Overhead Aqua Arm Challenge

Wednesday, August 24 2022

Join Sharlie Peterson in this 20-minute express video and take away some ideas for intensifying traditional aqua moves with some overhead arm patterns. Fish Out of Water provides some great options for challenging your students to take the intensity a notch higher with some big and bold arm patterns.  

Educated aquatic fitness instructors know that it is best to keep arms under the surface of the water so that they encounter the resistance of water. The Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA), the world’s leading certification organization for water fitness instructors recommends that the majority of arm movements be kept under the water not only for effectiveness, but also for safety and comfort. Shoulders are a weak link in many aging bodies and elevating the arms is uncomfortable and even painful or impossible for some.  Additionally, healthy bodied individuals should avoid repetitive overhead arm movements to avoid creating their own wear & tear issues. 

However, utilizing occasional overhead arm patterns can simulate functional movement and amp the cardio response. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) often include elevating the shoulders to reach for things. Therefore, including overhead arm movements in an exercise program can promote range of motion (ROM) and prepare the body for these activities.  Additionally, the goal of many classes is to improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Aerobic exercise is essentially the rhythmic movement of the large muscle groups. The bigger the moves, the bigger the heartrate.  Extending arms over the head forces the heart to pump oxygenated blood to a greater distance, elevating the overall heartrate and increasing the cardio output.  

Given that there are benefits to utilizing arms above the surface of the water, instructors will benefit from watching this 20-minute express video because Sharlie provides a spectrum of options.  The most important modification to offer is to tell class members to simply keep their arms UNDER the water if overhead moves cause discomfort. 
Below in her own words is Sharlie’s inspiration for creating Fish Outta Water, as well as a short video introduction.

In 2018, I noticed I was getting more of an athletic crowd in my evening Aqua Boot Camp/HIIT classes, which meant I had class members that wanted to be pushed to their max throughout the workout which is right up my alley!
I began researching the benefits of raised arm exercises, meaning exercises that would be performed with the arms extending above the head and ultimately out of the water. Some of the benefits of having raised arms include opening tight shoulders and improving their strength, opening the chest and lungs for more blood flow and oxygen, preventing lower back pain, and, believe it or not, improving weakness in the legs and spine from poor blood circulation.

How does this translate to water fitness? I am well aware that a majority of water fitness instructors do not do many, if ANY arm exercises above the water’s surface. Because of this, I wanted to make sure whatever exercises I came up with would be safe on the shoulders, neck and arms, push my class members and also provide options for those who may not be able to or wish to fully extend their arms above.
Fish Out Of Water is an Express Video to quickly and effectively show the various exercises we do in Shockwave classes with raised levers, but I often use a majority of these moves in my regular Aqua Boot Camp and HIIT classes after discovering that seniors in my classes enjoy doing these advanced options as well. When trying them out in your own class, my advice is to always give the option to keep the arms under water, and let those who wish to throw their hands in the air, do so with a little care and safety.

Fitmotivation extends a big thank you to Sharlie for having the courage to take a step outside of aquatic fitness norms and providing instructors with high intensity exercise options they may have otherwise steered away from. 


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.