Depending on whom you ask, Speedo USA’s new campaign is either laudable or irresponsible.
Television commercials will begin airing this summer featuring Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones in all their vein-popping glory as they use a swimming pool to achieve rock-hard glutes and rippling abs.
Speedo FIT is the brand’s initiative to inspire people to think of the pool as an “all-in-one fitness center,” and, ultimately, buy its line of water-training gear, which includes shoes for aqua-cycling and weightlifting, paddles for resistance workouts, and other items.
In the meantime, the swimwear company is touting its new web resource which stocks more than 60 videos offering tips and tricks for aquatic cross-training. Speedo partnered with elite training firm EXOS to design a series of water workouts that complement land-based routines so athletes can gain a competitive edge.
Some in the aquatics community welcome the publicity, as it could help make pools appeal to those who’d rather do bench presses than backstrokes. And in one video, an EXOS trainer provides an in-depth explaination of five benefits of exercising in water.
And the footage is beautifully produced, with compelling footage of athletes performing edgy- and cool-looking exercises in pools — sometimes partially underwater, like when running on a treadmill, and sometimes fully.
The latter imagery is perhaps most striking but is raising serious criticism by some who fear that some of the depicted feats could lead to injuries or death. Water-safety experts take issue with the footage of athletes lifting weights while fully submerged. They allege that the combination of breath-holding and extreme exertion could result in a shallow-water blackout, a condition that has claimed the lives of several swimmers in recent years, including two Navy SEALS in 2015, who were found in the bottom of a combat training pool at a base in Little Creek/Fort Story, Va.
“I’d hate to see people lose their lives because Speedo promoted underwater, strenuous activities that didn’t give any warnings or awareness addressing SWB risks first,” said Sharon Washbourne, who heads up the Australian chapter of Shallow Water Blackout Prevention, a U.S.-based organization. Washbourne lost her 12-year-old nephew to SWB three years ago.
Speedo USA’s campaign does include language on its commercial spots and new microsite that urges people to take certain precautions before attempting any of the maneuvers, though none specifically address SWB or discourage activity that could lead to it.
In a statement to AI, the company said, in part: “Speedo USA is committed to water safety and encourages all athletes and swimmers to approach the water with caution … Athletes and fitness enthusiasts should have a high level of comfort in the water before starting any aquatic exercise regimen. We have also recommended on our site that a physician or healthcare specialist should be consulted before performing any of the exercises, and strongly encourage only performing these exercises with a lifeguard or other life-saving professional on hand in case of emergency.”
Still, Tom Griffiths, Ed.D., a leading expert on drowning prevention, believes Speedo should cut the riskier exercises from its marketing altogether. The founder of the Aquatic Safety Research Group is especially disturbed by footage of Olympian Missy Franklin running across the bottom of a pool weighted down by a heavy ball. It brings to mind an infamous military exercise called an underwater brick walk, which has been the cause of several incidents over the years, Griffiths said.
“They should not show that ball walk or other known dangerous activities,” he said. “Or, if they do, they should say, ‘Danger – Don’t try this!’”
What he found more disconcerting was the narrator in the ad intoning, “Even if you can’t do laps, you can do this.”
“That’s sending the wrong message,” Griffiths said, adding that people who can’t adequately swim are especially ignorant of common safety practices.
This presents something of a conundrum for the industry, because Speedo also is doing several things right, some observers say, such as promoting the pool as a training environment where athletes of all stripes can get a good, low-impact workout. Employing the same aggressive aesthetics used to great effect by Under Armour and other fitness brands, the Speedo FIT commercials may be just the sort of attention-grabber that the industry needs if it wants to diversify, said Laurie Batter, a marketing and PR consultant for the aquatics industry.
“It’s good business that they want to expand the aquatic experience outside of those who swim — growing the pie for more pool time,” she said.
Plus, the new microsite offers an interactive platform where athletes can “explore the unique science and power of training in the water,” as Speedo puts it. There, EXOS president and founder Mark Verstegen outlines in some detail the five benefits of aquatic training:
- Less impact on muscles and joints
- Slower movement with more precision
- Consistent resistance with all ranges of motion
- Less soreness
- Compression for faster recovery
The microsite’s library of regimens can be customized based on fitness goals, such as power, endurance and recovery, and includes vertical workouts for cardio, resistance, weight lifting and stretching.
These are concepts the aquatics industry has been trumpeting for years on shoestring budgets. Now, it seems to have a sophisticated marketing partner in Speedo.
And the timing is smart. Pools tend to see a spike in activity during the Summer Olympics and 2016’s event in Rio, featuring the highly anticipated return of Michael Phelps, could lead to an even bigger boost.
If the Speedo FIT push proves effective, aquatics programmers may find themselves scheduling more aqua-cycling sessions and other cross-training programs.
So long as patrons keep their heads above water.