Not all buoyancy barbells or water weights are created equal. To add to the confusion, aqua equipment companies call their buoyancy barbells by different names. Hydro-Fit calls them hand buoys, Sprint Aquatics calls them bells, and other companies call them dumbbells or weights. There are also many non-aquatic companies that may sell them, and I am not sure what they call them! Unlike your weights or barbells in a gym setting, it is not written on the equipment if it is 5 lbs, 10 lbs, etc. As far as I have been able to tell, there is not an exact metric for how much the equipment weighs due to buoyancy.

Take the time to find out which buoyancy equipment is denser (or has more foam), which typically makes it more challenging. And find out which is easier for your students to use so that you can offer that option/modification to those with shoulder issues or who need to take it easy. As the instructor, it is important for you to know which equipment is best for which students. Next, you’ll want to view all your students for shoulder impingement. Are they shrugging their shoulders or are the shoulders too close to their ears? Is the student tensing or is there unevenness of the shoulders? You’ll also want to monitor hand position and possible arthritis in the hands. Is it too painful? If so, changing the hand positions, easing grip, getting a lighter weight, OR not using any equipment are all viable options. Be sure the student can perform the full range of motion that you are asking them to do but perform it safely.

I recommend starting out with stationary strength training, rather than adding “weights” to the cardio portion of the class so that you can monitor everyone more closely. It IS acceptable to use buoyancy equipment during an aquatic cardio workout; however, there are some rules to that as well.

Here are some basic rules regarding buoyancy weights in a water aerobics class:

  1. Fifteen repetitions in a row are about the maximum for the weights.
  2. Do not place and use the weights under the armpits.
  3. Do not suspend using the weights unless you have a buoyancy belt on. This is the job of a noodle in most cases.
  4. Do not grip the handle tightly. Once this starts to happen, it is time to rest.

This video shows standing core work with the buoys. It was very challenging for these ladies to get the buoy down where I wanted it. That is something for them to strive for. This particular exercise takes tremendous core work and upper body strength. In particular, the anterior (front) deltoid and some tricep as well.

Lastly, it is very important that your students are in the right depth of water and that they are not hyperextending their backs. Try all exercises yourself before bringing them to your students!

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. 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.