Water fitness classes have grown in popularity and creativity over the past 20 years. What started off as something more or less for older, less fit women has developed into a recognized form of fitness training for the superfit exerciser, the athlete recovering from injury, the older adult with a chronic condition or the person who simply enjoys how forgiving the water environment can be to joints. The pool is also a terrific environment for circuit and interval classes.

When targeted to older adults, interval or circuit water classes can incorporate exercises that mimic activities of daily living, such as running to catch a bus, avoiding a rainstorm, picking up grandchildren or reaching up to cupboards to put away groceries. Circuits are fun, offer variety and can be made sport-specific to the older golfer, tennis player or curler. The only thing limiting your options is how creative you’re willing to be. You can have no equipment, high-end choices or some inexpensive dollar-store finds (see below for ideas). The following two sample classes offer a glimpse into the many variations you can offer your older-adult water fitness participants.

Sample Class: Pool Circuits/
Intervals for Older Adults Details

Format: circuit/intervals in the water

Total Time: approximately 45 minutes (each)

Equipment needed: water weights, noodles, Frisbee® disks, marbles and mats

MUSIC: Use age-appropriate (generational) music that has 125–136 beats per minute. Some companies sell music that includes whistle noises to signify station changes.

Additional Considerations:

  • Set up stations in the shallow or deep end of the pool, or in a combination of both.
  • Make stations all cardiovascular or all strength, or alternate between the two.
  • Rotate students to different preset stations or, in the case of interval-type classes, intersperse different exercises throughout the class at specific times for specific lengths of time (see Sample Class 1).
  • Let participants determine the setup. For example, how many students are there, and what is their combined skill level? Class length is also a factor. >>
  • Give modifications for each exercise.

Keep success and safety in mind with this format, which works best when you have an existing rapport with the students. It helps when you have used the moves in previous classes, so you don’t need to spend much time explaining the exercises. You can also demonstrate and/or practice the moves for each station in the warm-up.

Sample Class 1

This class is a combination of 1-minute interval challenges. The warm-up should last at least 7–10 minutes and include basic water fitness moves, such as jogging or walking forward and back, sculling side to side, kicking, cross-country skiing and jumping jacks. Pair up students based on their fitness levels, not on whom they are most comfortable talking to. While not all the exercises are partner-based, it is more fun when participants can work as a team. This circuit does not require participants to switch stations. They just need to get their equipment, which is kept on the side (deck) of the pool. Keep the following in mind:

  • Have all partners perform the same move at the same time.
  • Explain each move first.
  • On your mark, urge participants to go “all out” for 1 minute. Repeat each move once for a “recovery” before going on to the next move (recovery time depends on participants’ fitness level, how many intervals you want and class length).
  • Finish with, at minimum, a 5-minute cool-down. Have students remain in mid-chest-depth water, legs apart and knees bent. Start by having them rotate their shoulders gently to the rear, under water, and transition to slow breaststroke moves with thumbs up. Then cue participants to look slowly over one shoulder and then the other; stand on one leg while sculling and place the other foot on the opposite thigh (or shin); and then repeat using the other leg.
    1. While straddling the noodle back-to-back, person A tries to cycle left while person B tries to cycle right. This is best done in mid-depth water or in the deep end of the pool.
    2. Partners face each other, holding two noodles lengthwise between them. Each person does a cross-country ski move with alternating legs and arms, holding onto noodles (shallow end).
    3. Each participant stands solo on a noodle (which is on the bottom of the pool) with hands sculling. Everyone “waddles” forward, then back (shallow end).
    4. Each participant kneels on noodle with hands out of water, focusing on balance (either depth).
    5. While straddling the noodle back-to-back, person A moves forward, pulling person B, who tries to maintain a vertical position (deep end).

    Sample Class 2

    This class is excellent for the end of a term or seasonal event, or as a themed class.

    Following a 7- to 10-minute warm-up (see Sample Class 1 for ideas), divide the class into groups based on how many stations you have. If you have six stations, as in the example below and in the chart, divide the class into six groups. The class works best if numbers are even. You must also have adequate equipment for everyone: large Frisbee disks, noodles, small balls, marbles and floating mats (like the ones children use in swim lessons). Have students move to the six stations (set up prior to class). In this example, stations are set up clockwise, with some in the shallow end and some mid-depth. Allow approximately 4 minutes at each station and factor in 1 minute for changing stations. Keep it simple, and finish with an adequate cool-down, using ideas from Sample Class 1.