It's no secret that the most in-demand personal trainers have a diverse skill set and are always looking for new ways to add variety to their clients' programming. Taking your training to the water to become a certified aquatic personal trainer could be a great next step in your professional development. With the right education and experience, adding aquatics to your personal training arsenal can expand your professional opportunities, increase your earning power, and give you a huge competitive advantage.
Training Opportunities in the Water
Fitness facilities are always searching for revenue-generating opportunities for their pools, and adding aquatic personal training is often an easy, flexible add-on to the regular pool schedule.
Despite this availability of pool time, there is a shortage of qualified aquatic personal trainers at most facilities. Nancy Doak, aquatic director of a large hospital-based fitness and wellness facility in Ohio, clearly sees the need for qualified aquatic personal trainers: “We have certified aquatic fitness professionals and certified land personal trainers, but there are not many qualified to marry these two options. We have positions to fill and clients who want aquatic personal training.” Both USA Swimming and the Aquatic Exercise Association have identified a growing interest in aquatic personal training and a shortage of qualified trainers.
The dilemma is two-fold. Aquatic fitness professionals who may have an aquatic certification and teach group fitness typically do not have a personal training certification. As a result, while they understand aquatic group fitness, how the water works, aquatic safety, and how to exercise effectively in the water, they do not have experience in risk analysis, assessment, or personalized programming. And many certified personal trainers who understand risk analysis, assessment, and personalized programming have no experience with water-based fitness programming.
As noted by Angie Proctor from the Aquatic Exercise Association,“There are not a lot of stats out there, but from our [recent] survey…only about 22%-25% of aquatic fitness professionals are doing aquatic personal training. The commitment of some aquatic fitness professionals is just not strong enough when they realize they really need a land-based personal training certification. Aquatics-certified professionals are moving more toward small group training.”
This shortage of skilled aquatic personal trainers opens the door for land-certified personal trainers to successfully expand into this market. If you like the water, have some water background or want to gain some, aquatic personal training is a viable career option.
Educational Requirements & Best Practices
Personal training in the aquatic environment is very different from training on land. In addition to a personal training certification from a reputable certifying organization, you need additional knowledge and experience in order to train in the water. The most comprehensive aquatic fitness professional certification offered is through the Aquatic Exercise Association. Aquatic personal training certificate programs are also offered at some community colleges. Another option for education is through aquatic personal training “certificate” programs offered by continuing education entities such as Fitness Learning Systems. These programs are not certifications, but provide extended education in the aquatic personal training field.
The best education programs focus on the properties of water (how the water “works”), environmental factors, and physiological responses to aquatic exercise. Without proper instruction, you will not fully understand how to use the water safely and optimize its potential as a training medium.
Any aquatics educational program you choose should cover the following topics:
Intensity management and monitoring.
It is critical to learn how to monitor intensity in the water and to understand aquatic heart rate deductions and adapted heart rate formulas. Water immersion causes heart rate bradycardia, which means your heart rate is slower in the water at the same intensity level as on land. So if you are working at 75% VO2 on land and your heart rate is 160 bpm, when you work at 75% VO2 in the water, your heart rate may only reach 145 bpm. It is very important to understand and account for the heart rate deduction in water exercise for client safety and to prescribe proper intensity of exercise (Chewning, Krist & de Figueiredo, n.d.).
Water is a very viscous environment. Movement tempo needs to be slowed in order to achieve full range of motion. If you increase speed, range of motion is compromised. Developing research indicates a tempo of approximately 134 bpm for optimal caloric consumption and oxygen consumption. This is slower than typical movement on land, but very comfortable in the water. Monitoring tempo in the water is one of the best tools to use to properly prescribe exercise intensity (Aquatic Exercise Association, 2010).
Water temperature and depth.
Water temperature and depth affect intensity and caloric consumption. A water temperature between 83-86ºF (28-30ºC) is recommended for cardiorespiratory exercise for maximum benefit. Warmer water may be required for muscle conditioning or flexibility training to avoid the physiological consequences of being chilled. Exercise in warmer water can compromise safety and physiological benefits (Aquatic Exercise Association, n.d.)
Effective aquatic exercise programming.
You need to have the right aquatic “moves” since you can’t depend on a treadmill or bike or weight machines to train your client in the water. You should have a deep understanding of how to move in the water, how to put together combinations of moves, and how to resistance-train your client. A variety of “water-specific” movements and formats can add variety to the workout and keep it fresh. A good educational program will teach you how to take full advantage of the aquatic environment. Many aquatic personal trainers will attend group fitness classes regularly to get movement ideas to use with clients (Aquatic Exercise Association, 2010).
Aquatic resistance training.
Research on aquatic resistance training has advanced in the past decade and there is a lot of evidence-based application for quantifying workload in the water. Resistance training equipment can include buoyant equipment, drag equipment, and weighted equipment. It is important to learn the specific muscle equations and applications for each kind of equipment (Chewning, n.d.).
Basic water safety.
