Aquafit vs. Aquatic therapy: Top 5 Questions answered

Have you ever been curious about the Aquafit class at your local community center or seen someone in the pool with a trainer? Just like land based exercising, there are many unique ways to exercise in the water. The two different styles of aquatic exercise are Aquafit, and aquatic therapy (sometimes called aqua therapy or pool therapy). But when I tell someone about aquatic therapy, I often hear: ‘So that’s Aquafit, right?’. 

Aquafit and aquatic therapy have many similarities, but they are also unique in a couple ways. It’s important to know the difference so that you can get the most out of your pool experience. I’ll explain the difference between the two below, and after reading this blog post you can feel confident choosing the right style for your needs.

Aquatic therapy in a pool

What is Aquatic therapy?

Aquatic therapy, or pool therapy is a physical approach to active rehabilitation that takes place in the water under the supervision of a kinesiologist. Water provides resistance by opposing the force of gravity opening up the opportunity to reap the benefits of active rehab to those with difficulties exercising on land. The ability to swim is not required to participate in aquatic therapy. Exercises are performed in chest deep water while standing or in deep water with a floatation belt.

What is Aquafit?

Aquafit is a shortened name for aquatic fitness, which is a type of exercise you do in the water. Aquafit usually consists of a warm-up, strength, flexibility, and cool-down components, just like a fitness class you would do on land. Classes are community-based and are often held in community centers with affordable drop-in rates. 

Aquafit can be done in varying depths of water, and exercises are performed either vertically or horizontally. There are many different types of classes you can choose from when it comes to Aquafit. They can be tailored to different populations such as joint rehab or stroke rehab. Aquafit is a great way to exercise because of the unique benefits of the aquatic environment. Not only is exercise in the water an excellent choice for maintaining your health and well being, it’s also fun to do! 

Aquatic Therapy vs Aquafit? What’s the difference?

Aquafit group class

Aquafit classes are group-centric and cardio-heavy

Aquafit classes at your local pool are group-centric, which means there is one instructor for a class of ~5-15 participants. Classes are less individualized than one-on-one sessions, but don’t worry because there’s still something for everyone, regardless of your level. Aquatic fitness instructors often provide an ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ option for most exercises.

Aquafit classes challenge your cardiovascular endurance. Exercises are repetitive in nature and use light bounce movements to elevate your heart rate and promote circulation. Exercises like jogging and boxing in the water use large muscle groups rather than isolate specific muscles and are more of a challenge for your cardiovascular system than muscle strength.

Aquatic therapy is personalized to meet your goals

Aquatic therapy also involves exercise in the water, however sessions are one-on-one with an aquatic therapist. It starts with an assessment in a dry land gym to determine muscle strengths and deficiencies, as well as your range of motion measurements. Your therapist will also talk to you about your functional goals and current abilities, either land based or in the pool. 

Based on your goals, your therapist will then create a personalized exercise program to do with you in the pool. Aquatic therapy sessions are supervised by the aquatic therapist so they can modify your form and posture in real time. Movements in aquatic therapy are controlled and stabilized, using anchored movements which are performed at slower tempos.

What qualifications do Aquafit instructors have?

There are a variety of certifications that you can obtain to become an Aquafit instructor depending on your region. Here in British Columbia, these are based on the employer’s requirements, for example: YMCA Aqua fitness Instructor Certification, a diploma in a rehabilitation assistant program, or the BCRPA aquatic fitness instructor certification. 

The BCRPA aquatic instructor certification requires the applicant to pass a fitness theory exam, be certified in Standard First Aid, complete the Aquatic fitness course module (16hrs), and complete an 8hr practicum and exam with a certified trainer.

What qualifications do aquatic therapists have?

Aquatic therapists can be rehabilitation assistants, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, personal trainers, and kinesiologists. Within this list is a very broad spectrum of education levels. In some instances, Pool session programming will be done by a physiotherapist and conducted with the patient by a rehabilitation assistant.

Aquafit in a pool

Where can I take an Aquafit class?

Find aquafit at your local pool. In British Columbia we are fortunate to have Aquafit classes offered for reasonable drop-in rates at local community centers and aquatic centers. Here in Vancouver, pools like Eileen Daily Pool and Hillcrest Pool are great options for classes.

Where can I do aquatic therapy?

At Symmetrix, our sessions are conducted in local community center pools. Currently The main pools that our kinesiologists work at are Killarney Pool, Eileen Daily Pool, Hillcrest Pool, and The Vancouver Aquatic Center. Initial assessments and re-assessments are conducted in either the Vancouver or Burnaby Symmetrix studios. These pools are wheelchair accessible and have showers, lockers, changing facilities and hot tub/saunas. 

If you’re not located in the region you can start by asking your physiotherapist or kinesiologist for a referral for aquatic therapy.

What exercises will I do in aquatic therapy?

The exercises that you will do with your aquatic therapist will be tailored to your needs. As aquatic therapy is centered around active rehabilitation, exercises will target the area you need help with. For example, to strengthen the lower limb muscles for a knee injury, you would be doing functional movements such as squats, step-ups, and walking while you are partially submerged in the water. 

Many exercises that are completed in the gym can be modified to be completed in the pool with some basic aquatic therapy equipment such as noodles and kickboards.

Who is aquatic therapy for?

The unique properties of water such as added buoyancy makes the pool a great place to exercise for special populations. This is especially true for those who have difficulty with weight bearing,  standing in waist or chest depth water can drastically reduce loading on your joints. The water is also a great place if you struggle with balance or walking. Aquatic therapy not only allows you to move more comfortably, you’ll also have one-on-one guidance and support for getting stronger at your own pace.

Some examples of people who would benefit from aquatic therapy:

  • Elderly/seniors
  • People with joint issues, arthritis
  • People with injuries from a car accident
  • People experiencing chronic pain
  • People rehabbing from joint replacements
  • People who are overweight/obese
  • People with neuro-motor disabilities
  • Learn more about who would benefit from aquatic therapy in this blog post.

What are the benefits of aquatic therapy?

There are many positive benefits of aquatic therapy for all who participate in it. After sessions in the pool you’ll have a sense of feeling refreshed instead of exhausted. Working in the water helps with emotional and muscular relaxation, leading to a reduction in pain and improved sleep. The water environment is a safe space to work on balance and coordination.

Exercise in the water also helps with circulation, improving the body’s ability to bring blood back to the heart by ways of static pressure. Finally, we can strengthen muscles in the water in a variety of different planes and ranges of motion.

Conclusion:

Both Aquafit and Aquatic therapy take place in the water and involve some form of exercise. Whether you are looking to get a good cardiovascular workout in a group setting or want to rehab an injury, you’ll leave the pool feeling like you’ve moved your body in a safe and comfortable way. 

As the notice board at CG Brown Pool in Burnaby said last week: “You’re one swim away from a good mood!”

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