If "aquatic exercise" brings to mind a low-intensity, low-impact class geared toward the older adult population, deconditioned individuals and injured athletes, you are right . . . and then again, you've missed the perfect wave! Aquatic exercise is an excellent exercise media for ALL ages, ability levels and athletic training for performance. Pools can be quite profitable with creative, multiple-use programming.
The surge in participation is directly related to the increase in education and awareness, both in industry professionals and the general population. Participants are beginning to realize that pools are not just for swimming anymore; vertical exercise in various forms such as walking, running, aerobic dance and step training has moved into the water. Shallow and deep water programs attract swimmers and non-swimmers alike. Fitness professionals recognize the benefits that water can provide and see a new arena for both group exercise and personal training. The program options are as versatile and creative as the instructors themselves, bringing in participants from 5 to 95, the fit and not-so-fit, the professional athlete and the "armchair athlete". In the States, facilities are offering options such as Water Tai Chi, Water Boxing, Aquatic Line Dancing, Personal Pool Training, Children's Aquatic Fitness, and Ski Conditioning/Sports Specific Training.
Pool operation managers and aquatic supervisors are learning to design multiple use schedules that still remain "user friendly". Lap swimming and swim lessons can be compatible with shallow water aerobic programs, but programming must be carefully considered. Recreational facilities might also consider renting space to therapy and rehabilitation clinics that do not have their own pools; this can bring in additional revenue, especially during non-peak hours of operation. One must delineate respective boundaries (i.e. designated lane lines or pool depths) and recognize acoustical problems that may arise with simultaneous activities. Not only will multiple programming produce direct financial benefits, but you will reach a much larger, and more diverse, target group with the potential for cross-over to other facility programs through exposure.
Aquatic Exercise, aqua therapy, working out in the water, Aquatics, aquatic exercising, Aqua Gyms, Aqua Treadmills. Call it what you want its getting hot.
Consider this example: An outdoor municipal pool offers youth swim lessons and a shallow water aerobic class prior to open swim. The 3 to 3.5 foot (0.9 to 1 metre) depth is roped off for lessons leaving 3.5 to 5 foot (1 to 1.5 metre) depth available for exercise. The acoustical problems can be overcome by maintaining control over children's talking, yelling and splashing. The potential exists for parent and child to take separate programs within similar time slots, attracting individuals that might otherwise not consider participation. The pool can earn income through rental fees or percentage or registration for two activities during a normal "down time" of the facility with little increase in operational costs.
In addition to programming, new developments in equipment - from inexpensive foam logs to state-of-the-art underwater treadmills - are attracting people to the water like never before. Workout stations that attach pool side create an "aquatic weight room" that can be utilized in group exercise or by facility members to increase the intensity of the workout or simply provide a different exercise modality (i.e. flotation belts and vests help the participant to maintain a buoyant, upright position for deep water running.)
Remember, options provide opportunities; the water provides options not available otherwise. Don't underestimate the potential benefits from riding this fitness wave. Pools can open the doors of your facility to new members, provide cross-training options (and thus increase adherence and retention) for existing members and be profitable for the facility.
Julie See is the President of the Aquatic Exercise Association. The organization is recognized in over 30 countries, and offers extensive education opportunities.