Do your guards have the physical competencies needed to save lives? Incorporate these in-service training ideas and you’ll always know the answer.
The family is having a wonderful day at one of the nation’s
many aquatic venues. The parents see that lifeguards are on duty
and carefully monitoring the patrons. Suddenly, there's a commotion
near the deep end of the pool. A lifeguard has attempted to rescue
a victim who is near the bottom in 12 feet of water. The
lifeguard fails to reach the victim and tries again. ...
Every year scenarios like this one can play out. Lifeguards have
been recognized, by law, as “professional rescuers.”
This means there’s an expectation that every guard has a
minimum level of fitness necessary to perform the job
National training agencies recognize physical fitness as an
important element of being a competent lifeguard. The general
public expects guards to be able to make any and all types of
rescues at the facilities where they are assigned. There should be
no doubt that guards require a certain minimum level of physical
competency to be proficient.
Competent guards need specific physical skill competencies,
including the ability to:
• Move quickly and safely to enter the water.
• Swim on the surface of the water.
• Surface dive and swim underwater to a specified depth
(depending on facility type).
• Bring a victim to the surface.
• Transport a victim to an exit point.
• Remove a victim from the water to a point of
• Perform CPR and/or other first aid skills.
For a victim who is drowning or whose breathing or heart has
stopped, time until resuscitative care is crucial. A
“textbook” rescue does a victim little good if it takes
too long to complete. The time it takes to make a complete rescue
in a real-life situation is critical. Guards must be practiced and
evaluated based on the characteristics of the facilities in which
they are assigned.
So how do you “get with the program” and ensure that
your lifeguards have what it takes to make any rescue in your
facility throughout their employment? The answer is by adding
a robust fitness element that integrates specific facility
characteristics as one component of a well-rounded in-service
training program. The skill competencies identified involve aerobic
and anaerobic fitness, as well as muscular strength and endurance.
Each of these competencies should be included throughout your
in-service training program.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Get a head start with pre-employment testing. The
first line of defense is to ensure that the lifeguards you hire can
do the job needed at your facility. This goes way beyond checking
to see if their certifications are current.
During the pre-employment process, consider the following
• Distance swim for general swimming ability.
• Perform basic skills and rescues required by the
specific training agency.
• Be able to respond to a
venue-specific “reality rescue” that requires
lifeguards to do a full rescue in a specific amount of time. It
should include performing CPR for a period of time at least
equal to the average response time for EMS personnel at your
Require and track specific fitness-related
components. These should include the physical skills
competencies that lifeguards are expected to complete
Following are some examples.
• At least two 20-minute workouts a week of aerobic
activity specific to job skills, such as swimming and performing
• Muscular strength and endurance training that includes
body weight training, such as sit-ups, push-ups, dips and
Hold “Iron Guard” competitions. Set up
multiple legs with rescue scenarios that require lifeguards to
perform a range of possible situations at your facility. One leg
could begin in an elevated stand in a zone of responsibility at the
widest and deepest sections of the pool, and guards have to
retrieve an object from the bottom. Another leg could begin in a
roving station at a zero-depth entrance in which guards run to a
victim and return to give CPR for a certain amount of time.
Create “Grab and Go” workouts. Have lifeguards
write their favorite drills or 10- to 15-minute aerobic swim
workouts on index cards, laminate the cards and keep them in the
lifeguard office. Guards can randomly draw to get their
Establish a reward system of personal bests.
Identify certain combined skill sets from the physical skill
competencies with distances and depths that relate to your
facility. On a poster in the lifeguard room, track the personal
bests of each lifeguard at established intervals. At certain
milestones, reward guards who are making significant improvements
and for those who are maintaining excellent performance.
Ongoing fitness training is necessary for all lifeguards, whether
seasoned veterans or rookies, to maintain the physical competency
to perform the job. The public expects this, the law demands it and
owners/operators of aquatic venues have an obligation to ensure it.
Be sure your lifeguards are always ready to deliver.