Because above-ground cycling is so 2014

By peoplestaff225
Updated December 03, 2020 03:37 PM
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What Is It: Aqua Studio NY, the first aqua cycling facility in New York City

Who Tried It: Kate Hogan, Deputy Features Editor

Level of Difficulty: I’d call my class a 5, but they definitely go up to a 10

Full disclosure: My daily workout consists of walking 25 minutes to work and up four flights of stairs to my apartment (so that is not quite me in the photo above). I hit a spin or yoga class here and there, but I’m currently four months pregnant so taking it a bit easier these days. But when I heard about Aqua Studio opening about two years ago, I was immediately intrigued, and finally decided to try it on Sunday after a week of not-so-great eating/lots of TV watching (hey, it was rainy and cold in N.Y.C.!).

Aqua Studio was founded by Esther Gauthier, who was inspired to bring the concept to Manhattan after taking a similar class in her native France. “It was love at first sight, I thought it was brilliant,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was surprised it hadn’t come to New York yet since we’re so fitness-conscious here, so I decided to start my studio.”

One problem: Building a pool in over-crowded Manhattan isn’t the easiest job in the world. But once she found a space — a quiet, narrow spot in the Tribeca neighborhood — everything fell into place. “The benefits of this workout are pretty amazing … it goes beyond fitness,” Gauthier says. “There’s a healing component that’s very important. And what happens inside your body while you’re in the water is really amazing — your blood circulates better, and you increase your pulmonary capacity.”

What’s also amazing was how relaxed I felt during my class. I usually get a little nervous pre-SoulCycle or Flywheel because I’m definitely not the most competitive person in the room, but the Aqua Studio pool was small — just 4-ft. deep and big enough to fit 14 wheel-less bikes — and my class had just eight women (sessions are all single-sex, and you can wear either a swimsuit or sports bra and shorts).

I was actually happy hitting the water; unless you belong to a nicer gym in New York City, you’re not really in a swimming pool that often, so to feel that weightlessness and warmth (they keep the salt water at 84 degrees) was really soothing. The entire place is candlelit, too, from the front desk and locker room to the stairway and pool area, making for a really Zen feel.

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I took a restorative class, which was not the most physically challenging, but rather focused on deep stretches (it includes some yoga elements) and some “sprints” and core work (which I went light on). We actually spent a lot of time behind our bikes, our feet in the wheels, heads just above water, pedaling from this “fourth position” while stretching our lower backs, which felt incredible.

Instead of lifting few-pound weights, as you might in an out-of-water cycling class, the water was our resistance, so while pedaling in first position (out of the water from about the waist up) we were always moving our arms, too, whether in underwater circles or by mimicking freestyle moves. The next day, I wasn’t particularly sore, which Gauthier says is typical, but felt a bit of burn in my biceps and quads.

As for clientele, it’s a mix of celebrities (no names, though!) and a nice roster of regulars. “A lot of people come to the studio and tell us they don’t like the fitness scene in New York, or don’t feel comfortable at the gym, because it can be overwhelming,” Gauthier says. “Here it’s about the environment we’ve created. And in the pool, things are a little more on the relaxing side, especially in restorative classes, though a boost or interval class can be extremely demanding because of the water resistance. There’s something for everyone.”

Literally everyone; the studio is open to all, though Gauthier has one potential star student on the top of her list. “We wish Beyoncé would come!” she says. “She was one of the first celebs in the United States who tried aqua cycling at home with her coach. People ask us all the time if she comes here, but not yet.”

The Verdict: I’m definitely going back. The price is somewhat steep —$35 for a first-timer’s single class, on par with cycling studios in the city — but they do offer competitive monthly packages, as well as yoga classes. And especially as a maternity workout, it gives me the right mix of cardio and stretching without getting my heart rate up too too high. Just call me a water baby (mama)!