Holiday Ideas for Your Class


There is a lot to do during the holiday season: shopping, wrapping presents, decorating, baking, holiday parties and more. You know your water fitness class participants need to maintain their exercise routine to help them manage the holiday stress, but sometimes exercise moves near the bottom of their priority list. Try some of the following ideas to make your water fitness class more festive and encourage everyone to keep coming:

Holiday Music. Break out some holiday music to get everyone in a festive mood. All the fitness music companies have Christmas music playlists for sale. Check out:

(1) Super Happy Xmas Step (128-130 BPM) and Xmas Buzz (135 BPM) at Yes Fitness Music

(2) Tis The Season – Best of Christmas Hits Remixed (130 BPM) and Christmas Hits Remixed (135 BPM) at Power Music

(3) Core Christmas Volume 2 (128 BPM) and Christmas in Motion 3 (135 BPM) at Muscle Mixes

Holiday Themed Games and Activities. Add fun activities at the end of your fitness routine to have everyone laughing and looking forward to the next class. Here are two ideas:

(1) Holiday Obstacle Course – Create an obstacle course with the pool equipment you have on hand, giving it a holiday theme. Station One: Have a participant begin by cross-country skiing to the North Pole, using either drag equipment or foam dumbbells. Station Two: Tie 3 noodles in a triangle to serve as a Christmas tree and have a bucket of small balls nearby. The participant throws the balls into the triangle to “decorate the tree.” Station Three: The participant picks up a paddle or a foam dumbbell and uses it to “stir up the Christmas cookie dough.” Station Four: The participant runs to 3 “elves” who are holding 3 balls. The participant helps in the toy shop by tossing the balls a set number of times back and forth to each elf. Station Five: The participant picks up 2 noodles and puts the ends of each noodle under an arm with the opposite ends sticking out in back. “Santa grabs the free ends and takes a seated position. The participant now takes the place of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and pulls Santa’s sleigh to the finish line. If your class is large, half of the participants can man the stations while the other half runs through the obstacle course; then the two groups
change places. If your class is small, have all your participants (but one) man the stations while the “contestant” runs the course. Then that person will take the place of another participant who will take a turn running the course.

(2) Sleigh Races – Have your class members partner up. One partner can be Rudolph and the other Santa. Rudolph then pulls the sleigh as in the obstacle course above, racing with all the other sleighs in the class. After one team wins the race, Rudolph will take a turn being Santa, and Santa will become Rudolph, and the teams race again.

Costumes. This is the perfect time to wear your red swim suit, a Santa hat, a Frosty the Snowman top hat, a red nose or a hat with reindeer antlers.

Holiday Gifts. Show your appreciation for your class by giving them each a small gift. If you are an H20 Wear AquaPRO, you can get coupons for your participants worth 10% off their first purchase of a swim suit. Contact them at to request coupons or to become an AquaPRO member. Some other gift ideas include a Clementine tangerine, a tree ornament, a peppermint candy cane, a Christmas cookie, a package of hot cocoa mix or some kind of homemade goodie. Here is an easy recipe if you would like to make your own treats:

Peppermint Crunch Puppy Chow

Ingredients: 5 cups Rice Chex, 10 ounces melting white chocolate, 1 cup crushed candy canes, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Pour the cereal into a large bowl. Melt white chocolate according to the package directions. Pour melted chocolate over cereal, stirring and folding until the cereal is completely covered. Fold in crushed candy canes.

Pour the confectioners’ sugar into a zipped-top bag. Pour the cereal mix in next. Seal the bag and shake until all the cereal is coated with the confectioners’ sugar. Discard excess powdered sugar.

Divide the puppy chow into individual bags and tie with a ribbon.

Merry Christmas!


Chris Alexander


What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Dumbbells up clip art

Here we have a clip art picture of three smiling people in the water holding dumbbells in the air. What better way could there be to promote water exercise? First of all they are happy and second they are using equipment, suggesting that they are serious about improving their fitness. So what could be wrong with that?

The problem is that the dumbbells used in water fitness are made of foam. They are designed to use the buoyancy of the water for resistance. Weights which are used on land use gravity for resistance. Foam dumbbells are pushed down underwater to work the muscles of the upper body. Weights used in strength training on land are lifted up to work the muscles of the upper body. The two kinds of equipment are used in opposite ways. These happy women are lifting foam dumbbells which weigh a few ounces into the air as if they were weights. This is a misrepresentation of water exercise.

Okay, this is just one little clip art picture. But if you Google “pictures of water exercise” you will find dozens of photos of smiling people holding foam dumbbells in the air.

Maybe it makes a better photo to wave foam dumbbells in the air where the camera can see them as opposed to photos of people using the equipment underwater as intended. But it makes water fitness instructors and participants look like they don’t know what they are doing, at least to those of us who actually participate in water fitness.

Although waving foam dumbbells in the air is the most commonly seen problem with photos of water exercise, it’s not the only one. There are also photos of people doing contraindicated exercises, exercises that risk injuring the person performing them. You can find photos of people suspended from dumbbells held to the sides, for example.

The shoulder joint is like a golf ball (the head of the humerus) sitting on a tee (the glenoid cavity). This allows the shoulder to be extremely mobile, but the shoulders are not designed to be weight bearing. The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint. Impingement is the pinching of the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder area. Impingement occurs when you hang from foam dumbbells with the arms abducted to the sides, as in the above photos. Repeated impingement injures the rotator cuff.

Hanging from walls also puts the shoulder joint under extreme stress. It puts stress on the elbows and wrist as well.

Holding on to the wall in a prone position causes hyperextension of the low back and the neck, risking an injury to those areas.

I look for photos of water exercise often and I would love to see a collection of pictures of smiling people performing safe and reasonable exercises in the water online. But until that happens, it is important to use good judgment when selecting photos to promote water fitness. If you are not sure whether a photo shows a safe and reasonable exercise, you might want to check out Do No Harm, a notebook and DVD by Pauline Ivens, MS and Catherine Holder, PT which can be purchased at for $125. It is a comprehensive guide to exercises that might hurt water fitness participants.

My books, Water Fitness Lesson Plans and Choreography and Water Fitness Progressions contain many pages of safe and reasonable exercises. The books can be ordered from Human Kinetics (the publisher) (just click on the name of the book you wish to order) or from

Water Fitness Lesson Plans   Chris Book Cover    IMG_4509

See you in the pool!

Chris Alexander

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