A new programme of income-generating activities has been launched at Shaftesbury Town Council’s Oasis swimming pool. Keri Jones from Alfred learned about the benefits of Aquafit, being offered for the first time.
Clare Davis and Laura Langley have spent a fair part of their working lives in and around pools and water. Former dive instructor Laura teaches swimming at Gillingham’s leisure centre and Clare has been coaching Aquafit classes for 18 years. Now they are jointly hosting the Aquafit sessions in the Shaftesbury’s heated open-air pool.
“There are not many pools around here that are outside. You get the ‘feel good factor’ of being outside in the fresh air and the sunshine,” said Clare. “The outdoor pool is 29 degrees, which is a great temperature. You don’t feel all sweaty, but you do have just as good a workout, if not better, in the water.” And Laura says it doesn’t matter if it rains on a session day. “You’re getting wet anyway, so you might as well get in.”
Imagine standing in a pool with the water at your chest height. The pressure of the water around you adds resistance to your movements. When you exercise in the water this workout is more effective. “We do punching and kicking out to the side. I do a lot of flat hand movement forwards in the water and obviously the bigger the surface area, the more resistance and the more muscles you’re working and the harder you’re working them. Pretty much anything you can do on land you can do in the water and it’s going to be a little bit harder,” said Laura.
“You can slice through the water but if you are using a flat plane of movement, you’re going to create more resistance,” Clare continued. “And speed will create more resistance. Go slower for core stability work in the back and in the abdominal muscles as well. You can really work at different paces depending on your level of fitness,” said Clare.
People don’t usually expect to tone distinct parts of their bodies with Aquafit. “Generally, Aqua fitness is a total body workout,” said Clare. “You will work every muscle.” Laura added, “When you go to the gym you can work on specific muscle groups. Aquafit will not only work the muscles, it will also work cardio too,” said Laura.
Similar to a gym routine, the women start slowly. “We do a warm up, then there’s a section which is based on cardio, so we keep moving all the time to keep warm. Then some balanced toning and using woggles and equipment to work the whole body.”
A woggle is not the same as the neckerchief tie that boy scouts will remember. It’s a colourful float. “It’s a long ‘sausage’ or ‘noodle’. They are used as an aid for swimming lessons. You can get in the deep end and it means you can float, use your legs and be suspended. They also create resistance when you push down on them,” said Clare.
Clare says the body is better supported when you are exercising in water. “It is a really good tool for fitness and very good for beginners that may need to get back into fitness because it will take your weight. The joints don’t take any strain like they would do a land-based fitness class.”
There are some standard exercises that most Aquafit teachers will follow but both women personalise their programmes at Oasis Pool. “I would say there’s probably a basic range of movements, but each instructor puts their own spin on things to make it harder or easier and use that water resistance to their advantage,” said Laura.
“We’ve got the flexibility to add dynamic moves or yoga-inspired moves. I teach Aqua Zumba as well so the dance aspect comes into the water,” Clare said.
“There is a way to make it a little bit easier if someone doesn’t have the full range of mobility that others in the group have,” added Laura, who says she likes to set a fast pace in the pool, with a particularly ‘crazy’ soundtrack that she compiles for each Sunday session. “I’m a bit more focused on making it quite hard. I do a lot of ‘HIT’ stuff,” said Laura.
I must have looked worried by that term, so she stopped to explain the terminology. “HIT is high intensity interval training. I’m not as easy going so Sunday morning was quite a busy session and quite tough. There was lots of sprinting, lots of high knees, high kicks and I was making it faster and faster,” said Laura. “You get out what you put in really. If you’re going to jog when we’re sprinting that’s what you’re going to get out of it.”
So people will be finding out which one of the two instructors is on duty and changing their plans accordingly, I joked. “I do Sunday mornings,” said Laura. “And I do Tuesday mornings. They’re both at 9 o’clock,” said Clare.
“I’m approaching 50, myself, so a lot of my clientele are the older age range with injuries and problems, so I have to adapt to their abilities,” said Clare. “The class would be reasonably fast-paced, but I show different levels as well, so they can take it at their own pace.”
Whichever class you decide to go for, you should expect to get a good workout. “They will feel tired, but the water keeps the body temperature down. On land you would obviously feel that you’re sweating more, but in the water, you don’t feel all sweaty,” said Clare, who believes that the exercises suit men and women of all ages. “At a lot of the Aquafit sessions I teach we get men, women and also teenagers. I’m able to take from 14 years and up,” said Clare.
Aquafit requires some stamina. It’s certainly not a soft exercise option so the instructors find it odd that, so far, no men have joined the Shaftesbury pool sessions. “They’re wimps, bring it on!” laughed Laura.
“If they came to both Aquafit lessons each week they would notice a big difference with their fitness levels and body shape, and just generally feeling better and feeling stronger,” said Clare. And Shaftesbury’s unique Aquafit experience offers the chance to exercise to the musical soundtrack in the sunshine. “It just makes people feel good. It’s great fun,” said Clare.
The Aquafit sessions are a trial for this season as the Town Council tries to make more people aware of the new-look pool. Customers have been complimentary about the £22,000 decoration and refurbishment of the poolside and changing areas. The work was undertaken by the not-for-profit Build Love social enterprise, in partnership with Guy’s Marsh Prison and Weston College.