BY SHIRLEY ARCHER, JD, MA
Building a successful aquatic fitness pro-
Develop a Successful Wa t e r Fitness P ro g r a m
With proper planning, you can build a profitable aquatic fitness program even if you've never taught a water class and don't have a pool!
gram involves much more than simply putting water classes on a schedule. From coordinating use of the pool to budgeting to hiring qualified instructors, the process of organizing, promoting and managing a water fitness program is challenging. The good news is the venture doesn't have to be a blindfolded dive. This article provides fitness professionals with practical pointers on planning, funding, equipping, staffing, promoting and managing a profitable water fitness program. Regardless of the scope of your new program, adequate planning and promotion are critical to its success. Read on to learn the nitty-gritty details of launching a water program and preparing for daily operations.
October 2001 IDEA HEALTH & FITNESS SOURCE
Look Before You Dive
Determining management's objectives for the water program will help drive your planning process. For example, if the goal is to use the pool during off-peak times, you will need to develop programming for the populations who are available to exercise during those times (e.g., at-home moms, retired individuals and students). For example, you may want to offer family fitness or kids' programming during the summer months, when school is not in session. Whose Pool Is It? Water fitness programs often fall into two departments: group fitness and aquatics. As a result, determining which department is responsible for the water fitness program can be challenging. In many facilities with a pool, the aquatics department handles pool management, lifeguard training and staffing, swimming lessons, swim teams and recreational lap swimming. The group fitness department typically handles group exercise; personal training; and management of training rooms, studios and gyms. If you are in charge of group fitness and water fitness programming, chances are you will straddle two departments. (If you want to develop a water fitness program but don't have a pool in your facility, see "What, No Pool?" on the next page.) Sharing the Pool. Program directors have different strategies for sharing aquatic facilities with swimming programs. "We are blessed at our facility to [be able to] close the pool to swimmers when our classes are in session," says Cynthia L. D. Bialek, program director and trainer for the Fitness Club of Fairfax in Fairfax, Virginia. However, not all facilities have this luxury. Generally, it comes down to numbers. If the pool is not large enough to accommodate lap swimming, swim instruction and group classes at the same time, the most popular activity will typically be scheduled during prime time and given the most space. Other successful compromises include allocating pool space based on member participation at a given time. For example, Shannon Gay Leyen, owner, instructor and personal trainer for Water, Workouts and Just Dance, based in Antioch, California, explains, "If our [water fitness] class meets a set number of participants, then the pool is not shared or divided by a lap lane." Another option is to allow the lifeguard to release an additional lap lane to a class if the class size exceeds a certain number of participants and the lap lane has fewer than a certain number of swimmers. A Balancing Act. Mary Sanders, MS, president and owner of WaterFit, based in Reno, Nevada, adds that it's important to "take [water fitness] programs seriously. Provide adequate space so clients can travel and work in full range of motion. Make sure the noise of one program does not interfere with another." Keep in mind, for example, that scheduling a kid's birthday party and an older-adult arthritis class at the same time may not produce happy results for anyone. Sharing the Locker Rooms. Compared to other types of programming, water fitness places a heavy burden on the locker rooms. Participants need to change and shower both before and
after class. A large class will significantly increase the number of towels used as well. If aquatic fitness classes are scheduled backto-back, you can end up with traffic jams in the changing rooms and shortages of shower stalls and towels. It's best to troubleshoot these issues in the early planning stages, rather than end up with disgruntled members.
Partnering With the Aquatics Department
Although coordinating pool use with another group requires good communication and interpersonal skills, these challenges are far outweighed by the advantages of sharing responsibilities with an aquatics department. For example, the pool manager is typically responsible for monitoring water quality, maintaining pool filtration and ensuring that the pool meets all legal requirements. (See "Water Exercise Liability" in the February 1998 issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Source for more information.) Hiring and Managing Staff. The aquatics department manager is also likely to handle the hiring and managing of lifeguards and swim instructors. As you increase the number of water programs and participants, the aquatics department may need to add more lifeguards to meet safety guidelines. The aquatics department will also have emergency procedures in place that all water fitness staff will need to learn and observe. Sharing Equipment. The aquatics department may already have equipment, such as kickboards, noodles and fins, that you can use in your water fitness classes. When you start preparing your water fitness program budget, you may be able to save your department money if you can negotiate shared use. Alternatively, you may be able to justify the allocation of more budget dollars for equipment if you purchase pieces that can be used in both swim instruction and group fitness. Pool Temperature. One item that may require some interdepartmental negotiation is pool temperature. Serious lap swimmers tend to prefer cooler pool temperatures--78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (
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