5 Tips for Being an Effective Water Aerobics Instructor

by Janice Jaicks

It’s not brain surgery, by any means. But for some reason, the quality of water aerobic instructors can often be subpar. I hate to be insulting, because you may be reading this, and you may be an awesome instructor! I think the cause often comes from group exercise managers not knowing themselves how to teach aqua fitness classes. Therefore, of course, they don’t know what to look for in an aqua instructor, how to train them, or how to evaluate their skillset. More often than not, a spot needs filling at the pool, and the group exercise manager will call on one of his/her instructors to take over. 

Janice teaching an aqua aerobics class.

A common mindset I’ve seen over the years is “It’s easy, it’s just water aerobics,” and in truth it’s not that it’s hard but it’s different. A quality aqua fitness instructor needs to know how to teach a safe and effective water aerobics class on a consistent basis. Through my 30+ years in the industry (some of which have been in a management positions) I’ve evaluated and viewed a lot of instructors and the number one thing I’ve seen the most of is jogging (boring)! Jogging while it can be a useful tool to connect movements is lack luster and not creative (you’ve got to motivate your students)! I think one of the biggest compliments that I’ve gotten from one of my long-time students is “You don’t treat us like we are old”! 

Here are 5 effective tips to improve your aqua fitness class: 

  1. Create Overload. In other words, you must do enough repetitions because it is a different environment. Your speed is different than if you are on “land”. Four reps, or even eight, does not work. Do ten, twelve, or even twenty reps in a row of the same move. What I like to do at the end of the cardio segment of my class is really increase the intensity and increase the number of repetitions. Depending upon the group’s level of experience, I might do 20 frogs, immediately followed by 20 bunnies then 20 basketball shoots. Those are all types of moves that are more challenging. Side note, do not be concerned that everyone is moving at the same speed. They will not be. 
  1. Transitions. It’s got to make sense… It CAN’T feel awkward from one move to another. It’s important to try the moves first in the water and see how it all flows together in a class. My favorite transition is the cross-country ski, followed by a leapin’ lizard, followed by mogul ski, and then the twist. This sequence flows nicely and is one that I often will repeat.
  1. Pick it up a Notch! It’s human nature. No one is going to work harder than the instructor asks them to! It’s no secret that as aqua instructors we tend to get predominantly older adults in our classes. Just because they are older, does not mean they have one foot in the grave! Unless the class is labeled as an arthritis only or a therapy class, MOVE ‘EM! Most older adults can jump, they can impact, and many of them actually want more movement. Be sure you know which moves are easy and which are not so easy. For example, your rocking horse is a great move. I, personally, would put it at the beginning of the class, not the end. It is not a challenging move. Some examples of a challenging moves are: a frog, a cheerleader, and a basketball shoot. That being said, offer modifications/options for those who do need that. 
  1. Be Specific. Be specific in your cues and when offering a modification. For example, “go at your own pace” is not really a specific modification. That can mean a variety of things to a variety of people. “Do a one-legged jump jack, instead of two-legged, if you prefer not to impact”. Not only do you have to ‘tell them’ that, you have to ‘show them’. You have to demonstrate the differences.  
  1. Motivate. Inspire. Use inflection and excitement in your voice. Move around. Encourage! Be caring. Make it fun. Like I said, it’s not brain surgery! 

And one last thing, if you cannot see your students and they cannot see you, your job is “on the deck”, not in the water! Learn how to deck-teach. It’s different than teaching floor aerobics! 

Janice has been teaching water aerobics since 1985 when she was asked to teach at the Mesa YMCA. She has worked with all populations (athletes, older adults, special populations) at health clubs and resorts since that time. Her sense of humor, motivating attitude and caring nature make her one of the most sought-after instructors in the valley. Janice has also managed and trained hundreds of aqua instructors over the past 20 years. She is the creator and presenter of Aqua Progressions, a training designed for new and veteran water aerobics instructors to learn choreography tools, review safety and contraindications for all populations, and understand the principles and properties of water for a safe, effective workout. Janice has presented for several national organizations such as IDEA World, SCW Mania, and her own FitnessFest and AquaCon conferences.

10 thoughts on “5 Tips for Being an Effective Water Aerobics Instructor”

  1. Betty A. Blaylock

    Great info as always. Right now our group is more social with some exercise. We have been so isolated that we need and want that social contact. I push my group but don’t do an exercise 20xs. They loose interest. I challenge them sometimes by doing 4, changing, doing 8, changing doing 6. They seem to adjust to that better.

    1. Thanks for the reply Betty! So appreciate it. Whatever works for you and your group! I don’t really agree with the only four counts, like I mentioned in my article about creating overload, but like I said, “it’s your group and you are the boss of the applesause” and I know you have been teaching for a very long time! So it obviously is what works with your audience. Your fan club. It is important, like you said, not to bore them! And switching maybe avoids the talking, right?!

  2. I just started my 21st year teaching water aerobics. Currently teaching 5x week as the only instructor. I teach Silver Splash, oodles of Noodles, and a more intense class with emphasis on strength training and water walking in the lazy river.
    I live in AZ and the weather was beautiful through the beginning of November. We were on furlough from mid-March until July 1 when the outdoor pool was allowed to open. We stayed outside through November 5 and finally moved inside 10 days later. Current classes are limited to 12 students to maintain social distancing.

    1. Great Linda! I have not taught since Arizona opened for those brief three weeks last… when was it? May? Yikes.
      Good for you. I forget where you live in Arizona? I know around the Phoenix area nothing is open indoors except maybe Lifetime. That I know of anyways.

    2. Hello Linda! My name is Nicole, I live in Arizona also!!!!!
      I was furloughed from March until October! I sure did miss my “water peeps”! I teach at Trilogy in Vistancia….where are you?

  3. Love your tips! I have taught water aerobics for 12 or more years now to all ages and I am always looking for great ideas.

    1. Thanks Jackie! It’s fun, yes? I have not taught now for months.. I hope I don’t forget how!! Are you teaching right now?

  4. Thanks for the reply Betty! So appreciate it. Whatever works for you and your group! I don’t really agree with the only four counts, like I mentioned in my article about creating overload, but like I said, “it’s your group and you are the boss of the applesause” and I know you have been teaching for a very long time! So it obviously is what works with your audience. Your fan club. It is important, like you said, not to bore them! And switching maybe avoids the talking, right?!

  5. I have taught water aerobics since 1988. That is before water aerobic equipment was invented! We used milk jugs and downy bottles as well as the swim teams kickboards. I work in a facility now that has a wide variety of water classes, plyometrics to water yoga. I learned from an aquatic training several years ago to not switch the arms and the legs at the same time “For older adults” Which made sense and made smooth transitions. For instance: A “traditional” Cross Country Ski to a Cross Country Ski with jumping jack arms and then Jumping Jack arms and legs and so on. It changed the way I teach and gave me lots of variety!

    1. I like it! So do you mean that you change legs but not the arm pattern? And you change arms later? So they can catch on? I’m trying to visualize what you are saying. I do that as well, but only sometimes.
      Oh yes, I started with milk jugs too!! And floaties around the ankles a few times- Almost lost a lady on that one!

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