Move over, SoulCycle — the latest spin craze in New York City is biking underwater.
Known as “aqua cycling,” the exercise was invented by an Italian physical therapist years ago. Fans and adherents claim it fights cellulite, burns up to 800 calories in an hour, and there’s no soreness the next day.
It sounds like the perfect workout, yet incredibly no one had heard of aqua cycling in NYC until Esther Gauthier brought it over from Europe this past April.
The French native had tried a similar underwater spinning class at Paris outpost La Maison Popincourt and knew she had found something special that New Yorkers would love.
“For over a year, I kept it to myself,” she whispered to me in the airy Tribeca space that’s home to AQUA Studio, New York’s first and only aqua spinning gym, which I visited for a complimentary class last week. “I didn’t want it to get out, I didn’t want anyone to steal my idea!”
The downtown studio looks more like a chic spa than a gym. The space had been abandoned for years before Gauthier and her team knocked down three separate floors to create the loft-like studio.
After checking in at the front desk — where students are handed a towel and clear jelly shoes ($US2 to rent) — we walked down a flight of stairs to the gorgeous locker room. The walls were lined with mirrors and vanities stocked with cotton swabs and hair dryers, and it smelled like the peppermint body wash in each shower stall.
As we changed into our swimsuits, I noticed a few women seemed to know each other from previous classes — Gauthier told me the studio already has a loyal clientele base even though AQUA only opened this past April.
We then trickled into the small rectangular pool down another flight of stairs where 15 bikes (from Italy, no less) were arranged. The trainer, Andia, floated around in the four-foot pool, helping new students slip their rubber shoes into the bike pedals and adjust the seats and handlebars to the perfect hip height, with the water lapping at our chests.
The lighting was dim, with candles lining the wall and pop music playing. Andia had us review the various positions (sitting, standing, bent over the bike, and a fourth position where we floated behind the bike while our feet were still on the pedals) before we began.
In some ways, it felt like a traditional spin class. There were sprints, music, and an instructor calling out various positions.
But there was no resistance knob — instead, you were pushing against the friction of the water.
Though I was sceptical about how good of a workout biking underwater would be, my muscles burned in a similar way to swimming laps or treading water. I definitely worked up a sweat, and my legs felt wobbly when I got out of the pool.
My favourite part was the splashing. We pushed the water back and forth, punched up through the water, and paddled with alternating arms. I was surprised to find that my arms also got a great workout, plus it was really fun (though I was soaked by the end of class).
There were a few cons with aqua cycling. One common complaint is that it’s hard to hear the instructor over the water, music, and echoes of the basement.
Another is that since the bikes aren’t secured in the water, they can sometimes lift off the ground or sway from side to side. It’s hard to find — and keep — the right rhythm, and my bike moved a lot since I hadn’t mastered the smooth rhythm necessary to keep the bike stationary.
But all things considered, I liked aqua cycling. It’s a novel way to cross train, or a good exercise alternative for people with sports injuries, joint pain, or for pregnant women.
I also felt very relaxed after class. “Aqua cycling is a marriage between yoga and regular cycling,” Gauthier explained. ” It’s the intensity of cycling, but then there’s something about the water that’s so soothing and adds the relaxation of yoga.”
Gauthier said the studio is currently working on creating a class designed exclusively for men (AQUA will start accepting men in September, though men’s changing rooms and a juice bar are still in the works), a strength training class, and a class for pregnant women. They’re tentatively aiming to have these up and running by October.
After the 45-minute class was over, I took a shower with the peppermint body wash provided in the shower stalls, and left feeling tired, yet refreshed. I don’t know about fighting cellulite, but at least two claims on the website are true — you’ll have the best sleep of your life afterwards, and you won’t feel sore the next day.
Interested in trying it out Aqua Cycling? Here’s what you need to know:
What to wear: I wore spandex shorts and a sports bra, but most women in the class were wearing swimsuits — either bikinis or one-piece suits. Bikinis are fine, but make sure your top is secure.
You will get wet! Though the water only comes up to mid-chest, all the splashing will definitely still get you (and your hair) wet. Plan to shower afterwards, and bring a hairbrush.
What to bring: An extra towel and a separate set of clothes are a good idea. Also remember to pack a bag to carry your wet swimsuit after class.
Cost: The trial class is $US34 for your first time, plus $US2 for the shoes. A single class is $US40, unless you choose to buy one of the studio’s packages (then the cost ranges from $US33 — $US38 per class).
Who can go: So far, it’s still women-only, but that will be changing in September. Men can sign up for the wait list by emailing AQUA.
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