How Can Trainers Transition From Land to Aquatic Personal Training?

by Sue Hitzmann, MS on May 01, 2004

Tricks of the Trade

I recommend that personal trainers who train on land make the transition to aquatic personal training using these four steps.

First, take a few water-based strength training classes that use different equipment to understand current trends in aquatic group strength training. Look for aquatic training with hand buoys, medicine balls, elastic tubing and webbed gloves. Also take a few classes that use body weight alone, including mind-body applications such as ai-chi (tai chi adapted for the water) and aquatic yoga and Pilates applications. Pay close attention to what makes every joint action either similar to or different from the same exercise on land.

Work in the pool until you understand the different ways that concentric and eccentric muscular action occurs in the water environment. Depending on your geographic area, you will be either in salt water or chlorinated fresh water environments. Be aware that water principles can vary between these environments.

Second, take this newfound awareness of water properties to the classroom. Study aquatic guides such as YMCA Water Fitness for Health edited by Mary Sanders ( and the Aquatic Exercise Association Aquatic Personal Trainer Manual.

Learn the definitions for, and practical examples of, these uniquely aquatic terms: buoyancy, drag, acceleration, surface tension, inertia, viscosity, plyometrics and hydrostatic pressure. Ask different instructors to define these terms with practical examples so you are clear on their purpose.

Third, consider how you’d alter the traditional, land-based exercise program you’ve designed for two clients: one healthy person and one with special needs such as arthritis or osteoporosis. Get into the pool with your water fitness equipment at hand. Develop an exercise routine for each individual, training the same muscles you would train on land, but with the unique properties of the equipment and the water. If, for example, you have an elderly client with osteoporosis, execute lunges on land and then in the water add plyometric jumps between sides. Because the water offers both gentle support and resistance, the client may suddenly be able to attempt exercises not possible on land. The water equipment also may provide more options in the water than are possible on land.

Finally, continue talking to aquatic group exercise instructors. Compare exercises on land and in the water. Ask what an instructor does to train a specific joint action in the pool, and then work this exercise into your water training as appropriate. For example, asking “what can you do for a unilateral, functional, chest exercise when standing?” will reveal many options not even possible when dry. Read both marketing and programming information of other aquatic personal trainers at Web sites such as and, and supplement your library with videos and DVDs that outline hundreds of water exercises for special populations from sites such as

If you are a certified, land-based personal trainer who decides to take the plunge into water fitness, the water will add activities to your exercise toolbox that allow clients to seem to, for the first time ever, defy gravity.

Lawrence Biscontini

Golden Door Spa Group Fitness Manager, Mind-Body Personal Trainer and Nutritional Counselor

IDEA Master Personal Fitness Trainer

ACE Instructor of the Year and Reebok U Master Trainer

Fajardo, Puerto Rico

To become a personal trainer in the water, you must first, last and foremost understand your environment.

Without the basic understanding of the physics of water, you will not be able to translate the benefit of a water workout to the client. You will also not have the tools to evaluate movement, equipment and overload. If you are a well-educated land trainer and seek education about the best ways to train in the water, you can become a good trainer in the water. The key to success is being educated, conscientious and responsible.

Bethany Diamond

IDEA Advanced Personal Fitness Trainer

Atlanta, Georgia

The transition from land to water requires that both the trainer and the client develop new knowledge and skills. Simply dropping land exercise into the pool would be the same as trying to swim the breaststroke on a treadmill. It doesn't make sense!

Trainers need to address a number of areas in order to integrate water exercise into their training options. Ask yourself the following questions and then seek out the answers.

  • Do you understand the environment? What is the difference between training designs for land and the varying depths of water (shallow, transitional and deep)? Buoyancy creates assistance and resis- tance to movement as well as support. In some movements, water’s engagement against the body is in opposition to land, like working out upside-down! For exercises to be purposeful, you must understand the training responses.
  • Can you both model and then teach/ coach water-specific skills? In order to swim for health, you need to learn to swim well enough to create safe and effective overload. The same is true for water exercise. Clients must build skills, such as sculling for balance, in order to then be able to use water as a training medium. Trainers should practice in the pool on a regular basis so they are skilled in water and can model proper body mechanics.
  • Do you know how to design water progressions that effectively target functional living on land? These progressions should both utilize the properties of water and train the whole body for better movement on land, maximize a client’s time in the pool and help them to better achieve their objectives. Factors such as water temperature affect exercise design.
  • When is water appropriate for your client? Not everyone is a good candi- date for water exercise. How should a client be prepared for water exercise? How does water exercise supplement land training or living? Water’s natural support and on-demand resistance provide individualized exercise intensity. Do you understand how to allow clients to find their own pace, and can you teach personal intensity regulating skills for comfortable exercise?
  • Do you understand how and when to integrate land and water exercise ses- sions into a program for good health? What are the benefits of water training, what are the benefits of land training and what are the considerations for blending the two for a holistic approach to health?
  • Do you know how to work with clients with special needs? Since water is so forgiving, many of them will come to the pool for training. Can you perform effective assessments, teach individual- ized modifications, know how to respond to abnormal responses to pool exercise and know when to refer clients to a health care provider?
  • Do you understand how to respond to an emergency in water? Trainers should have basic knowledge and skills in how to work with an emergency team to ensure the safety of both the client and themselves.
  • Finally, what type of equipment pro- vides safe, comfortable and effective training progressions? Do you under- stand how to teach clients how to use the equipment properly for their individual needs?

