I’ve always loved to swim, but about two months ago I started doing it pretty regularly. The impetus: I was in the midst of a minor health crisis. A metabolic test had shown that I was about 20 pounds overweight, my blood pressure was a bit high, and my HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol) was low. The extra weight was putting pressure on my bones and joints—the last thing I needed as someone already dealing with chronic autoimmune arthritic symptoms.
It was time to make a change for my wellbeing and my future.
I didn’t need scientific proof of water’s benefits, but there are plenty: Water exercises improve body fat percentage, increase physical strength, and decrease blood lipids (fatty substances found in the blood), according to the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. Plus, I hated the gym. So when a friend who learned of my newly-minted mermaid status told me about Aqua Studio, a breezy, chic “wellness sanctuary” in New York City, I felt a magnetic pull. The boutique studio offers salt water aqua cycling classes (yes, you bike under water, where the bottom half of you is submerged) in addition to “land” classes (like yoga on the mat), health coaching, and boutique-y goodies like creams and turquoise swim gear.
The studio is a haven. The scent of mint wafts throughout, and it’s immaculate, airy, and stunningly beautiful. Oh, and it’s the only studio of its kind in NYC (we can thank the French for inventing this workout, as well as Aqua Studio’s owner, Esther, for bringing it to NYC; merci!). Did I mention yet that the classes can burn up to 800 calories?
I decided to do a 30-day challenge (I managed 18 45-minute classes in one month), not only because I am an insane person, but because if you’re going to take care of yourself, you might as well go hard.
My First Class
I took the Blend class first (composed of three of their popular classes: Power, an utterly intense, legs-only class; Interval, an arms-and-legs class; and Restore, a calming, stretch-focused class). The instructor, Ed, was thoughtful, enthusiastic, kind, and nurturing. He helped me adjust my seat and figure out the four bike positions (one sitting, two standing, and one in the water), and I felt super at ease. P.S. They dim the lights, line the room with candles, and play great music—like a cocktail party!
We powered through the different focuses. I was a mess. The water offers a billion times more resistance (take that, SoulCycle), while also massaging your cellulite away, limiting impact on your joints, and increasing circulation.
Because you’re in water, the pressure is on YOU to pedal faster to increase resistance (unlike a normal bike, you don’t set a level—you work for it). This means you use your core to seriously round out each pedal, which, in water, is difficult as hell.
I was like a kid at the beach. Totally intoxicated by the water’s power and fully detached from any worry. I felt alive, I worked hard, and I didn’t feel out of place. Unlike many other studios, there’s no sense of clique or exclusivity here. People of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels share the pool and work hard together. (This, for me, is key; fitness is personal and shouldn’t be a competition or social status symbol.)
The Next 17 Classes
In the beginning, I sat down a lot. I needed to take a break because I wasn’t strong enough. My body quickly adapted, though. By week two, I started trusting my body and pushing past those awful lactic acid bouts. I cycled harder and harder, working closely on my form.
I cycled through their various classes (you can see them all here) and found that my favorite is Plyo, a full-body class that combines exercises on and off the bike. For folks who want a hardcore workout, I recommend their Boost, Plyo, or Power classes. For yogis who want to stretch and ‘be one with the water’, I recommend Restore. Their schedule also includes classes in French, some live music classes, and some with specific music (like all-90s playlists. Yes, please).
By week 2, I started trusting my body and pushing past those awful lactic acid bouts. I cycled harder and harder, working closely on my form.
Halfway through the month, a death in my family occurred. My natural response was to hide away, but I pushed myself to attend classes, since they gave me a chance to be quiet in my thoughts. I found myself grieving silently while in the water. The grounding effects of exercise allow you to focus on the now, which can you help you find hope and purpose.
But it was the kindness of the instructors that actually helped me the most. They didn’t know it, but their encouragement was healing. I took most of my classes with the wonderful Ed; Alexia, who is detailed and calm and caring; Moses, who is fun and fiery while pushing you harder (he calls you a warrior); and JC, who is exceptionally form-focused and super encouraging (he regularly gives you high fives). They are all full of light (yay for non-judgmental instructors!)
I was like a kid at the beach. Totally intoxicated by the water’s power and fully detached from any worry.
With my mental state as it was, Aqua Cycle became a second home for me. It truly is a wellness sanctuary, and a place where you can work out in a meditative and beautiful setting. I felt I was able to not only work on my body but move through my pain while there, and that’s not something I say lightly.
For anyone who’s unsure of whether this is actually a workout, please let me illuminate you: You absolutely get what you put into it. You could slowly peddle and wiggle your arms about. You could forget your core and overcompensate by jerking around on the saddle. OR you can engage your core, peddle hard, and move your arms through the water with utmost focus on resistance. Your choice. Although, at the risk of sounding like a PR person (Dear Aqua Cycle: Let me please be your PR person), the instructors are so encouraging you will not be left in the dark; they will inspire you. You will leave there having worked really hard, but thanks to the water, you won’t be sore.
On the cash front, Aqua Cycle is a bit pricy (and it should be; it’s worth it!). It’s an investment in your mental and physical health. An intro class is $35, and they offer several packages.
You will leave aqua cycling having worked really hard, but thanks to the water, you won’t be sore.
I know you’re all waiting for the results. I can sense you there, scanning this article. So without further ado: I eat a mostly healthy diet but I do not believe in depriving myself of the finer things in life (I’m the anti-Gwyneth Paltrow, although I bet she’d love this studio). So, combined with a mostly-healthy diet, the physical benefits of these classes were 100 percent measurable.
I lost three inches off my waist, along with about 10 pounds (maybe more? I don’t look to the scale for results). My legs and hips have tightened up, my arms are more toned, my tummy is stronger and flatter, and my butt is noticeably perkier. Verification? An honest mirror and even more honest boyfriend.
Other important benefits are less physical, which I must impress upon you. Aqua Studio claims its classes can promote better sleep, less stress, increased flexibility, and better cardiovascular performance. I can attest to all of this, and I emphasize better sleep and less stress.
Since I began regularly attending Aqua Cycle classes, I’ve been a happier person. My feel-good hormones are through the roof, and I have connected with my body in a deeply spiritual way. I trust myself, I push myself, and I love myself. Sounds a bit cheese, right? Just wait until you try it. You’re welcome.
Want to locate an aqua cycle class near you? Good news: It’s growing in popularity all over the country. It exists in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington DC, New York state, and in plenty of other locations. And if you can’t get onto the bike, you can still find a local pool and experience the proven benefits of water exercise.