Dive into Aqualates
by Christine Hassler - illustrations by Trina
If you'd like to reap the benefits of Pilates, including longer, leaner muscles and better posture, but also wish to increase your calorie expenditure and mobility, the answer is simple: just add water.
Aqualates takes reformer and mat Pilates exercises and adapts them to water, offering increased resistance and support. Tori Brown and Chimene Montivero-Cole, founders of Aqualates International emphasize five guidelines in Aqualates: proper breathing, pelvic alignment, ribcage alignment, shoulder blade stability, and cervical alignment. According to Brown, "The goal of Aqualates is to train the musculoskeletal system toward perfect body symmetry, which in turn will decrease the risk of injury, improve balance, posture, strength, and overall health."
Practicing Pilates in water where bodies are buoyant is less strenuous on joints and muscles, which results in an increased range of motion. Although Aqualates is a safe and sweat-free way to burn calories, it is still a challenge! When Pilates movements are done in water, you are working against an additional 12 percent resistance, which aids in muscle toning and burns fat.
An Aqualates class begins with a warm-up focused on spinal alignment, a critical component in every exercise. The workout then moves through a series of exercises that target different body areas. Your abdominals are engaged in every Aqualates exercise, making it a great core workout. The class ends with a stretching series emphasizing fluid flexibility, meaning you move and breathe through a stretch rather than just holding it.
Pilates exercises that may be difficult on land become more doable in an Aqualates class. For instance, the land-based Pilates Hundred, which requires flexibility, core and neck strength, is easier and safer for people in the zero gravity, supportive atmosphere water provides. "Aqualates is a great form of exercise for any fitness level", says Brown. "In fact, the same exercise is both suitable and highly effective for an elite athlete and a seventy-year-old woman." In addition, Aqualates is ideal for individuals suffering from any number of physical limitations, including high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoporosis, or an injury. Being in the water also renews energy levels as it releases stress and tension, making Aqualates great for gym-goers craving a more Zen fitness regime.
Many gyms offer Aqualates or Aquafusion classes, which incorporate Pilates and yoga movements. You can also practice Aqualates on your own in a pool, or even a lake or ocean. Mildly turbulent waters can intensify the stability challenge, which enhances strength and balance.
Start by trying these Aqualates moves from The Pilates Room in New York.
1. Side Leg Lift
This exercise is generally done at a pitched angle with one hand holding onto the pool's edge, but can be modified for any aquatic environment by simply standing straight up with both arms out to the side. To get into position, start with both of your arms outstretched to opposite sides, one hand holding on to the pool's edge. Maintain a straight line from your heels to the top of your head as you bend your pool-side elbow and lean your whole body toward the side of the pool (think of a sideways falling tree). Maintain this position as you perform the movements. Inhale and point the toe of your outside leg and lift it to the side as high as you can while maintaining your stability. Exhale and flex your foot and bring it back down to meet your standing leg. Challenge your strength by adding ankle weights, holding an aquatic dumbbell with your outside hand, or speeding up the motion. Increase the stability challenge by standing upright in the center of the pool or by moving to shallow water.
Perform this exercise 6 times on one side and then repeat on the other side.
Targets abdominals, outer hips, inner thighs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, rotator cuff muscles, and lats.
2. One Leg Circle
Begin by standing in the center of the pool on one leg, with the other leg elevated straight out in front of you as high as you can while maintaining a level pelvis. Stretch your arms out to the sides. As you inhale, keep both legs straight while circling your elevated leg across your body and down toward the ground. Exhale and continue to circle your leg outward and back up to its starting position. To increase resistance, add an aquatic dumbbell to each hand, or challenge your stability by moving to more shallow water. You can also challenge your strength and balance by speeding up the leg circles or by increasing the range of motion. To decrease the intensity, bend the knee of your working leg. Perform this exercise 6 times on one side and then repeat on the other side.Â
Targets abdominals, obliques, lower back muscles, hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and ankle stabilizers.
Begin by standing in the center of the pool with your legs hip-distance apart and arms long at your side, with your fingers slightly open, reaching down to the bottom of the pool.
Inhale through your nose for 5 counts then exhale forcefully through pursed lips for 5 counts. Keep your arms straight and your body as still as possible while you pulse both arms (from the shoulder) front-to-back, as rapidly as shoulder stability and balance can be maintained. Continue to pulse your arms as you complete 10 breathing sets (in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts equals 1 set). For an added challenge, add wrist weights or webbed gloves, move to deeper water, or increase range of motion. Decrease the intensity by minimizing range of motion or slowing the pace. Perform this exercise for 10 sets of 10.
Targets shoulder rotator cuff, chest, back, and abdominals.
Begin with both hands holding on to the edge of a pool. Place a foam float or aquatic dumbbell between your knees and allow your legs to float out behind you while keeping your head above water. Inhale as you lengthen your body from hands to toes. Exhale while keeping your arms and legs straight, pulling your feet straight down toward the bottom. Continue pulling your legs all the way underneath you and then through to the pool-side wall, placing your feet as high up as hamstring flexibility will allow. Inhale and pull both knees into your chest. Exhale and return to your starting position by kicking your legs out behind you and allowing them to float back up to the surface. Remember to keep your inner thighs together throughout. To increase your strength and challenge your arms, use a less buoyant float between your knees. To make it more challenging for your abs, use a more buoyant float between the knees. Perform this exercise 8 times.
Targets abdominals, shoulders, back, and hip flexor muscles.