Deep Pockets Not Required

By Eric Ryer

In group classes—such as water aerobics and deep-water toning—camaraderie is typically one of the characteristics participants appreciate. But the one aspect of the program that might be self-sustaining is the funding.


The town of Cedarburg in Wisconsin discovered a way to offer a toning program that is entirely self-supporting, meaning taxpayers do not subsidize it.

In fact, all of the programs offered by the department—Little League, flag football, pickleball, and deep-water toning—stand on their own. Sponsorships from area businesses and individuals, user fees, and a few fundraisers tied to Little League support all programming and related costs, including staff time spent organizing the activities.

Operating in this manner has in no way had a negative effect on the quality of the programming. If anything, donors have increased their level of generosity knowing recreation-related costs are not passed along to the taxpayers.

Expanding Efforts
Originally offered in the fall of 2010, the first deep-water toning session had 12 participants. Initial feedback was great, so marketing efforts were intensified, but still focused on methods that got the word out at little or no cost to keep registration fees down.

The regular mix of marketing has since grown to include email blasts to current and past participants and to more than 1,000 area residents registered for the frequent notifications, a large banner hung at the primary intersection in town, and an occasional article in the local newspaper.

These efforts have resulted in an increase in registration numbers—the second season increased to 18 participants, the third season to 26, and the fall 2012 season to 31 residents.

Working Together
One element critical to the success of the program is the coordination between the instructor and town staff. Several weeks before the season begins, the instructor meets with the staff to discuss “preregistration numbers,” equipment needs, and scheduling.

This meeting also provides the opportunity to discuss lifeguard needs, allowing time to recruit any additional lifeguards to ensure adequate coverage.

Town staff also enjoys good communication with the local school district, which is responsible for facility reservation and passing along scheduling changes as needed.

Since the school district has use priority over the town’s programming activities, the town’s aquatic class gets bumped if a scheduling conflict arises. By maintaining a contact list, town staff and the instructor are able to notify participants of any schedule changes.

Cooperative Planning
So how is the fee set to ensure that the program is self-supporting? It is calculated using “preregistration” numbers gathered by the instructor; a verbal commitment from participants is gathered about one month before the current season ends. All anticipated costs, including lifeguard and instructor wages as well as town staff time (there is no facility rental fee based on school-district policy), are then totaled and divided by the number of “preregistrants.”

In many instances, the number of participants is higher than the number who preregistered, resulting in a surplus of funds for that season. This money goes into the “deep-water toning” account and is available to purchase equipment, or left to accumulate for future needs.

In terms of staffing, there is one instructor and two regular lifeguards at each meeting. If the registration numbers are higher than expected, a helper is added to put away equipment as needed.

Flexible Programming
A positive element of deep-water toning is the flexibility offered by the instructor. Many water-fitness classes feature instructor-led exercises set to music, but this typically is not the case in Cedarburg. Although music is played in the background, the instructor works with individuals, enabling them to get the greatest benefit out of the class.

For some, this means treading water in the deep end, while for others it means walking in the shallow areas of the pool to exercise, but it keeps pressure off of aging/rehabilitating joints.

Some participants partner with others and socialize while exercising, while others enjoy exercising on their own and taking advantage of “quiet time” away from work and family.

Water Exercises
The instructor mixes regular exercise with Pilates and yoga moves. The workout consists of a pattern of moves across the length of the pool and back that includes:

  • A warm-up of elliptical motion in place using water weights (alternating legs and arms for 2 to 3 minutes)

  • Bicycling across the pool and back while using a noodle under participants’ arms or between their legs (or using water belts), keeping the correct posture throughout the motion

  • Rowing a boat backwards while biking across the pool and back

  • Rocket kicks (bending the knee of one leg, while flip-kicking the other, and then switching legs coming back across the pool)

  • Cross-country (long-leg walking in the deep end) while retaining a straight posture

  • A “rocking chair” movement to loosen muscles between other exercises

  • Lifting barbells for upper-body strength

  • Ending the workout with wall-walking and sit-ups at the wall.

Other moves and strength training can be added for balance and stability. A half-hour to an hour is best for the total workout, but just moving in the water without jarring the joints is still a great workout for anyone.

Making It Work
After offering the program for several sessions, a survey of current and past participants reveals the town is on the right track to providing the type of program that residents will support:

  • 100 percent of respondents indicated they would recommend the program to a friend.

  • When asked about pool usage and fees, 100 percent said they preferred to use the entire pool and pay a higher fee, as opposed to sharing the pool with lap swimmers and splitting the fees with them.

  • More than 50 percent have been with the program for three or more seasons.

  • 78 percent indicated they registered with the program for physical fitness, while 22 percent indicated they registered for physical-therapy or medical reasons.

  • 44 percent of respondents indicated that they heard about the program by word-of-mouth.

Eric Ryer is the director of recreation and planning for the town of Cedarburg in Wisconsin. Reach him at