Noodles have become as commonplace as kickboards and pull buoys. While not all aquatics facilities can afford water-exercise equipment, the moderate cost and versatility of uses has made noodles a popular choice for exercise and recreation.

In terms of exercise, the noodle offers many options. The human body adapts specifically to whatever type of overload it is given during an activity. Movement patterns, muscle groups and specific metabolic systems used for each activity are different. Buoyancy-resisted activities performed in the water produce different training responses than gravity-resisted exercises on land.

For most aquatic exercises, noodles are used in one of two ways: As a resistance device to enhance strength training for the muscles of the upper body and trunk, and as a flotation tool to provide buoyant support for suspended activities.

As with many types of equipment commonly used in water exercise, the noodle was adapted for use as an aquatic exercise tool. The first noodles available on the market were designed as pool toys — devices to enhance fun and play. They were, and still are today, brightly colored, inexpensive and useful for a variety of water recreation activities.

Beginning in the late 1990s, the industry saw the introduction of the first “professional” pool noodle. Designed with a specific purpose — to enhance the benefits of water training — the professional noodle is thicker, shorter and made of denser foam material than the common recreational noodle. It is proportioned to support an adult body in water and provide the appropriate level of resistance and rigidity necessary for effective upper body conditioning. In addition, professional noodles are manufactured using an extruded process, so they have a smooth and sealed surface that enhances comfort and durability.

As with any piece of aquatic exercise equipment, a noodle presents special considerations with regard to program design, safety and exercise selection. First, consider the relationship between the body and the noodle. It is either a handheld piece of resistance equipment or, when used for buoyant support, it becomes an aid for flotation assistance.

When using a noodle for exercise, it’s important to consider the problems associated with upper-extremity muscle imbalance.

Developing the front and back muscles through an appropriately balanced exercise program promotes good posture, produces less strain on the back and reduces the risk of shoulder impingement. Overuse problems such as tendonitis and bursitis are common upper-extremity complaints. For water exercise in particular, certain types of arthritis may preclude or limit the use of a noodle.

It’s equally important to understand that the shoulder is not considered a weight-bearing joint. It is designed for mobility and stability. Exercises designed to develop the dynamic and static stabilizers of the shoulder should be performed to prevent shoulder injury and to promote movement efficiency.

Observe the following recommendations when using pool noodles for adult exercise. Please note these are general guidelines and are prescribed for healthy, asymptomatic adults.

• Develop awareness of the trunk stabilizers and cue proper upper-body posture. Shoulders should remain in neutral position. Avoid excessive shoulder elevation and protraction.

• Articulate hand and wrist positions for each exercise and cue students to maintain a firm and aligned wrist. Avoid repetitive wrist flexion and extension.

• Cue for gripping and use as light a grip as possible. Holding a tight grip and not releasing periodically can result in sore muscles and unnecessarily elevate heart rate and blood pressure.

• After each set of strenuous resistance exercises, completely relax the grip on the noodle for a minimum of 10-15 seconds.

• Cue students to breathe deeply and deliberately throughout each exercise.