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Aquatic Training

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"Safe/Safer" Should be Laid to Rest
By Mary Ellen ("Melon") Dash

Part 1

In the Aquatics world, in case you're not an Aquatics journalist, there has been an issue in the past five to ten years about use of the word, "Safe."

It began when parents who couldn't swim, who were afraid in water asked swim schools how to make their children water-safe so that the parents wouldn't have to worry about them in the water (since the parents couldn't save them).

Swim schools knew that parents wanted a guarantee. But Aquatics has always maintained that parents MUST ALWAYS be vigilant with their kids in water, without exception, and be responsible for kids' safety. The schools didn't want to give parents a reason to feel justified in being complacent. So the schools created a response, and now a significant portion of the aquatics industry has adopted it: "We can't make your kids 100% safe in water. We can only make them safer than they would have been if they didn't take lessons."

For the past 5-10 years, therefore, the notion has been communicated that 'kids and parents (all people) are not and cannot be safe in water."

This is absurd. How many people swim safely every year?

Now, when an  adult swim school--Miracle Swimming-- talks about afraid-in-water adults becoming safe in deep water,
which we do, the "Safer" folks object, saying, "You can never be safe."

This is not true for adults or for kids. If it were true that one could never be safe in water, then it's true that one can never be safe anywhere. Do we want to live under that cloud?

It has gone too far. At long last, we have taken on the 'Safer' folks with a statement that hopefully will put their notion to a final rest.

Following is the email message (#1 and separately, #2) we sent to our Aquatics-industry lists. It is not a press release. It's a significant addition to the Aquatics industry learn-to-swim library. You can be informed.  

Dear  Aquatics Professionals,
How does that make you feel? Does it make you tighten up just a little bit? Does it diminish your spirit just a little bit? Make your heart sink? 
Is it a message you want to give your children? Your students? Friends? Anyone you love?
 Is there anyone who doesn't know that if he gets stuck under water, he will die?
Of course not.
It is inconceivable that any adult exists in this world without knowing that humans must have air.
Many smart people have been talked into the counter-intuitive practice of saying "Safer" instead of "Safe." I wonder if they thought the concept all the way through before adopting that stance.
One of the leading proponents of the "safer" idea and I have gone back and forth about this for years - not that either one of us has been effective in changing the other's mind. I told him I would test out saying "safer" for 6 months. I kept my word. It did not work for me. Let me explain how I settled once and for all on my view.
When I asked him, "Why do you feel a need to say 'Safer' instead of 'Safe,'" he said, "Because parents want to know that their kids are going to be safe in water. They want to know they don't have to worry about their kids when they're swimming. If we tell parents their kids are safe, parents won't pay attention to them, as they should. So we tell them their kids can't be safe ... only safer than if they didn't take swimming lessons. "
In the 1950s, pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock was hailed for the philosophy he espoused about raising children. Later researchers found a multitude of his assertions to be not only incorrect, but even damaging in certain situations. I draw a comparison with the "Safer, not safe" idea in terms of LTS in the 2000s.
When parents tell us they want to be assured that their children are learning to be safe in the water, what they really are saying in almost every case, is that they don't know how to swim, themselves.
This is the problem. He/she does not know the water. Any parent who knows how to swim would not say, "Make my kid invincible in water." That parent knows it's impossible to do. Parents who can swim know that learning to be safe in water - as safe as safe gets - means learning to rest by floating on one's back, getting air when one wants it, being able to maneuver, and being able to go from one point to another without becoming exhausted, so that a person is in control of his/her air.
The solution to the problem of parents wanting a guarantee that their kids are safe is teaching parents to swim. First though, tell them that "safe in water" does not mean what they think it means. Then tell them that there is no time when they, as parents, should consider themselves "off the hook" for their kids' safety in the water,
period. (No responsible, informed parent ever would let a child of any age go in the water without keeping both eyes on the child.) Then tell the parents that there's a place where they can learn to overcome their fear in water and be safe, themselves, in deep water. If you can't teach them, we can.
I, for one do not want people to think they can't be safe in water! Nor do I want to think
I can't be safe. I know what my limits are. Don't you? Do you tell yourself you're unsafe?  
When people think they're unsafe, they contract. They don't move well. They feel smaller. They are disempowered. They don't think clearly. If there is any place where we do not want these disadvantages, it's in the water.
All my 5000 adults who started out afraid in water and then signed up for my classes felt they were unsafe. And they were! This is the precise reason they could not learn to swim through programs providing traditional lessons. Those lessons did not make them feel safe, nor did those programs teach safety or the correct definition of safety. The biggest contribution my school has made to the world and to Aquatics is the new definitions of safety and of "I can swim." "I can stroke" does not mean, "I can swim." This is why we have been in business and growing for 31 years. This is why thousands of people seek us out and millions would if they knew we were here. This is why instructors who sense something is missing from their teaching of adults find grounded answers and satisfaction (relief) in our training.
I implore you
not to proliferate the "Safer" message. Let's not scare people to try to make them safer! There is a high road and it is more effective.
To those of you who agree with me but who have not spoken up against "Safer" because you didn't have the words, I hope this argument empowers you. Yes, there is a problem. But instead of making it worse, make the world a safer place. Help people feel safe.

