the trapezius and rhomboids                         Lunge position in shallow water                                     Cross-country ski in deep water


Chris arm press-down band     Chris arm press-down band deep

One Arm Press-Down                      Works the latissimus dorsi and posterior deltoids                              Lunge position in shallow water         Jog in deep water



Chest Press                                                                                                                                        Put the band around the upper back, hold the ends in the hands and push forward   Works the pectoralis major                                                                                                                 Squat position in shallow water                                                                                                         Jumping jacks in deep water

Chris shoulder raise band     Chris shoulder raise band deep

Arm Lift to Sides                                Works the medial deltoids                   Stand on one foot with band under the other thigh in shallow water             Seated position with band under thighs in deep water


Arm Curl                                                                                                                                              In the same position as for arm lift to sides, hold the ends of the band with palms up Works the biceps

Chris open door band     Chris open door band deep                                                          Elbow Sweep Out                              Works the triceps                                 Squat position in shallow water    Jumping jacks in deep water – extend the elbow as the feet come together



Forearm Press                                                                                                                               Hold the ends of the bands with the elbows down by the waist and pull apart               Works the rotator cuff                                                                                                                    Squat position in shallow water                                                                                               Jumping jacks in deep water – pull the ends apart as the feet come together

For information about how to modify these exercises, see my book Water Fitness Progressions. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there.

Chris Book Cover    IMG_4509

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Drag Equipment

Gloves       Paddles

Aqualogix       Aqua-Ohm

I’m a big fan of drag equipment. Drag equipment increases the drag forces of the water by increasing the surface area and creating turbulence. The resistance is in every direction – up, down, side to side – so you can work both pairs of opposing muscles and you don’t have to get into any special positions to do so. The movement of the arms with drag equipment feels natural.

The most popular piece of drag equipment is webbed gloves. They are made of either fabric or neoprene. I prefer the fabric gloves, such as the ones made by Hydro-Fit, because you can adjust the resistance easily by making a fist, slicing or opening up the hand. It is harder to make a fist with the neoprene gloves.

Gloves increase the surface area of the hand and therefore increase the resistance for upper body exercises. But you can also scull with the gloves to help you stabilize, which is particularly helpful in deep water.

Paddles are another type of drag equipment. Paddles have fan blades that you can open or close to adjust the amount of resistance. They can be held in the freehold position, much the way you would hold a dumbbell, or you can use the hand brace position. Make sure you keep the wrist neutral rather than flexing and extending. Paddles will sink to the bottom of the pool so they are best used in shallow water.

Freehold position     Braced position

Aqualogix bells have fins on the edges which create turbulence in addition to adding drag resistance. They are an excellent tool for a strength training class. They float so that you can use then in either shallow or deep water. In deep water you will want to use a stabilizing leg movement, such as a jog, a jumping jack or a cross-country ski, while performing your upper body exercises.

The Aqua Ohm is a new piece of equipment that was invented by an aquatic physical therapist. Stretch it full length and you can put one foot in the handle and use it for lower body exercises. Fold it in half and you can use it for upper body exercises. It comes with a chart showing the different exercises you can do with it.

All drag equipment can be used in a stable squat or lunge stance in shallow water allowing you to focus on  moving it powerfully through the water to increase strength. You can challenge the core by making your stance less stable. Try standing with the feet next to each other, which gives you a narrow base of support. Progress to a tandem stance, with one foot directly in front of the other. Finally try the exercises standing on one foot.

For a sample of exercises and lesson plans using drag equipment, see my book Water Fitness Progressions. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there.

Chris Book Cover    IMG_4509

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

Why Do You Need Continuing Education?



I attended the International Aquatic Fitness Conference recently where I earned 26 continuing education credits. That’s a lot of time spent in swimming pools and lectures! I’m a huge believer in continuing education. When I first started teaching water fitness I had one great lesson plan. Without continuing education I might still be stuck with that one lesson plan. Continuing education is invaluable for giving you new ideas to keep your classes fresh.

All presenters have their own unique styles. Some of my favorite presenters are pictured here. Ruth Sova is the founder of the Aquatic Exercise Association. After she got AEA going, she left to start the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute (ATRI). Performing Ai Chi with Ruth and Jun Konno, who invented Ai Chi, first thing in the morning was one of the pleasures of the conference. Mark Grevelding is known for his choreography, which has evolved over the years as he is now working mostly with seniors. The international presenters, such as Elson dos Santos have unique high energy techniques. Terri Mitchell had a workshop on stretching which filled up as soon as conference registration opened, so I was not able to get in. Lucky for me, she is coming to this area for a MAAP event in September. I love hearing about the latest research in fitness, so I always sign up for a lecture by Len Kravitz when I attend a conference. He is an author, educator working with graduate students, researcher and exercise scientist at the University of New Mexico. When you attend continuing education you come away with new choreography, new teaching techniques, and new research which makes you a better instructor.

