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Aquatic Fitness Gaining Popularity on College Campuses

More universities are offering water fitness classes, such as hydrobiking, that are increasingly popular among todays college students.

Fitness facilities, particularly those at colleges and universities, are diving into an aquatic fitness trend that includes everything from aqua aerobics to hydrobiking to in-water strength training to deep water running. Among the most popular offerings on campus are shallow water and deep water boot camps.

At Georgia State University in Atlanta, Scott Levin, director of recreational services, says the aquatic fitness offerings at his school include swim club and triathlon club, free water fitness classes that include shallow and deep water aerobics, several levels of swimming classes, lifeguarding classes and scuba diving.

“We need to offer a diverse variety of fitness and wellness options,” Levin says. “We have a responsibility to offer aquatic-related as well as land-based activities.”

Lori Sherlock, assistant professor of exercise science at West Virginia University’s School of Medicine and director of the school’s aquatic therapy program, says her campus also is filling its pools with a variety of aquatic fitness programming. The programs are increasingly popular among today’s college students and young adults, Sherlock says, while “breaking the stereotype of little old gray-haired women jumping around in the water with swim caps on,” she adds.

Sherlock cites several ways fitness clubs and colleges and university recreation centers can do this. One, she says, is offering a variety of classes and giving them names that appeal to a fitness-oriented youth culture. An aquatic boot camp class, she says, not only breaks the aforementioned stereotype, but students immediately connect it with land-based boot camp training that is popular now.

“We want to get college students super excited about aquatic fitness,” Sherlock says. “We use sports-based training principles and talk about the benefits of cross-training in the water. A lot of people join gyms for group fitness, and this is group fitness in the water. Everybody has fun in the program and gets a great workout to boot.”

Fitness training in water, Sherlock adds, offers several documented benefits, including reductions in injury rates and lessened impact forces, which helps keep swelling down. These are all things she says can lead people to discontinue or avoid exercise programs on dry ground.

Aquatic fitness trainers also can tweak the delivery of classes.

“Students love our programs because we’ve added great, fun music that appeals to them,” says Sara Kooperman, CEO of SCW Fitness Education, Northbrook, IL, and founder of water fitness trainer Water in Motion. “The exercises and movements are very creative and it gets people moving and keeps them moving.”

Water in Motion classes, Kooperman adds, switch out music and choreography every three months, keeping the water workouts fresh and energetic. Feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive, she says.

Levin, along with John Spannuth, president of the U.S. Water Fitness Association, offer additional reasons colleges and universities should expand water fitness offerings. For one, Levin says, most swimming pools at universities lose money. Spannuth adds that aside from significant pool time for college swim teams, many university pools sit vacant for long stretches. Some universities have started opening up hours for alumni swim, and some have opened the pools and associated recreation facilities to the community surrounding the university. Offering water fitness classes, Spannuth says, is another great way to expand outreach and increase hours of pool usage.

Water fitness can be particularly appealing to the “not super athletic,” Levin says, including people with injuries, mobility issues or weight concerns. The lower-impact nature of in-water exercise, he adds, puts up fewer barriers to entry and allows for someone to test the waters before embarking on a more strenuous or consistent workout.

Sherlock offers another and perhaps even more important reason pools and fitness facilities with pools should take a fresh look at aquatic fitness.

“You want to maintain your clientele,” she says, “and this is just good business. You want to be at the forefront of new programs coming out, and aquatic fitness is new and fresh.”

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