The latest indoor aquatics offerings making waves in the industry.
According to the CDC, swimming is the fourth-most popular recreational activity in the U.S. With that level of popularity, it’s no surprise clubs around the country are offering state-of-the-art aquatics centers to expand their reach in local communities.
For example, Merritt Clubs in Baltimore, Maryland, has several unique aquatics features among its different sites which have seen a strong response from members.
Andrew Barranco, the regional operations and aquatics leader at Merritt Clubs, said one location has a lazy river and a vortex feature in addition to slides for younger children. “A few of our locations include two 18-foot water slides,” he said. “At another location, we have a pool climbing wall which adds another option to keep swimmers entertained.”
When it comes to creating effective aquatics features, Barranco said forming a successful design and layout is the first key for having an innovative and impressive center. He said when possible, it’s ideal on new builds to include teaching benches for swim lessons, and for easy access in and out of the pool.
“Including some of the ‘wow’ features for your market is also important in design such as fun slides or pool bars,” said Barranco. “If you have an existing facility, I think there are some ways you can still add a ‘wow,’ such as floating obstacle courses for special events or camp days. These are not permanent and are impressive for visitors when you utilize them.”
This kind of design planning is already underway at Baptist East Milestone in Louisville, Kentucky, where the aquatics center will undergo major renovations this year, including completely resurfacing the pool deck.
Debra Harley, a nationally certified water fitness trainer at Baptist East Milestone, said the main highlights at the world-class facility include a 102-degree Jacuzzi, a five-lane saltwater lap pool with an average temperature of 82 to 84 degrees, and a therapeutic pool perfect for clients needing the safety of warmer temperatures between 92 to 94 degrees to caress stiff joints, sore muscles or to address recovery from injury or surgery.
“The therapy pool has that ‘wow’ factor,” said Harley. “With each step into the warm water, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and the mind/body begins to relax immediately. Joints are supported and soothed by the buoyancy of the warm water.”
Harley said a variety of group exercise classes are conducted in both the lap and therapy pools by nationally certified aquatic fitness professionals. Additionally, physical therapists and personal trainers design individualized exercise programs to meet specific needs.
Other classes and offerings at Baptist East Milestone include lap swimming, swim instruction, water yoga, Ai Chi, boot camps, HIIT, Aqua Pilates Feldenkrais, water walking, hydro cycling, aqua neuro classes geared to those with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or other common neurological conditions, and classes geared toward those with arthritis/fibromyalgia.
Harley said these offerings are possible due to the efforts the center has made to build a strong faculty of instructors, personal trainers and aquatics therapists.
“The most successful offerings in group classes improve balance and coordination, circulatory function, and pulmonary endurance,” said Harley. “Milestone members have access to state-of-the-art aquatic equipment including AquaJogger belts in varying sizes for deep water, Aqualogix resistance bells, aqua dumbbells in varying sizes, aqua gloves, Kiefer Aquatics ankle/wrist weights, neck collars and aqua cuffs for buoyancy, training fins, hydro cycles, pool noodles, pull buoys, kickboards, v-shaped stability wonder boards, medicine balls and more.”
The center’s saltwater lap pool is one trend that’s gaining steam throughout indoor aquatics centers. According to Healthline, a health information website, saltwater pools are easier to maintain than a traditional pool, are a good alternative for anyone who finds the smell of chlorine irritating, don’t have the same harsh effects as chlorine and may also be a good option for members who have asthma or allergies.
Staff at Onelife Fitness in Gainesville, Virginia, are also taking advantage of this trend with the club recently converting its pools over to saltwater. Roxane Rachocki, the aquatics director, said the decision is receiving an incredible response from members who enjoy the saltwater experience.
“Onelife Fitness clubs feature a variety of aquatics areas from splash pads to laps pools, whirlpools and therapy pools,” said Rachocki. “With the conversion to saltwater, our members are seeing the benefits of this amenity and it’s attracting more to our pools, along with the programs for children and adults. With the summer, it’s a great time to learn how to be safe in, on or around the water. It’s an important life skill.”
Onelife Fitness’ locations offer water aerobics classes for a variety of intensities, ages and abilities. Rachocki said at least two lap lanes are available all day for open swim. Plus, the club offers swim lessons for all ages six months and up. She said Onelife Fitness is also focusing more on instructors having their Water Safety Instructor certification through the American Red Cross. All lifeguards are also trained to administer CPR to staff and members.
To better ensure water safety, Merritt Clubs created the Safety, Education, Aquatics and Learning (SEAL) program. Throughout the club’s locations, Barranco said SEAL teaches water safety and swimming skills in addition to their swim school. The year-round team of approximately 280 swimmers and group swim lessons are also some of the club’s most successful initiatives. Additionally, Barranco said the club uses the Michael Phelps Swim School curriculum.
“We use TeamUnify as a software vendor for online enrollment in the swim school as well as the platform we run our swim team on,” said Barranco. “For equipment vendors, we have a local pool company that does our repairs and some of our equipment needs. Outside of that, we use a commercial account with Kiefer Aquatics.”
Moving forward, Barranco said the club wants to grow its swim school even more due to the life-saving impact teaching people how to swim has. Another goal is building aquatics special events and summer programming back up to the level Merritt Clubs saw before COVID-19. Those offerings range from one-day summer events for kids and movie nights, ice cream days, and summer kick-off parties for adults and families.
The state-of-the-art aquatics center features at Merritt Clubs, Baptist East Milestone and Onelife Fitness have successfully made a beneficial impact on each organization. However, it’s how each facility is used through programming and outreach to the community that has truly left a lasting impression on visitors.