You can also learn about new kinds of equipment that is available for water fitness. Lynda Huey used Aqualogix bells and fins in her class on post rehab fitness. The bells offered excellent drag resistance. The fins were surprisingly easy to put on and use. You might also learn new ways to use old pieces of equipment. Marietta Mehanni used kickboards in a totally new and creative way in her session.

AquapoleOne piece of equipment that I was curious about is the AquaPole. It has a heavy base that anchors the pole in the water. We used the pole to perform suspended exercises in Brown and Johnson’s AquaPole Strength and Toning class, but you can also attach resistance bands or a boxing bag to it. I may never have the opportunity to use the equipment again, but it was fun to try it out.

Networking is another reason to attend continuing education. At IAFC we got to meet people from all over the world, not only the presenters, but also the delegates. The first question we always asked each other was “what is your name” and the second one was “where are you from.” At the end of each class, all the participants gathered at the edge of the pool for a photo with the presenter.

IAFC had a Marketplace where you could buy music, equipment, swim suits, T-shirts, shampoo for getting the chlorine out of your hair and lots of other things. I got to meet the person who invented the Aqua-Ohm, a piece of drag equipment we recently got at Oak Point Recreation Center where I teach classes. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Ruth Sova had a copy of my book, Water Fitness Progressions, at the ATRI booth. She said it was an excellent book, which is high praise indeed, coming from her!

It is my hope that fitness instructors will take advantage of opportunities to get continuing education. Dallas Mania is coming to the Fairmont Hotel in August, and MAAP is hosting Terri Mitchell in September. For more information on these events, check out the MAAP website at

See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander

Buoyant Equipment: Dumbbells

markgrevelding_mug   Foam dumbbells

Nearly every pool has foam dumbbells and participants love to use them! In some places they use dumbbells for every class. Often they grab the largest dumbbells available. Is this a good thing?

The Metroplex Association of Aquatic Professionals hosted Mark Grevelding at a Continuing Education Training on April 21. One of his workshops was a Noodle & Buoy Circuit.  Mark discussed exercise safety with dumbbells. He says that the main thing people do with dumbbells is push them forward and plunge them down.

Every time you submerge foam dumbbells under water, your shoulder stabilizers contract. When you push dumbbells forward you are using them like drag equipment. Your latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius contract isometrically to hold the dumbbells under the water. You get some work for the targeted muscle groups (chest and triceps), but these are not the muscle groups that get most of the work. Plunging the dumbbells down uses the shoulder stabilizers and works the triceps. It is easy to see that too much of this will put undue stress on the shoulders, which can lead to a shoulder injury.

Not only do some people use the dumbbells for every workout, but they also select the largest dumbbells available. They may not be able to keep the shoulders neutral with equipment this buoyant, so the shoulders are elevated. They may not be able to control the dumbbells without throwing their body weight into the exercise. They may have to reduce the range of motion as a result of this loss of control. It is easy to see that too much of this will put undue stress on the shoulders, which can lead to a shoulder injury.

So what are foam dumbbells good for? Well, I’d love to show you some pictures of exercises with the dumbbells, but when I Googled pictures of water exercises with foam dumbbells, all they had were pictures of pushing them forward and plunging them down! So you’ll have to use your imagination. Choose a size that you can manipulate while keeping the shoulders relaxed and the spine in neutral alignment. Relax your shoulders and fingers between each set. Use the dumbbells for only part of a class.

  1. Chest. In a lunge position, lean forward 45 degrees and perform a chest fly, like clapping your hands, or a chest press, pushing at an angle toward the floor.
  2. Lats. In an upright lunge position, perform a lat pull-down, like jumping jacks arms.
  3. Triceps. In a squat or lunge position, with elbows by the waist, perform a triceps extension. Or plunge the dumbbells down at the sides.
  4. Squats and lunges. Hold the dumbbells down at your sides while you perform these exercises to add resistance as you lower the body toward the floor.
  5. Calf raises. Hold the dumbbells down at your sides while you rise up on your toes to add resistance as you lower your heels back to the floor.
  6. Plank and side plank. Hold both dumbbells directly under the shoulders for the plank and one dumbbell directly under the shoulder for a side plank.

There are a lot of muscle groups missing from this list, like the upper back, shoulders and biceps. That’s because foam dumbbells only add resistance when you are pushing them toward the pool floor. The buoyant dumbbells want to float to the surface of the water, which means there is no resistance for any exercise that involves lifting them. Another thing missing from this list is using the buoyant dumbbells for support in a suspended position. When the body is suspended from dumbbells held in the hands or placed under the arms, the shoulders are unacceptably loaded, the tendons are pinched, and nerve damage may occur in the arm pits (Ivens and Holder, Do No Harm, 2011).

The bottom line is that foam dumbbells are a lot of fun and they offer some good resistance for a limited number of exercises. For more information on using dumbbells, including a chart showing which muscles are being trained with various exercises using buoyant equipment, see my new book Water Fitness Progressions. The book also contains lesson plans using dumbbells for both shallow water and deep water classes. The book can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) or from Just click on whichever source you wish to order from and the link will take you there.

Mark Grevelding wrote about my book in his Blog. Check out his post at

See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander