Ab Training with Noodles and Hand Buoys

Monday, August 05 2019

Aquatic fitness instructors are always looking for ideas to include ab/core exercises into their water fitness programs.  Terri Mitchell shares some of her favorite ab exercises using noodles and hand buoys, as well as some of her observations and cues from decades of leading water exercise classes.

Participants of all ages and abilities want to know how to strengthen their abs, their core and their trunk.  According to Terri, strong abdominals are essential for balance, good posture and general conditioning.  “In the water, we can strengthen the abs and the core using buoyant equipment to resist our exercises,” says Terri.   Before we address buoyant equipment, let’s first clear up any confusion about differentiating abs and the core. 

Abs Vs. Core
The abdominal muscle group consists of the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and the internal and external obliques.  The core includes the abdominal muscles and the muscles in the pelvis, lower back and hip.  All fitness professionals agree that only training abdominals and not the rest of your core would do the body a disservice.  But there is nothing wrong with isolated abdominal training and that is the focus of many of the exercises in this video. Let’s take a closer look at these muscles

Descriptions below taken from the Aqua Abs Noodle video

Rectus Abdominis

  • The rectus abdominis is a long flat sheath of muscle that runs from the sternum at the top to the pubic bone at the bottom. 
  • The primary way of training this muscle is with flexion of the lumbar spine
  •  Think of flexing the lumbar spine by moving sternum towards a fixed pelvis – or moving pelvis towards a fixed sternum - or moving both towards each other. 

Internal and External Obliques

  • The obliques are located on both sides of the rectus abdominis
  • The internal obliques are located under the external obliques in an inverted V pattern.  The internal obliques run diagonal from pelvis to ribs. 
  • The external obliques run diagonal from ribs to pelvic bone
  • The primary way of training the obliques is with flexion and rotation of the lumbar spine

Transverse Abdominis

  • The transverse abdominis is so called because of the horizontal direction of its muscle fibers
  • This is the innermost of the abdominal muscles – and its main function is to stabilize the spine and hold the abdominal organs up and in place like a girdle – with movement that includes compression and a posterior pelvis tilt
  •  This muscle is not so much recruited from movement as it is from engagement.  Cueing positioning and stability engages the transverse abdominis
  • One way to do this is to exhale and slightly load into a posterior pelvic tilt

After many years of teaching aquatic fitness classes, both Terri and I have plenty of observations to share about what can go awry once you add noodles and hand buoys into abdominal training.

  •  Noodle density and buoyancy is important.  “Make sure the noodle supports you properly” advises Terri.  Muscular body types may require a denser noodle or two smaller noodles for adequate buoyancy and positioning.
  • How you position your body on the noodle is also important.  Body types with more fat tissue in their lower body can position a noodle behind their shoulder blades in a modified supine/recliner position.  Body types with denser, muscular legs will likely need to position the noodle closer to the tailbone to provide the legs enough buoyancy to hold a reclined position. 
  • Terri suggests tucking the tailbone into a posterior pelvic tilt when reclined to engage the external obliques. 
  • Neck discomfort occurs when someone leans their neck and shoulders back too far while preforming the exercises.  The solution is to avoid leaning back.  Most abdominal exercises on the noodle can be performed from a basic position where the cervical spine is vertically stacked and there is no stress on the neck extensors.  We call this basic position the “v-sit” or the recliner pose.  In this basic position you can maintain the natural C curve of the neck – avoiding too much flexion or extension in the cervical spine.  In this basic position on the noodle you can perform spinal flexion and rotation in a comfortable position. 
  • When you cue crunches, the students will often extend their legs in and out.  Extending the legs in and out is hip flexion not spinal flexion.  Hip flexion occurs thanks to your iliopsoas – or better known as hip flexors, as well as the rectus femoris – one of the four quadriceps muscles.  How can you prevent them from using their hip flexors?  Joseph Pilates often used an externally rotated hip in his mat movements in an effort to unload the hip flexors, which he felt were overly used as a movement producer.  You can do the same thing when teaching abs on a noodle by cueing externally rotated hips into frog or diamond position.

Hand Buoys

  •  Once again, Terri recommends using foam dumbbells that are buoyant enough to support you in the water.  “A medium set is ideal for most body types,” says Terri.
  • Caution should be given on using hand buoys that are too large and too dense.   This could cause excess elevation and stress on the shoulder/scapula if performing exercises in a suspended recliner position. 
  • Maintaining proper breathing is important for both noodle and hand buoy ab exercises.  Exhalation should be performed with exertion or in this case, with flexion of the spine. 

Fitmotivation would like to extend a big thank you to Terri Mitchell for sharing her passion and vast experience with subscribers.   Check out her recent video, Aqualogical  Legs.   And stay tuned for her next video Aqualogical Angles, which features an entire water exercise routine performed with functional movements like diagonals, spirals and circumduction. 


Author: Mark Grevelding is the founder of Fitmotivation. He is also a training specialist and consultant with the Aquatic Exercise Association’s (AEA). Mark has been active in the fitness industry for 22 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, international presenter and a continuing education provider for AEA, AFAA & ACE.