aquacycling? read: spinning underwater

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A steady stream of hypnotic trance envelopes me within the chlorine haze of AQUA’s Tribeca studio. A 4-feet-deep rectangular pool with ultra-clear water begs for someone to make waves across the ten or so specially-made cycling bikes snuggled together underwater. I’ve left my backpack overflowing with a wool scarf, a fuzzy winter coat and my running shoes (just in case) in the women’s locker room, which also happens to be the most luxurious locker room I’ve ever padded across. Now I’m standing awkwardly at the edge of the pool, not quite cold but definitely not warm in my navy-blue one-piece and flip-flops. As I debate whether or not it’s kosher to dip my head under the shower head attached the wall next to me to wash off as pools usually require, a muscular man with shoulders like an inverse-pyramid pops out of the men’s locker room.

“Welcome to the pool. You can hop in,” says Ed Hall in a placid voice as he adjusts the iPod on a built-in shelf across from me. I kick off my sandals one at a time and lower my legs into the pool bracing myself for cold and then a shiver which never actually comes. The water is warm and the music is mesmerizing and I’m already entering into a state of tranquility which AQUA’s website had promised me an hour before I left.

Stress-release wasn’t my motive though. A high school middle-distance runner who still runs regularly in addition to being a regular at spin classes, this would push me to combine two things I loved for their effect on my body: spinning and swimming. The fact that AQUA boasts 800-calories-burned-per-forty-five-minutes didn’t hurt.  And the fact that Europeans love it. Apparently, they’ve been aquacycling for years.

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AQUA is the first and only studio of its kind in New York City – and what better place to launch a boutique fitness studio than here. New York’s overabundance of specialized group fitness classes hyper-sensitize themselves to people who prefer intense, intimate, and (of course) fun workouts (read: Barry’s Boot Camp, SoulCycle, CrossFit, Flywheel). It’s all variation on a theme: While one boutique specializes in cycling under strobe lights to the sound of a live emcee, another will focus on intra-class competition and incorporating a barbell. The cost, aside from their absurdly high prices, include a set of priorities that place branding, marketing and popularity over the actual exercise.

AQUA is not one of these. Yes, it is intimate; yes, it is a little extravagant for a cycling studio (their $34 a pop price is evidence of this); but, the intimacy between the staff and clients and the quality of instructors are unmatchable. Push through the heavy TriBeCa doors and a friendly, down-to-earth front-desk woman will greet you and help you get set up. She won’t have to yell over blaring music because only soft, instrumental music sounds within their walls; she won’t take several minutes to realize you’re waiting to be checked in because the lobby is spacious, organized and most refreshingly, not drowning in AQUA apparel. Cycling instructors like Ed are professionally trained and experienced. They want to work you hard, but won’t push you to perform dangerous moves on a bike. Oh, and the French owner is often present.

After Ed helps me get set up on my bike, which is much lighter and wobbly as I pedal than a traditional indoor cycling bike, we begin stretching: First, my neck, and then my arms. As the bass of Deadmau5’s “I Remember” thumps throughout the studio, we pedal to the beat. Unlike dry indoor cycling, resistance isn’t something you toy with while you ride – Ed preset mine on one of three settings determined by the length of a metal bar protruding from the bike. He worked us through sets focused on different components of the ride: Speed, where we ran pick-ups sitting in the saddle and then hanging off the back of the saddle to work our abs, which was really fun (I was always on the verge of laughing); arms, which incidentally was much safer on a bike in a pool than on a dry cycling bike due to the water’s buoyancy and added balance; and moving around between different positions to work our core.

AQUA’s studio has been opened almost an entire year (April 14 will mark its one year anniversary). Recently, Harper’s Bazaar declared aquacycling ‘best workout to get fit in 2014.’ While I didn’t feel the burn which I crave in hard, calorie-burning workouts, I did feel rejuvenated afterwards. While I wouldn’t consider aquacycling a staple for those intending to improve cardiovascular health substantially (it’s too hard to push yourself to intense levels without adjusting the resistance and with the water slowing your legs down), it certainly did improve the so called “mind-body” connection others crave. Simply put: I slept pretty well that night.

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