Part 2

what you say, you teach.
are you sure you wish to give a
message to yourself and your clientele that they'll never be safe?

Dear Aquatics Professionals,

Every time someone goes swimming, has fun, and returns home, they were safe. What percentage of the time does that happen? Almost 100%. 99.x%?

The message that


is not the truth. Yet 'safer' proponents push it every day. Misinformation creates discord, not only in people who know better, but in afraid-in-water and non-afraid parents who are concerned for kids' safety. Something is off.

For the Aquatics industry to put forth the message,


with good intentions, albeit unwittingly--without thinking it through,
Aquatics is shooting itself in the foot. Our whole purpose in the LTS industry is to make swimming safe. If parents can't depend on you to make their kids safe in water, who can they depend on?

I implore you not to tell people they're not safe. I implore you not to tell them, "Aquatics can't do it."

I can make them safe. I do. You need to, as well!
It is not correct to tell people they cannot be safe.

Thirty-two years of teaching afraid adults to swim taught us things about LTS that the rest of the industry has yet to learn. One of those things is that
strokes do not provide safety.

Strokes provide efficiency and speed. But when will efficiency and speed save someone? When someone is trying to get away from a shark? Even Michael Phelps can't outswim a shark... or even a small fish.

Safety comes from two things:
  1. being in control
  2. being able to prevent panic

These are the two things that make someone reliable for their safety in deep water. If people are in control, they will be able to get air when they want it and to maneuver easily in water, even if it's not with the efficiency of good strokes. Strokes do not matter. Only safety matters at the most basic level, which is what the LTS industry should be about, first and foremost. Strokes matter to fitness- and competitive swimmers.
But not for safety.

When kids take traditional lessons, if they learn to be in control of getting air when they want it, which they usually do,
it's by chance, not by design.

Kids usually are in control naturally because they're kids. Afraid adults don't learn control in traditional lessons because it's not taught. This is why they fail traditional classes. This is why we had to start a swim school for them. And because we teach safety, they never, ever fail.

Traditional lessons do not teach panic prevention, either. If you say to your students, "Don't panic," you are talking, not teaching.

traditional lessons don't teach either of the two components of safety. This is part of why the drowning rate is so high worldwide. Kids who learn to swim learn to be in control by chance. But they don't learn how to stay in control (prevent panic); therefore they don't know the second half of remaining safe.

Have people been safe? Yes, most of the time. But it's been by luck and grace if they got through a panicky situation. Why do good swimmers drown? Perhaps they get pinned under water. If not, then we say it's because they
don't know how to prevent panic. Most drowning is caused not by the inability to do strokes, but by panic. 

Parents who are afraid in water were the reason the whole 'Safer/Safe" conversation got started in the first place. From the perspective of someone who knows that population inside and out, I can say unequivocally, this is a case of


The mistake afraid parents make by insisting that you teach their kids to be invincible in water is one that needs to be corrected by giving them the information I put in my last e-blast: teach these parents to be safe in water, so they can swim. First though, tell them that "safe in water" does not mean what they think it means. Then tell them that there is no time when they, as parents, should consider themselves "off the hook" for their kids' safety in the water, period. Then tell the parents that there's a place where they can learn to overcome their fear in water and be safe, themselves, in deep water. If you can't teach them, we can.

Tell parents: "Safety means being able to get air whenever you want it and preventing panic. It is not about what you do with your arms and legs."  This makes sense to afraid parents. They can learn to swim, to understand the water, and to pass along correct messages to their children.

The mistake "Safer" advocates make by telling these parents that their kids (and the parents) will never be safe in water has to be corrected as well: 'Safer' advocates and other instructors must learn how to teach safety.

