Tuesday, July 02 2019

Hand buoys are often inserted into classes without planning or thought and sometimes students use them even though the instructor is not.  This typically results in a melee of plunging and pressing without purpose.  UK Aqua Trainer, Steph Toogood has witnessed her share of buoy mayhem and decided to design a series of hand buoy exercises that go beyond resistance training to target activities of daily living (ADLs).

Equipment abuse in aquatic fitness classes is pervasive.   A familiar scene plays out in pools all across the USA and abroad.  Students walk onto the deck and immediately grab the largest set of hand buoys they can find before entering the pool.  They arm themselves with buoys regardless of what the instructor is teaching on that day.  And often the instructor is NOT teaching a routine appropriate for hand buoy use.  Unfazed, the students plunge, press and flail their way through the class.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how this can lead to significant injury, acute and chronic.  If a class is not designed for hand buoy use, the students should be informed of this and advised NOT to use the buoys.

Instructors who are reading this and turning a blind eye to this issue should at the very least understand the potential for injury and the legal risk they are exposing themselves to.  Similar to informed consent, all you have to do is make it clear via an announcement at the beginning of class that you did not design today’s routine for hand buoy use and that those students using hand buoys are assuming all risk of injury. Making this announcement serves as both a warning and a verbal liability waiver in front of witnesses.  In the article, Equipment Addiction, I shared my story of teaching my first classes in Florida and dealing with a group of recalcitrant equipment rebels.   Each week I issued these “verbal waivers” and explained how and why they could incur injury.  Persistence paid off and eventually I got all the students to avoid using hand buoys in classes that were not designed for them.  

Why is this important?   Let’s use a couple of “land fitness” examples.  If you walked into a dance fitness class in the studio, would you grab a Body Bar and sling it around during the routine?  Would it be a good idea to tug and pull on a resistance band during a fast-paced aerobics class?  Or, how about doing the “Beto Shuffle” with a 15-pound set of dumbbells in a Zumba class?   The risk of injury is abundantly obvious in these examples.  However, these examples aren’t any different than allowing students to submerge large foam hand buoys into the powerful forces of buoyancy and use them in an aquatic fitness class that wasn’t designed for them. Injury is just a plunge and a push away.

Not only do students misuse the buoys, but instructors often add buoys to their established routines assuming it will increase intensity.  This assumption simply leads to equipment use without purpose and without thought.  Hand buoys can produce desirable fitness outcomes when designed and used for buoyant (vertical) or drag (horizontal) resistance.  Beyond resistance training and eccentric muscle actions, the buoys can also be used for more functional training.   After observing a lot of buoy blunder over the years, Steph Toogood lamented the lost opportunities and strived to make buoy use more purposeful in her classes.   Inspired to action, she designed a series of functional buoy exercises that could be used for improving activities of daily living. 


Segment 1:  Alignment & Mobilization
This segment includes a medley of multi-planar movement to increase core awareness and engagement for precision posture and movement.

Segment 2:  Gait
This segment concentrates on the fitness elements involved in efficient gait and general mobility.
Proper gait requires strength, power, balance and optimal joint mobility.   

Segment 3:  Sit to Stand
Getting up and down from a seated position is an essential activity of daily living (ADL) for an increasingly sedentary population. The exercises in this segment include strengthening patterns which include using the buoys to challenge stability with single-side movements.

Segment 4:  Tasks
Lunging is a primal move that is used to mimic ADLS which often require balance and reach to accomplish a task.  Movements in this segment mimic household chores, such as sweeping and vacuuming as well as reaching patterns necessary to dress and care for the body.

Fitmotivation extends a big THANK YOU to Steph for once again traveling to Florida and sharing her passion and knowledge for creating exercise solutions for aging bodies.  Steph is the founder of Hydro-Actif, the United Kingdom’s most widely recognized and respected aquatic fitness organization. Check out Steph’s library of videos on Fitmotivation, including other videos on hand buoys, including Hand Buoy ABCs and Hand Buoy Solutions.  


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.