Feature Article - November 2013
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Programming: Aquatics

Water for Everyone
Build Out Your Core Aquatic Programs

By Rick Dandes

Healthy Living

Spread the word that aquatics are good for your body, and great for your health. Demonstrate the real facts that are available about why water is so good for their health. Seek out the data and research as it is available. Whether it's a relaxing 20-minute soak in a warm water spa, a lap swim workout, or today's aqua vertical exercise programs, your facility can provide the healthy solution every day of the week. Reach out to athletes, older adults and special populations like those who suffer with diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and heart disease. Developing a strategy to include messaging on the specific health benefits can be incorporated into your marketing tactics.

Promote your facility as having the perfect pool temp and environment for your target markets, Nelson said. For example, older adults, those with arthritis and fibromyalgia like the water warmer—preferably around 88 degrees. For an indoor pool, lap swimmers like it cooler. Vertical exercise groups also like the water warmer, since their upper body is typically exposed while they work out. Depth is also important to different user groups. A marketing and programming strategy that reaches out to these populations should highlight the special benefits your facility offers.

Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic therapy can be a part of the aquatic environment, but take care to do due diligence. Done right, with licensed physical therapists, it can be a boon to the community, and bring in substantial revenues. But it can backfire if you don't have the proper information, cautioned Terri Mitchell, a training specialist for the Aquatic Exercise Association. "Another plus," she said, "is licensed therapists are able to charge insurance companies, including Medicare for aquatic treatments. This is one reason why the municipal pools need to be registered. Non-licensed specialists would most like be paid by the individual receiving treatment."

Aquatic therapy and rehab programs include those for people with low back pain, upper quadrant injuries, rehab for injured athletes and wounded warriors. Specific techniques include AquaStretch, which is active release of connective tissue; BackHab, a water walking program for persons with back pain; Ai Chi, a relaxing, rotational movement for reducing stress, fibromyalgia symptoms and pain; and PNF in the Pool, a neuromuscular retraining program.

"Many aquatic specialists are also personal trainers and are able to provide one-on-one training to specific individuals," Mitchell said. "These aquatic specialists may also offer group water exercise classes that are for the general public, or with specific needs. For example, arthritis, fibromyalgia, post knee or hip replacement, low back pain, baby boomers, seniors and sedentary children.

If you decide to offer aqua therapy at your facility, Mitchell continued, "You have to understand temperature, access and depth."

And there are also the ADA mandates—getting into the pool, getting out of the pool, the depth of the water, what you will be doing, is it high-performance, is it passive range of motion—all of those things need to be considered before an aquatic therapy program is put into your business plan.

Most pools have 11-inch stairs, Mitchell said, "which make it difficult for many orthopedic patients to get into and out of the pool. Ramps are perfect, but expensive. Chair lifts work, but may require additional assistance with the equipment. Shallow stairs are a good option. Depth of water is another factor. Xiphoid (sternum) to armpit level depth is good for most adults. Deep water works for non-weight bearing activities."

Some aquatic therapy techniques require aquatic equipment such as collars to keep heads above water when a participant is lying supine in the water for Aquastretch. Deep water exercise programs will require buoyant belts to keep participants vertical, but buoyant in the deep water for non-weight-bearing exercises. Noodles are an inexpensive prop that provide buoyancy, resistance, support and fun. Drag equipment such as Aquafins, Aqualogix or webbed gloves provide surface area for muscle strengthening.

"I believe that many residents in communities around the country would benefit from their local pools offering aqua therapy," Mitchell said. "At least for their seniors or even younger folks with injuries.

Many facilities also offer water aerobics, water walking, post rehab classes, arthritis aquatics, etc., which offer great exercises, as well as social interaction. The numbers of people receiving joint replacements is growing, and the age is younger. Water offers a great place to exercise after surgery and physical therapy.

"Municipalities in the past rarely made their aquatic programming decisions based upon money alone," Nelson said. "Now, you have to. I'm suggesting that what you should do is take the different uses at your aquatic center—competitive swimming, recreational, health and wellness programming—and attempt to make them fiscally sustainable."

One of the things publicly owned and operated pools have to deal with is fee structures and income predictions. Access fees are only part of the equation. Whatever programs you offer, they must have fees per program that are commensurate with the level of staffing expertise required to conduct the program. The daily or seasonal access fees should not be the major income generator when looking at the overall budget.