Running a circuit class with multiple stations may bring up thoughts of chaos and exhaustion. Trying to keep multiple groups organized and motivated is a definite challenge. With a few tips for preparation and planning, a circuit class can run smoothly and efficiently. Students need to maintain interest and have clear directions to follow. If they understand what exercise to perform and where to go next, a circuit class can be a great workout format.
Circuit Training Formats
Aquatic circuit training has three format options: instructor guided, self-guided, and combination. An instructor guided format is led by the instructor throughout the class. Equipment quantities are higher, since every student performs the same exercises at the same time.
The self-guided format allows students to move from one station to the next, working individually or in small groups. This allows students to use many different types of equipment and is a perfect option when you have limited quantities of equipment available.
The combination format contains instructor-led segments interspersed with small group stations. I like to alternate between a 3-4-minute cardio combination performed by the entire class with smaller groups breaking off to move to designated stations. Bringing the group back together in the center of the pool after each station maintains control and allows the class to re-focus.
Timing Your Stations
Keeping track of time is vital to the success of your circuit class. A stopwatch will get the job done, but I have personally found it difficult to keep time in addition to all my other duties. A Gymboss timer is a handheld or attachable, programmable device that can display customized interval timing. Punch in the quantity of interval cycles and the amount of time for work and rest. Hit the start button and it will time your format with beeps to remind you to rotate.
Phone or tablet apps also make timing much easier. My favorite is Seconds Pro and it is available for a one-time purchase of $5 in the app store. Many other apps are available free or for a small fee. I like the ones with color coded intervals and sounds to inform me of the change.
Timing out your stations with a custom playlist is another great way to keep time. For example, I will alternate 4-minute songs for the cardio segments with 2-minute songs for the station segments. The amount of time left on the music track informs me of how much time is left in each segment. When the song changes, everyone knows it is time to rotate. Fitness music companies have also created many professional pre-mixed albums designed for circuits and intervals.
Yes! Fitness Music, http://www.yesfitnessmusic.com, is an AEA Sponsor and music provider for AEA educational events. In addition to music CDs and downloads specifically designed for group exercise classes, you can create your own custom mixes. And, with a subscription to Yes!GO, you have access to the Tempo Magic Pro app (adjust music tempos to meet your specific needs) and a programmable interval timer to insert into any playlist (perfect for customizing your circuit classes). Yes! Fitness Music currently offers an AEA Special for Yes!GO; check out the details here www.getyesgo.com/aea.
Setting Up Stations
Exercise station signs and labeling are an important part of a circuit set-up. Participants need to see and understand what exercise to perform at each station. Printed and laminated two-sided signs on 11” x 17” paper have worked well but I recently upgraded to foam board, which is larger, sturdy, and durable. Large letters and an exercise illustration are very helpful. Choose exercises that are simple and familiar to your students and be as descriptive as you can in few words.
Since many participants may not be able to see the signs well, designate a leader who is willing read out the exercise at each station for his/her group. I also have students jog around the pool with me during the warm-up to give them a preview of all the exercises.
Prop signs up against cones with plastic clips. Taping or clipping them to the back of a chair also works well. If the signs are two-sided for two different rotations, I add an intermission travelling set while I flip the cards around for the second rotation.
When dividing the class into groups, I like to give everyone something tangible. Colored hair ties are my favorite item to distribute as students arrive to class. They are cheap and easy for students to place on their wrist. Remembering their assigned group will be easy, plus this helps to keep groups even and organized.
Circuit training can be fun and provide variety to your aquatic classes. Preparation is the key to success instead of chaos. Looking for more ideas? Watch for AEA’s new 2-hour continuing education workshop “H2O Circuits” coming in 2019 – learn and earn with this practical applications course!
Lori Templeman, BA, is the owner of Fitness Temple in Lincoln City, OR. She is a group fitness and Red Cross Instructor. Lori is an AEA Aquatic Training Specialist and national presenter who travels the country leading aquatic fitness programs. She is also a successful freelance writer featured in various fitness publications. Lori’s certifications include AEA, ACE, AFAA, and YogaFit.