Class Diversity Teaching Tips

by Janice Jaicks

Anyone who has ever taught water aerobics has experienced what I call the CDC: Class Diversity Challenge. In a class of twenty, you likely have a big variety of fitness levels. What does that mean? Your participants might come in different shapes and sizes, as well as have varying exercise history levels. Some of your participants might have experience in your class or a fellow water aerobics instructors’ class, and therefore not require too much added attention. On the other hand, you might have a beginner or individual who is just getting started on their fitness journey.

So what is an instructor to do?!


Right off the bat, I will tell you NOT to teach to the weakest link. Teach to one of the students who appears to be fit, understands the water principles, and who wants to work hard. That is not the student who moves crazy fast, has bad posture, and/or does not understand how the water factors into the workout!

Next, let’s remember that it’s human nature not to work harder than the instructor guides us to do. And to be honest…I find that when an instructor sees a crowd of grey-haired guests, they often think the group has one foot in the grave. The inclination is not to offer impact or power moves, and lead with more of a slow-paced (“senior”) aqua movement class. Now, there certainly may be a group that needs that (and perhaps a retirement community pool that titles its classes something like Senior Aqua Aerobics or Aqua Yoga for Seniors; however, even the retirement groups can typically handle impact, want some intensity, and want to FEEL their workout. They also don’t want to be bored to tears or treated like they are old!


To assess a first-time class, start slow and build up. Begin with short levers, slow and decisive cues, motivation without shouting, and so on. Be aware of each student and how they seem to be responding. Then, pick it up a notch. Longer levers, options to create white water, options to lift the legs higher, etc. Gradual progression while observing each student is the recipe for success.


As an instructor, you should know the difference between impact and intensity. Impact means the movement of the feet hitting the pool floor. A jumping jack is an impactful move. A cross-country ski is also impacting the pool floor. Adding power and perhaps speed with the arms by creating white water is also a way of creating more intensity on the particular move. Again, the majority of older adults can impact. They can do a jumping jack and be safe! They most likely cannot do it on land, but in the water — yes! Contrary to what I’ve heard some say, water aerobics (unless it’s deep water, where your feet are not touching the ground at all) is not a zero-impact activity. It is low impact. You are still landing on concrete, so here are a few precautions to share with your students:

  • SHOES. Wearing a good aquatic fitness shoe makes a difference. Ryka, Lands End, Speedo are all good brands. Ryka is my favorite. A good fit is crucial. Your joints are still impacting, so the Target-brand water shoe that is made just to protect the bottom of your feet from stepping on something sharp is NOT going to protect your knees, hips, and joints from the impact. Period.
  • DEPTH OF WATER. At the beginning of each class make sure each student is in the right depth of water. That is typically arm-pit or nipple-depth. Even though this step will typically done early in the class, make your students aware so that they can monitor their depth themselves.
  • UP NOT DOWN. The power of the move should be the upward motion, not the downward (toward the floor) “Power up, not down” is what I cue. I don’t think everyone “gets that”, so I observe and then I can correct in a different way.

Good luck in your aquatic endeavors and reach out if you need me!



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