Aquatic equipment is growing in popularity, function and design. In the past 10 years, the aquatic equipment industry has exploded with well-designed, beneficial options for use in group fitness, personal training and rehabilitation applications for fitness professionals. Including aquatic equipment in your programs serves many purposes, such as creating more resistance and a higher intensity/workload for both muscular fitness and cardiorespiratory conditioning, creating progressive overload for training or rehabilitation, adding variety to a workout and variability for physiological parameters and aiding to a client's form, alignment, stability and balance. There are several types of aquatic equipment available, typically divided into six primary categories.
Buoyancy aquatic equipment includes foam hand bars, balls, cuffs, wafers, noodles, bars and boards. This equipment is primarily made of closed cell foam to resist mildew and moisture saturation and has a decent shelf life. There is little or no need for repair, with periodic replacement being the primary ongoing expense. The size of the equipment, shape, density of foam, lever length and speed of movement all contribute to determine the level of resistance provided by the equipment.
A primary form and alignment consideration is shoulder girdle elevation. When a client's underused lower trapezius become tired from holding the shoulder girdle down against the buoyed resistance, the shoulders tend to elevate. This leads to risk of shoulder impingement. Proper form includes movement from the glenohumeral joint with the shoulder girdle in neutral position. It is important for the fitness professional to fully understand and be adequately trained for proper form and technique, proper targeting of muscle groups and proper progression with buoyancy equipment. The muscle action equation for buoyancy equipment is movement assisted (eccentric action) toward the surface of the water and resisted (concentric action) toward the pool bottom. It is important to understand the biomechanics of buoyant equipment use in order to provide a safe and effective workout.
Weighted aquatic equipment includes wrist weights, ankle weights, hand-held weights and weight belts. Look for water-resistant products or those designed for use in the water. Although use of weighted equipment seems counterproductive in the water, there is application in sports-specific and rehabilitation settings. However, safety factors include use of attached weights and increased risk of drowning. Therefore, clients should be closely supervised. It is also important to remember that weight belts increase impact in the water. So clients coming to the water to reduce or avoid impact should not use weight belts or will need to be closely monitored.
Resistance is primarily determined by the amount of weight being used. The muscle action for weighted equipment is the same as on land, only the water's buoyancy may slightly reduce the resistance while the water's drag properties may increase the resistance. Remember, movement toward the surface of the pool is resisted (concentric action), and movement toward the pool bottom is assisted (eccentric action). Thus, weighted muscle action works exactly opposite of buoyancy muscle action in the water.
Drag aquatic equipment includes webbed gloves, fins, cuffs, paddles and various types of hand-held resistance. It is relatively durable, and replacement costs are the primary expense after your initial purchase. Drag equipment creates resistance in all directions and all planes of movement, working with the multi-directional resistance of the water. As with buoyant equipment, the size of the equipment, shape, surface area, lever length of arm or leg and speed of movement all contribute to determine the level of drag resistance.
The muscle action for drag equipment consists primarily of concentric muscle actions due to the water's multi-directional resistance. Although eccentric muscle actions occur in the antagonist muscle during the deceleration phase of range of motion, the primary action remains concentric. Drag equipment works both parts of a muscle pair in a complete repetition. For example, in a standing arm curl, both the biceps and triceps muscles are trained with drag equipment. Therefore, you do not have to do a separate exercise for each muscle or group.
Rubberized equipment includes tubes and bands. Many of the rubberized equipment purchased for use in land fitness programs can be used in the water as well. Look for chlorine-resistant brands to extend equipment life. Bands and tubes are relatively inexpensive, and the primary cost after your initial purchase is replacement.
The muscle action equation for rubberized equipment in the water is the same as on land. But the water's resistance may add some additional work. The primary muscle group being worked and the type of muscle action are dependent upon the placement of the anchor point. Movement away from the anchored point is resisted (concentric action), and movement toward the anchored point is assisted (eccentric action).
Neutral Buoyancy Equipment
Neutral buoyancy, or the ability to float at the water's surface, is typically created with belts, vests and noodles. There are shoulder impingement issues with "hanging" or being suspended from hand-held buoyant equipment for long periods of time, so it is not recommended. Buoyancy equipment attached to the body is considered safer and more effective. Neutral buoyancy equipment is not typically used to create resistance to movement but to create neutral buoyancy instead. Based on current research, to maximize proper form, technique and energy expenditure in deep water exercise, a neutral buoyancy belt, vest or noodle is highly recommended. It is clear that proper vertical position improves the effectiveness of deep water vertical exercise.
Additional Aquatic Equipment
There are several other types of aquatic equipment, including aquatic bikes, treadmills, cross trainers, swim tether systems, swim/water walking current systems, aquatic steps and aquatic exercise stations that attach to the side of the pool. In fact, there are now spas available with one end designed for relaxation while the other end is outfitted with aquatic exercise stations for resistance training.
Aquatic Equipment Considerations
Any equipment purchase can be a major expense. So it is important to consider storage issues, pool characteristics and staff training before taking the plunge. Proper storage of aquatic equipment is essential to its longer life. Proper drainage and ventilation are primary considerations. And make sure to secure the equipment to avoid theft and liability issues. There are securable racks, bins and bags available for deck or closet storage. Or portable storage, such as a rolling rack or bin, makes it easy to transport the equipment from storage to the pool deck. Storage costs should be factored into initial equipment purchase expenses.
Also, pool characteristics determine your ability to effectively use aquatic equipment in your environment. Pool depth, pool accessibility, water temperature and pool bottom/slope may all play a role in equipment use. Equipment requires more working space for each client, so you may need to reduce the number of clients in the pool at the same time with equipment. Try the equipment before you buy it to be sure it will allow for safe entry and exit of the pool. Also consider ease of use for each client and population for which you intend to use the equipment.
The final and probably most important consideration to make is staff or professional training. If you are not trained to use the equipment, you won't use it, you will not use it effectively, there may be safety and liability issues and you won't take care of the equipment properly, therefore, shortening its life. Many equipment vendors have written material, DVDs, interactive computer CDROMs and workshops to help you learn to use the equipment properly. You can get equipment training at several professional workshops or conferences. Time spent training to use aquatic equipment properly is time well-spent.
June Lindle Chewning is owner and manager of Harrison Health and Fitness Center, near Cincinnati,