A basic water safety course and CPR training is essential for all fitness professionals who work in an aquatic environment. You do not have to be a proficient swimmer to obtain basic rescue skills or to work in the aquatic environment, but you do need to be trained in basic water rescue methods. Basic rescue is offered by the American Red Cross and other aquatic safety organizations around the world.
Training in the water can range from therapeutic and gentle to very specific and intense. Many clients who cannot train on land or have difficulty training on land can successfully train in the water. As a result, the number of potential aquatic-based personal training clients is larger than for land-based training.
Target aquatic training markets include but are not limited to:
- Cross training clients. you can add variety to the programming of your longtime clients by including aquatic exercise in the workout mix. This can increase retention and training reach for existing clients. Some training formats combine about 25 minutes of land training with 25 minutes of aquatic training for optimum benefits.
- College and high school athletic teams, amateur and professional athletes, the weekend warrior. Research shows that aquatic plyometric exercise provides the same or better benefits with fewer injuries and reduced muscle soreness. This is an untapped market potential that could provide substantial income year round. In addition, you can increase training specificity for your athletes in the water. The water’s resistance surrounds you and provides resistance in all directions and planes of movement, making resisted specificity easy. Tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, gymnasts, dancers, ice skaters, and boxers are just a few of the athletes that have found aquatic training beneficial.
- Long distance runners. You can provide personal or small group deep water running workouts to avid runners. Research indicates that runners retain their leg strength and cardiorespiratory endurance in aquatic run training as long as the intensity remains comparable. Combined land/water running reduces impact, spares joints, and reduces injury and overuse. Have the runners come to the water in the winter months when the weather is bad.
- Injured clients. With appropriate knowledge and training you can actually aid the healing process enabling your client to retain function and strength while rehabilitating from an injury or surgery. There is a niche for aquatic trainers to work with clients post-rehab — after their rehab sessions run out.
- Overweight and obese clients. Heavy clients can exercise more comfortably and more vigorously in water without fear of weight-bearing joint damage. Many postural problems and malalignments can be corrected in the water while maintaining an intensity that promotes fat loss. With the obesity epidemic, there is no shortage of available overweight clients. Research clearly indicates that weight loss occurs equally in water exercise as long as intensity, duration, and frequency are properly applied. You have water walking, deep water exercise, and interval training as reduced or non weight-bearing options in the water for obese clients.
- Baby boomers and the aging population. Reduced joint impact, reduced fear of falling, reduced injury potential, and the benefits the water provides, all contribute to making the water an excellent training medium for this population. Research indicates improvements on land with aquatic balance, gait, and functional training.
- Pregnant clients. The water offers many benefits for pregnant clients including reduced impact, joint protection, reduced edema and swelling, back pain relief, and comfort.
- Children. Even during play, children receive cardiorespiratory and resistance benefits from the water. The water makes training children easy and fun!
Aquatic Session Logistics
Because of diversity of formats available for aquatic personal training, it is typically easy to find a spot in the pool to train a client at almost any time. You can train in the deep water during a shallow water group fitness class or smaller children’s swim lessons. You can train clients in the shallow water during a deep water group class or during diving lessons. There are typically gaps in all pool schedules that can accommodate personal training. Expect to compete with noise; most pools are pretty active and therefore somewhat noisy. Many facilities have two pools — a training tepid water pool and a warm water/therapy pool.
If you are personal training on land at a facility that has a pool, check out what the aquatic department would require for you to train in the pool. Ask about equipment, water depth, water temperatures, and available times that are an option for training. If they already offer aquatic personal training, see what education programs are available or required to expand your training to the pool and consider joining the aquatic personal training staff. Most aquatic facilities are embracing aquatic personal training as a revenue generating service for their members.If you are a self-employed personal trainer, there are many opportunities to get access to a training pool. Apartment complexes and hotels/motels will often agree to allow you to use the pool free or at a very low cost if you provide a discount for their residents or patrons. Many aquatic facilities will allow you to subcontract aquatic personal training and are often eager to offer this service. When deciding on a pool to use, be sure to check water depth, common water temperature, slope, and accessibility in and out of the water. Get in the pool and walk around to get a feel for what you can program in that pool. Ask the facility how they maintain their water chemistry, chemicals and water temperature. Do they keep the pool clean and safe? Do they have any equipment you can use or do you need to purchase and bring your own? Do they have a place you can store your equipment? Are they willing to maintain the pool at a usable water temperature? You may have to visit several times before you decide to contract with a pool. Remember to put your agreement in writing and have it signed by both parties. You will want to name the pool facility or company on your waiver of liability and may need to add them as additional insured on your professional liability insurance. You will also want to carry your own professional liability insurance if you are self-employed.
Aquatic training can be performed in shallow water, deep water, warm water, shallow/deep, and land/water. Aquatic training formats include interval, circuit, continuous, water walking, deep water interval, deep water running, suspended, cadence training, plyometric training, sports training, specialized equipment training, resistance training, functional training, kickboxing, arthritis, buoyancy assisted stretching, yoga, T'ai Chi, Ai Chi, children, perinatal, and mixed training formats.
