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

More about Noodles

Noodles from Book   Noodle Hydrofit

Noodles are popular in water fitness. Often we think of using noodles for support during suspended exercises in shallow water. Of course we can do those same exercises without a noodle in deep water because we are already supported by a deep water belt. In both shallow and deep water noodles can also be used as a piece of buoyant resistance equipment. Buoyant means that the equipment floats toward the water’s surface. Buoyant equipment is only offering resistance when you are plunging it toward the pool floor.

The colorful noodles available at most pools do not offer a great deal of resistance making them ideal for beginners and for whenever you plan to do many repetitions of an exercise.  When greater resistance is desired, some people tie the noodle in a knotNoodle Knot to increase its surface area. I am not a big fan of that because it makes the noodle curly and useless for any other purpose. A better option is to use the larger more dense foam noodles available from Hydro-Fit. You can also progress to using foam dumbbells instead of noodles.

Since the resistance of a noodle occurs only when you are plunging it toward the pool floor, you need to be aware that you can only work one muscle of a muscle pair with this equipment. Hold the noodle in both hands with the palms facing up and perform an arm curl. You might think you are training the biceps, because that is what you would be training with weighted dumbbells in the gym. But the noodle wants to float to the surface anyway, so you are not using the biceps at all. Pull the noodle down toward the floor as if you are lowering weighted dumbbells and you are using the triceps, because the noodle is resisting that downward movement. Since the “arm curl” works the triceps, I prefer to turn the palms down (which puts less stress on the fingers), press the noodle toward the floor and call the exercise a “triceps extension.” The triceps contract concentrically in this exercise. If you slow down the noodle’s flotation toward the surface of the water, the triceps work eccentrically. If you wish to work the biceps, you may need to use a different kind of equipment.

Noodle resistance exercises can be performed with the noodle held in both hands (make sure the hands are shoulder distance apart), with the noodle held in one hand, and with the noodle under one foot. Some examples of strength training exercises you can do in shallow water with the noodles are:

  1. The chest press is shown in the Hydro-Fit drawing above. The exerciser is performing a rocking horse along with the chest press.
  2. The lat-pull down is being demonstrated by the instructor on the deck. The noodle is held in one hand extended to the side and is pressed down toward the floor.
  3. The squat is shown in the picture with a Hydro-Fit noodle. The noodle is being held down with the hands while the squat is performed, resisting the downward phase of the squat.

Shallow-water exercises with noodles need to be modified for deep water. For example, you cannot perform a rocking horse in deep water. However, you can do a chest press while leaning forward 45 degrees. A flutter kick in this position may help you stabilize while focusing on the pectoral muscles of the chest. Jog while performing the lat pull-down. The noodle will force you to travel sideways creating a challenge for the core muscles to maintain neutral posture while the lats are being trained. You cannot do squats in deep water, but you can place the noodle under one foot and perform a standing leg press.

For 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 noodles 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. Another resource for exercises with noodles is The Noodle Workout which is available from Hydro-Fit. Click on the Hydro-Fit link to order the booklet.

Have fun with your noodles! See you in the pool!


Chris Alexander