Inspiring sedentary and obese people to adopt healthy lifestyle changes can be a challenge. Even if you don’t teach water classes, here’s an opportunity for you to inspire others in a water environment. Lazy rivers—“streams” with slow-moving currents—are becoming popular at many recreation facilities across the country. Fitness instructors can take advantage of these unique water settings to teach morbidly obese, deconditioned, physically challenged or sedentary adults movements that they can perform successfully.
Water Routes is easy to follow and easy to teach. Swim skills are not necessary. In fact, a lazy river is not required either! These water-walking techniques can be implemented in a shallow, hip-depth or waist-depth swimming pool, as long as the depth stays consistent throughout the walking route. Although this class is physically easy to teach, you will need your “A game” with respect to cuing, coaching and communicating. Make no mistake—this is not just another shallow-water class for rote beginners. Use easily understood language to maintain motivation and adherence.
Water Walking Routes Details
Format: water-based walking in a lazy river or pool
Goal/Emphasis: to encourage deconditioned people to enjoy exercise that meets their needs
Total Time: 30–50 minutes, depending on the availability of the pool or river, the participants’ needs and what’s appropriate for the population being served
Equipment/Environment Needed:This can be a lazy river (average depth of 21/2–31/2 feet) or a shallow-water swimming pool with a consistent depth and temperature (80–86 degrees Fahrenheit) and a smooth bottom. Participants are strongly encouraged to wear water shoes. The slip-on types you can purchase at Target or Walmart during the summer months are not recommended, as they tend to slip off during water-walking activities, especially in a lazy river. If water shoes are not available, participants may wear worn, clean fitness shoes that offer some arch support. A lifeguard is recommended, and all participants should bring water bottles.
Music not necessary, but background music may be played as long as it enhances the instruction
When teaching in this environment, it is best if you are in the river or pool with the participants. This helps make coaching, cuing and communicating seamless. You can then see how participants’ bodies move through the water, and can offer cues for proper technique, acknowledge correct form and make sure students are adhering to class directives.
Warm-Up (5–8 minutes)
Begin with water walking. Have participants move through the pool or river with a relaxed gait. Instruct them to maintain their “masses and spaces,” meaning they should keep the head lifted so the neck can naturally extend. To assist participants in finding this posture, give the cue, “Lift up through the rib cage and grow taller.” Instruct them to maintain an erect spine, shoulders drawn down and back, relaxed but open, chest lifted and arms hanging naturally by the sides with soft elbows.
To teach participants to move precisely through the sagittal plane, demonstrate how the arms should move during walking or running. Use examples that make sense to those not familiar with fitness terminology. For example, cue, “Move your arms by your sides as if they were the side rod moving the wheels on a train.” This technique is crucial to the effectiveness of the class, and for translation into functional daily living.
After several minutes of water walking, begin gentle range-of-motion activities that encourage joint mobility and flexibility. Emphasize joint actions that promote body awareness, including ankle plantar flexion and dorsiflexion, internal and external hip rotation and spinal mobility. Perform these activities while keeping some other part of the body moving in order to keep the body warm. For example, scull the hands in the water while lifting one foot off the pool bottom to perform ankle movements (point, flex, rotate in a circle). Do 8–10 repetitions and then switch to the other foot. If there are balance concerns, allow participants to be near the edge of the pool or river in case they need extra support.
Work Phase (~ 20–35 minutes)
Once participants have warmed up, begin to walk laps around the river or pool, focusing on a number of movement variables, including walking speeds, stride length, lateral walking and backward walking. Offer diversity by assigning tasks. For example:
- “Take large strides forward 10 steps and then walk in your normal gait for 10 steps. Repeat this until you make one lap around the river/pool.”
- “Walk forward for 15 counts, move into a lateral walking pattern (sideways) for 15 counts and then transition to a backward walking sequence for 15 counts. Perform on both sides (for the lateral walking).”
As you complete each lap, offer a new goal for the next one. For instance, lap one might focus on walking speed and lap two on longer strides; lap three could be each participant’s choice; and so on. This empowers people to take ownership for exercise selection and can make the class relative to their personal goals.
Cool-Down (5–10 minutes)
Once lap walking is complete, end with gentle group stretching (if space will allow) and a recap of the day’s activities. For example, discuss how slower walking speeds are associated with falls. Explain how improving walking gait speed decreases the risk of falling. Another important and helpful educational tidbit involves ankle mobility. Older adults who shuffle when they walk may also be at higher risk for falls. Practicing ankle plantar flexion and dorsiflexion will improve participants’ ability to move with more ankle mobility. This in turn will increase walking speeds and decrease the need to shuffle.
Water offers a forgiving environment for those who do not enjoy gravity-based exercises on land. It also inherently provides support and resistance. The aquatic environment enhances muscle endurance and the need for abdominal bracing during walking exercises. Hydrostatic pressure (from the lazy river) may alleviate lower-body edema (which occurs with some diseases), enhancing participants’ motivation to continue exercising. Lower working heart rates, a natural cooling effect and the comfort that a buoyant, water environment offers during exercise may be just the trick to get sedentary folks motivated to move.