The most commonly used formats in aquatic personal training are: interval (deep and shallow), shallow water walking, deep water running, cadence training (new and growing in popularity), specialized equipment training, functional training, and resistance training. There are ways to work on every client’s goals in the water, and the exercise options are typically much broader than what you can offer clients on land. Many clients that may not be able to exercise on land can exercise in the water (Aquatic Exercise Association, 2010).
Sample Aquatic Training Program Format for Adults
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Format: Total Conditioning
Thermal Warm-Up: 5 Minutes
Acclimatize client to the water to promote favorable physiological responses. This includes light cardiorespiratory exercise to raise core temperature and dynamic stretching to lubricate joints and prevent chilling.
Cardiorespiratory Training: 25-30 Minutes
Includes exercises designed to allow the client to reach target intensity and duration. Exercises can create a continuous aerobic response or an interval format can be used. Jumping jacks, cross country skis, knee lifts, hamstring curls, kicks (front, side, and back), and inner thigh lifts are all popular cardiovascular exercises. Specialty formats such as kickboxing, deep water, cadence training, plyometric training, and specialty training with equipment are also popular.
Resistance Training: 15-20 Minutes
Includes joint/muscle specific resistance training exercises with equipment to build muscular fitness. The types of exercises performed are dependent on the type of equipment used. Buoyant and drag equipment are most popular and typically available at most facilities.
Post-Workout Stretch: 5 Minutes
Includes static stretching for all major muscles performed in the pool. In some conditions, you may need to do dynamic stretching to retain body heat if the client starts to become chilled.
Diversification is the key to a resourceful and prosperous personal training career. The water offers boundless personal and small group training opportunities. There are so many niches in which to specialize that it is difficult to decide which path to take. The career paths and income potential are endless. Water exercise is not a fad or just for old people. It has become a viable and beneficial medium for training all levels and ages of clients around the world.
Get your feet wet and expand your personal training career!
- Aquatic Exercise Association. (2010). Aquatic Fitness Professional Manual (6th ed.). Champagne, IL: Human Kinetics.
- AEA Standards & Guidelines. (n.d.). www.AEAwave.com. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://www.aeawave.com/PublicPages/Education/StandardsGuidelines.aspx.
- Chewning, J., Krist, P., & de Figueiredo, P. P. (n.d.). Monitoring Your Aquatic Heart Rate: Increasing Accuracy with the Kruel Aquatic Adaptation. www.AEAwave.com. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://www.aeawave.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=BmHHWqQMWRI%3d&tabid=199&mid=600.
- Chewning, J. (n.d.). Aquatic Equipment: Body and Program Benefits. www.FitnessLearningSystems.com. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://www.fitnesslearningsystems.com/author_articles/chewning_aquatic_equipment_benefits.pdf.
- Chewning, J. (n.d.). Brief History of the Evolution of Resistance Training in the Aquatic Environment. www.FitnessLearningSystems.com. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from www.fitnesslearningsystems.com/author_articles/chewning_evolution_of_resistance_tra%E2%80%A6.pdf
- Chewning, J. (n.d.). A Better Way to Do Plyometric Exercise. www.FitnessLearningSystems.com. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://www.fitnesslearningsystems.com/author_articles/chewning_a_better_way_to_do_plyometric_exercise.pdf.
- Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA). www.AEAwave.com There are many articles and resources available on the AEA website. Choose the Research tab: Resources and find great research reviews about Aquatic Resistance Training, Aquatic Plyometric Exercise, Bone Density in the Water, Weight Loss in the Water, etc.
- Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute (ATRI). www.ATRI.org Provides information and certificate programs for special populations, Ai Chi and Aquatic Therapy.
- Arthritis Foundation. www.arthritis.org The Arthritis Foundation has an aquatic certificate program.
- Biondi, M., & Wykle, M. (n.d.). Core Stabilization and Abdominals. AEAwave.com. www.aeawave.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=AAks5WoekL4%3d&tabid=199&mid=600.
- Burdenko Water and Sports Therapy Institute. www.Burdenko.com Training and certificate program available for Fitness Intelligence and the Burdenko Method for both land and water training.
- Chewning, J. (n.d.). The Effect of Water Temperature on Aquatic Exercise. www.AEAwave.com. www.aeawave.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=xNsc7jLwcdc%3d&tabid=199&mid=600
- Chewning, J. (n.d.). Bone Density Issues in Aquatic Exercise. AEAwave.com. www.aeawave.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=V-Ap0T8uSYQ%3d&tabid=199&mid=600
- Chewning, J. (n.d.). Aquatic Programming Techniques for Weight Loss. AEAwave.com. www.aeawave.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=cXhtVyDAQMY%3d&tabid=199&mid=600
- Fitness Learning Systems. www.FitnessLearningSystems.com. Many aquatic and land courses are available for personal trainers through this website, including an Aquatic Personal Training Certificate Program.