There's no question that swimming, aqua aerobics and other underwater exercises provide an effective and often superior workout. For example, running on land works your leg muscles only when you push off, while running in water provides for multidimensional resistance, making muscles work constantly.
In addition, water constricts blood vessels, making your heart work harder.
And water keeps you cool so you can exercise longer and more vigorously than you normally would on land.
Rowland said Cornerstone's success is due in part to the constant accessibility of its lap pools. To accommodate other programming, most aquatics centers allow lap swimming only at certain times. At Cornerstone, the pool is open for lap swimming all the time.
Two popular programs—triathlon training and a two-week training course that prepares high school girls for swim season—also drive the facility's success.
In addition, Cornerstone's biannual Dive for Sunken Treasure, held in spring and fall, is always well-attended. In its first year, Rowland had hoped to find small toys that would sink to the bottom of the pool and stay put, but most floated to the surface. Instead, kids dive for brightly painted rocks, which they trade in for candy-free goodie bags.
Aquatics facilities often try to attract more patrons by offering more "dry" elements, such as juice bars and day spas. "We're not headed in that direction," Rowland said.
He is not opposed to the idea per se and would consider such additions himself if he had the space. But aquatics facilities that aren't succeeding at the very basic level of attracting people to swim probably should focus on that as opposed to diversifying, he said.
Rowland also believes it's misguided for municipalities to try to create small-scale versions of commercial waterparks, complete with slides, lazy rivers and dump buckets. "A family wants to go to a waterpark for a day of endless stimulation, and there are parks that do that well. What we do here is very different. We teach people to use water for their entire lives, to improve overall health, fitness and well-being.
"If do it right, people will come just to be in the water, swimming and splashing around."