Why Aqua Fitness Isn’t Taken Seriously and Why It SHOULD Be Taken Seriously


By: Sharlie Peterson
Shockwave Aqua Fitness


My name is Sharlie Peterson, and I’m a Waterleader. It’s like a cheerleader but with more aggressive excitement! And today I want to talk about why my sport is oftentimes viewed as laughable by the fitness industry.

Ask most aquatic fitness instructors and they will tell you the struggles of teaching aquatic classes as opposed to regular. The stereotypes, the treatment from other fitness instructors and even facility management, and the pool environment all play a role as to why we are often the afterthought of the fitness industry. When it reality, we should be at the forefront.

Let’s discuss each point to learn more.


1. Stereotype: for older adults and those with physical rehabilitation and mobility needs.

YES, water exercise IS for these populations and provides amazing treatments and mobility/joint strengthening for them. However, the term most associate with water exercise is low impact. To most, low impact must mean you’re not truly achieving a workout like you do in a regular fitness class or gym floor setting, when thats just not the case. Low impact does not equal low intensity.

In the water, you have resistance hitting your body all around constantly. Doing cardiovascular exercises such as jogging or jumping exercises? The water is giving you an added element of resistance. Performing strengthening exercises with or without weights? The water is constantly pushing and pulling for an added element of strengthening. So one could say, you’re actually working HARDER in the water than you are on land. The amazing thing about water is, you’re just not feeling the impact on your joints as much. This is another reason as to why fitness leaders don’t think it’s a serious workout: “If I don’t feel it, it must not be worthwhile.” I don’t know about you, but not everyone enjoys their bodies aching and being sore after a workout. And some bodies can’t handle that sort of extreme pressure on their joints. This is why aquatic fitness is quite literally for everyone regardless of age, gender, or level of mobility. Aquatic fitness formatting offers everything from power classes, HIIT, Boot Camp, and equipment-based classes to Ai Chi, Yoga and Arthritis classes. There is something for EVERYONE regardless of skill and mobility levels. In our Shockwave Aqua Fitness classes, we have everyone from trained athletes to those just starting their fitness journeys, to those who get in the water just to be able to keep exercising and moving. It’s a beautiful thing to see that more pool facilities and gyms should be celebrating rather than passing off. Which brings us to point #2.


2. Treatment towards Aquatic Fitness in the Fitness industry

When I first joined a gym back in 2016 I did the usual intake forms and tour with a personal trainer. He gave me the rundown of their PT programs, the awesome amenities and then went over a few of the group fitness classes like the Spin and Yoga classes. When I mentioned my mom taught aqua classes, his response was “Oh, yeah! Water is great! I refer all my clients with rehabilitative needs to the aqua classes!” •big sigh• this is how we are treated in nearly every gym across the nation. New gym members only get referred to us if they’re barely mobile, older or morbidly obese and can’t do a ton of training in a regular fitness studio. We never get offered the younger athletic members, which is why some of us constantly recruit on our own to get the younger crowd to try our classes. This is also why the younger demographic (18-35) often think of us as exactly what big gyms label us as - older people floating around on noodles barely moving our bodies. This just isn’t the case.

In a typical Aqua HIIT class, my participants are burning between 350-800 active calories during a 45 minute workout (via Apple Watch data.) and seeing major results! I have one class member who is down 100 pounds since the beginning of summer 2022 mainly from water exercise and good eating habits. These goals can easily be achieved in aquatic classes and it’s about time we start having open and honest discussions with our facilities about the benefits for EVERY age and ability level.

Oh, and by the way, you ARE sweating in the water. You just can’t tell most times because of the cooling factor that the water provides. Another bonus for us lovers of water who don’t so much love to sweat constantly.


3. The Pool Environment

If you’ve ever taken a “land fitness” class such as yoga, spin, Zumba, etc, you’ll notice they have a studio to themselves. No screaming kids throwing balls, no private yoga lessons happening in the same studio while a regular yoga class is taking place, and no one talking loudly in the corner of a Zumba studio so that it’s hard to hear the music and the instruction. That must be nice!

Yet in the water world, many instructors are forced to teach in a pool setting while swim lessons are happening in the same space they are having classes. Oftentimes open swim for kids is happening at one end of the pool while the other half of the pool is supposed to be for the fitness class. I can’t tell you how many kids and rubber balls I’ve had to dodge at previous facilities along with my class members. And of course, the lovely hot tub and sauna situation. People love to talk super loud to one another in hot tubs (the echo of most pools doesn’t help) and thus becomes incredibly distracting to class members. I’ve also been in facilities where we have to teach right in front of a sauna door where people go in and out of and don’t care if YOU’RE in their way.

While I’m glad the pool is a place for so many different groups of people to enjoy, the aquatic fitness instructor has the added task of keeping our classes focused while so much chaotic activity is happening around us. Sadly, when I have brought this to the attention of facilities in the past, they chalk it up to us being Divas with Demands. I promise you if a personal trainer had kids running around their gym space while trying to SAFELY train a client, it would be taken care of immediately.

These are conversations that need to start happening between instructors, aquatic coordinators and facility managers to educate all parties involved. If an aquatic class is happening for 45 minutes, have open swim before or after. Start figuring out effective time programming for lessons, fitness, and open swim to accommodate everyone. And for the lovely talkers in the hot tub, educate not only them but your supervisors on class etiquette and expectations in the pool area during a class. This isn’t Jersey Shore - if you wanna party it up in the hot tub, maybe invest in your own or at least be respectful of the environment around you.

I hope just one person will read this and be able to take something away from it. Us aqua instructors aren’t divas, we just yearn to be taken as seriously as our peers are for their work in the fitness industry. I truly hope more conversations start happening in gyms and pool facilities about how truly beneficial WATER AEROBICS is to everyone. And stop treating the term Aerobics like it’s a dirty word. It’s aerobic activity. You can call it Aqua Fitness, Water Exercise, Pool Fitness, Water Aerobics. Whatever you’d like to refer to it as – it serves a BIG purpose and deserves respect.

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