To learn more about water fitness, check out resources such as YMCA Water Fitness for Health and WaterFit educational videos that teach moves based on research. For more information, see or

Mary E. Sanders, MS

Director, WaterFit/Wave Aerobics

Adjunct Professor and PhD Candidate

University of Nevada, Reno

Reno, Nevada

I made the transition from land to water because of the team sports coaching I was doing. I was also a strength conditioning coach and a medical assistant for volleyball, football and basketball teams and ran a gym in the military.

To help injured athletes get back to playing or to assist injured military personnel return to active duty, I worked very closely with physiotherapists and provided all the weight training the clients needed. However, some people were not yet ready to do land weight training, and I saw that water training would help them without compromising their injuries. While I learned to help these injured people in the water, I soon saw water’s potential to help athletes cross train.

How did I learn to cross train them in the water? I used simple anatomy and biomechanics. I looked at the skills required within the sport, broke them down using the principles of water, and soon my clients and I were jumping, cross country skiing, running and hitting baseballs and tennis shots in the water!

Land personal trainers can learn to use water movements. All you need to do is analyze the movements your clients need, break them down biomechanically and adapt them to water. Your clients will move to new heights, and you will add another program to your training repertoire.

Ken Baldwin

Owner, Betterbodiez Personal Training

Sports Conditioning Coach and Aquatics Presenter

Brisbane, Australia

If you train runners, I recommend that you learn about water training to help them prevent injuries. I have trained several runners to run long races and usually recommend that they do deep-water running once a week. The water running is crucial for them as their mileage increases and the impact becomes noticeable. Once runners get a feel for the water and receive a little help on form, they are hooked and welcome the change of environment. I recommend running beside them and coaching them on form as you would on the road.

If you are not working with runners, I recommend that you introduce the water as you would any new piece of equipment. Mix up your first workout to give clients a chance to experience both a cardiovascular and strength-focused pool workout. Work beside them in the pool to help determine their affinity for water fitness.

Tatiana A. Kolovou, MBA

Owner, Team Performance

Trainer and Presenter for The Nautilus Health and Fitness Group

Bloomington, Indiana

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About the Author

Sue Hitzmann, MS

Sue Hitzmann, MS IDEA Author/Presenter

Sue Hitzmann, MS, CST, NMT, is a nationally recognized somatic-movement educator and manual therapist. Her decades of practice, research, and study of anatomical science and alternative therapies have culminated in the creation of the M.E.L.T. Method® (MELT), a revolutionary approach to pain-free fitness and longevity. Sue got her start in the fitness industry as a group exercise instructor in 1988 before beginning her manual therapy practice in 1996. Over the past two decades, she has taught in some of the top clubs in New York City, including Reebok Sports Club/NY, Equinox, Crunch, and the JCC in Manhattan. Her 1999 video Boot Camp Training has sold more than half a million copies worldwide and remains one of the best-selling fitness videos today. After studying Applied Physiology and Anatomy in a Masters program, Sue designed her own path of study, completing thousands of hours of research, as well as certifications in manual therapies such as neuromuscular, craniosacral, and lymph drainage. In Sue’s private practice, she utilizes her manual therapy skills and extensive education and research background in anatomy and physiology to help determine a path to somatic healing for her clients. She works with dysfunctions such as joint pain, TMJ, organ issues, migraines, incontinence, and other difficult issues that are most often undertreated, overmedicated and infrequently remedied. For over two decades, Sue has been bringing her education, experience, and insight back to the health and fitness arena. She is a leading figure in the fitness industry, serving as a presenter for national organizations such as IDEA, ECA, and PMA, as well as an accredited continuing education provider for ACE, AFAA, and NASM. Drawing on cutting-edge, neurofascial science and proven manual therapy practices, Sue created MELT. This groundbreaking self-treatment program utilizes Hands-off Bodywork™ techniques to support the health, fitness, and quality of life of any person, at any age or activity level. Sue is currently training a wide array of professionals—from movement instructors and personal trainers to physical therapists and others who employ complementary, hands-on approaches—in the M.E.L.T. Method®, so they can teach this self-treatment technique to their clients and integrate this powerful tool into their practice. Sue’s primary goal is to empower people to take charge of their aging process through self-care and healthy living. Unfortunately, our health care system remains narrowly focused on treating symptoms with medication and surgery, which often yield short-term results while creating further imbalance. Sue wants to offer everyone access to powerful self-treatment techniques that treat the cause of pain and dysfunction and limit the negative effects of aging and activity. By maintaining an active lifestyle without perpetuating imbalance, we can all live longer…better.