But right now, Aquatics is passing along the wrong message to parents, kids, and families by saying they can't be safe.

I implore you to stop this practice post haste! It was well-meant, but ill-conceived. More industry leaders could have been brought into the decision-making before this 'safer' idea was launched.

A main 'safer' proponent says, "But the 'safer' idea brought together many divergent groups and has quelled discord. To that I say that there is no disadvantage to putting a focus on safety or on layers of protection: that, no doubt, is beneficial.
The rub is in telling people they can't be safe.

If you keep the 'safer, not safe" message going much longer, you are going to see people turning away from swimming lessons and swimming... for the wrong reasons, but reasons you have given them.

"But we have invested lots of money in the Safer message," you say. Again, two wrongs don't make a right. There is value in the safety message but the "you can't be safe" message should end


If you don't think you can teach people to be in control of getting air when they want it and to prevent panic (these are not part of traditional training), you're saying that you're a candidate for the training we give. It is the new LTS. It will be global once people see it. It has been taught to afraid adults for thirty-two years. The training for instructors has been given for ten years.

Help the world to be a safer place. Teach people to be safe.

Mary Ellen ("Melon") Dash
Miracle Swimming and 21st Century Swimming Lessons, Inc.
Author, forthcoming book, The End of Drowning


Walking in Water Proven to Ease Arthritis Pain
New water exercise protocol is the right prescription to feel better
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No other land-based training has been able to successfully implement high-intensity aerobic workouts for patients with osteoarthritis, likely because the aquatic environment created a reduced fear of falling, lowered joint loads, and provided ...
High intensity intervals or HIT training in water is good for you, so says a new research study.

Results of a significant new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research are opening the door for 27 million osteoarthritis (OA) patients who can use high intensity aquatic exercise for regular physical activity to better manage their arthritis. The landmark study, led by Eadric Bressel, Ph.D., professor and clinical research scientist at Utah State University, means that millions of people with arthritis can enjoy an improved quality of life with less stress and worry often associated with pain and risk of falling. Greater confidence and reduced fear will help them attain better physical condition, resulting in more comfortably participating in normal, every day activities with co-workers, friends and family.

"Having osteoarthritis patients walking against a systematically high and low resistance in water resulted in significant reduction in pain, improved mobility, balance and function," said Dr. Bressel. This same kind of high intensity interval training on land would be unfathomable because of the load-elicited pain," he added.

No other land-based training has been able to successfully implement high-intensity aerobic workouts for patients with osteoarthritis, likely because the aquatic environment created a reduced fear of falling, lowered joint loads, and provided three-dimensional support to help maintain balance. This study provides an evidence-based protocol that is effective at managing symptoms of OA.

It is commonly accepted that aquatic exercise is helpful to those living with arthritis. This new study, incorporating high intensity, interval aquatic training, demonstrates that even better outcomes can be attained, offering hope to the 27 million Americans who suffer. Additionally, more than a quarter of a million Americans will turn 65 each month; 50 percent will develop some form of OA, according to the CDC.

"Everyone can find a pool. Millions of people with arthritis can maintain better health just by walking and running in water. As they get stronger, they may feel more confident to exercise on land, too," commented Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of non-profit National Swimming Pool Foundation, who funded the study.

An aquatic treadmill was used to test the hypothesis of the benefit of High Intensity Aquatic training for OA patients, which allowed researchers to maintain a high level of control and produce the same energy demands as equivalent to land-based exercise.

The design of the study was a single-group double pretest posttest design whereby participants completed a 4-week non-exercise control period followed by a 6-week aquatic exercise intervention period.

Participants all had osteoarthritis and underwent three training sessions on the aquatic treadmill per week, in a pool. Joint pain, balance, function, and mobility were tested before and after exercise and non-exercise conditions.

In comparison with pretests, participants displayed reduced joint pain and improved balance, function and mobility. The same benefits were not observed after the non-exercise control period.

All participants completed the 6-week program with 100 percent exercise adherence. No one reported adverse effects beyond typical mild-to-moderate muscle fatigue and soreness associated with high-intensity interval training.

Motor functions and static balance also improved during the course of the study, with participants able to stand from a seated position more easily, lunge more quickly on one leg, and walk on land with greater speed. In fact, after the completion of the six weeks, participants' gait speed was nearly identical to that of those without osteoarthritis.

Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click appropriate link.
Thomas Lachocki, Ph.D

Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click appropriate link.
Eadric Bressel

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SOURCE National Swimming Pool Foundation