Going Vertical:  Diversify and Grow your Membership with Aquatic Exercise

Lori Sherlock, Ed.D, ATRIC, AEA Training Specialist, CSCS, WaveMaker Coach

West Virginia University

Link to:            https://waterexercisecoach.com/

https://totalaquatic.llc
https://medicine.wvu.edu/exercise-physiology/bachelor-of-science-bs/future-students/curriculum/aquatic-therapy-area-of-emphasis/

            While most people immediately associate swimming with pools, there is untapped potential when you think about going vertical.  Vertical aquatic exercise is a low impact form of exercise that can attract a myriad of new members to aquatic facilities.  Consider this, 54% of Americans cannot swim (1).  Theoretically, that means that over half of the community surrounding your aquatic facility will not be engaging in swim-based activities.  By introducing aquatic programming that does not require basic swimming skills, you are opening the door to a new membership bracket while potentiating non-swimmers integration to water activities and safety. 

            Aquatic exercise has grown in popularity and diversity.  With over ten and a half million participants recorded in 2018 (2) and a 6.4% growth in participation in 2019 (3), the need and desire to participate in water exercise is ever present.  Shallow or deep, high or low intensity, seniors or athletes, the programming variations offer endless opportunities for diversification of aquatic facility memberships.  The trick in selecting and disseminating the right programs for your community revolves around your available populations, their wants and needs, facility design, and finding the right instructor.  These are just a few areas that the Going Vertical series of articles will explore in the coming months.  To get started, let’s delve into the reasoning why aquatic exercise has the potential to draw new members to your facility.

            The aquatic environment is a great equalizer for physical ability and activity.  The water can provide support for those that need assistance with balance, standing, or movement and it can deliver challenges to those that are seeking to gain fitness.  The hydrostatic and hydrodynamic properties of the water cater to individuals across the spectrum of ability.  From clinical populations to athletes, the water can contribute to their wellness endeavors. 

            Hydrostatic principles are the attributes of the aquatic environment that are ever present.  Buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, and thermodynamics can impact the immersed body even if the body is not engaging in activities and the water is stagnant.  Let’s consider a more clinical application to these principles.  If, for example, you had a member that was obese and has cardiovascular disease, hydrostatics could help them to exercise with a greater level of comfort and assistance.  Buoyancy would offload their excess weight allowing them to perform exercise for longer durations and higher intensities with less joint discomfort.  Hydrostatic pressure, with the assistance of buoyancy and thermodynamics (water temperature), would create an environment where the cardiovascular system is more efficient resulting in less strain on the heart and its accompanying vasculature, a reduced heart rate, and an increased availability of blood to the body.  Thermodynamics would allow for greater blood flow and relaxation of the soft tissues while also contributing to comfort with temperature regulation during exercise.  These properties can also be very beneficial when working with a well conditioned athlete.  Buoyancy will, again, offload the athlete’s body weight.  This provides an opportunity for the athlete to practice maneuvers that may pose a higher injury risk on land or result in greater recovery needs.  The hydrostatic pressure of the water will compress the body, including the thoracic region, and shift blood towards the chest cavity.  This results in an increased effort to inhale when training in the water, which can result in stronger inspiratory muscles allowing the athlete to breath with greater ease when training on land.  Thermodynamics can aid in improving blood flow to the tissues and throughout the circulatory system.  In turn, the muscles can recover more proficiently.

            Hydrodynamic principles arise when the body, water or both are in motion.  Viscosity, turbulence and speed are examples of how moving in the water (or moving water) can further change the body’s ability to move and exercise.  These properties can be used to make the exercise sessions harder or easier depending on the member’s needs.  For instance, the member that is obese and has cardiovascular disease may need to begin their exercise journey with easier, more attainable exercises that use slower movements to reduce the viscous resistance experienced.  Moreover, they may perform the exercises without travel to decrease the amount of turbulence that they encounter.  On the contrary, your member, who is an athlete, may need to engage the principals of viscosity, turbulence and speed to obtain the stimulus that they need to achieve their workout goals.  Adding surface area cuffs to the arms or legs, moving at greater speeds, or adding travel can make exercises more challenging for the athlete. 

            If you are seeking diversification and growing your aquatic facilities membership, consider going vertical.  Aquatic exercise is a powerful exercise medium that can pull more members to your pool while providing a valuable service to your community. 

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