Asking a question is much better than assuming you know the answer. This is especially applicable in any aquatics business. Many times, we assume we know what is happening, but we may only know bits and pieces.
An example: Let’s take aquatic exercise and how the average person views it. Even though aquatic exercise has evolved through the years, many people still assume it is not as beneficial when compared to swimming or land exercise.
When I say aquatic exercise, I refer to exercise in the vertical plane, whether in shallow or deep water. Of course, you can also exercise in the horizontal plane — that is called swimming.
But when most people think of, for example, water aerobics, their head goes right to the older generations. It’s true that we offer arthritis programs and water walking, but we can offer high-performance water exercise as well. I don’t think enough people realize that.
This message is especially important now. Because of COVID, we need to focus on getting back to healthy bodies. And a national survey by the American Red Cross found that more than half of Americans — 54% — can’t swim or perform basic swim safety skills. So if a potential patron assumes a pool is only for swimming, but they do not know how to swim, they automatically dismiss the opportunity to visit our facilities.
Is there a way to let the public know that they do not have to swim to gain the benefits of exercising in water? I believe marketing with different terminology is a way to start debunking myths about the effectiveness of aquatic exercise and its appropriate for different populations.
How we got here
Aquatic exercise professionals are still trying to debunk several myths: That you must know how to swim if you want to exercise in water; only older people use the water for exercise; you can’t get a good workout in the water; and you must be injured to exercise in the water.
Water aerobics evolved in the 1950s, led by a television star named Jack LaLanne. It became mainstream in the 1970s and '80s. The older population was the first to take an interest, because this exercise has low impact on bones and joints.
Aquatic exercise has come a long way. We can offer higher-performance programs as well as classic water aerobics. Aquatic sports training allows injured athletes to do high-performance work such as deep-water running in preparation for their return to competition. Additionally, when wounded warriors return from service, an arthritis class isn’t appropriate for this group. After some initial, passive range-of-motion work, they generally need to build their endurance and muscular skills, so we need to get them moving more aggressively.
So these aren’t your Grandma’s classes. Through the internet, younger folks are taking an interest because they realize the benefits of water exercise apply to them also.
Reframing our services
This has created the need to develop programs for people of all ages who want access to the healing properties of exercise in the water.
The internet provides a huge megaphone, but the words we use in our marketing can be friendly yet confusing. Unfortunately, our terminology hasn’t necessary evolved to keep up with all the possibilities of aquatic exercise programming.
What if I said, “Let’s go to the health club today”? Most likely, you would assume I meant going to land to exercise, because we do not use that term to refer to exercise in the water.
However, that phrase also perfectly describes what we can offer at our facilities. Instead of ABC Pool – which many only associate with swimming – you might call your facility an aquatic health club. Some also use the phrase an aquatic gym or a liquid gym. This helps people understand that they can do every skill in the water that they can do on land — upper body work, lats, etc. If we use those words in our marketing, consumers may begin to understand that they can achieve all their desired fitness and health benefits in the water.
Cute terms often don’t help. Descriptions should define and describe exactly what can be accomplished in the water. Program names should reflect the specific objectives and actual value being offered. For instance, what would you think about something called the FINE program, which stands for Fitness Is Nutrition and Exercise? Consumers would know they will learn about nutrition, fitness and exercise. We should name programs so consumers immediately understand.
We also should consider an evolution in how we describe our instructors. I’d like to see the term “aquatic exercise coach,” because that’s what we are – we are teachers and coaches. That term seems to convey a little more professionalism.
Finally, those descriptive words need to be included in internet search parameters and thus need to be included in your marketing material and on your web sites and in your daily conversations with consumers.