Our five favourite aqua-based fitness trends in the UAE

Aqua-fitness classes are a super-fun and sometimes nostalgic way to get an intense workout

Jackie Miles Kirby, an AquaZumba instructor, giving a class early morning at Fitness First Lakes Club. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National (Reporter: Selina Denman / Section: NA) *** Local Caption ***  RM_20150430_AQUAZUMBA_001.JPG
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There's something about a swimming pool that can transport you back to languid childhood days spent splashing about, making up games and twisting your body into crazy shapes. Aqua-fitness classes, consequently, are a super-fun and sometimes nostalgic way to get an intense workout.

What started off as a low-impact way for old-age pensioners to stay in shape has been transformed into a full-blown trend that includes props, such as bikes and weights, and exercise routines recreated specifically for the water, such as Zumba and spinning.

The added advantage of replicating vertical movements – running, jumping, kicking and even boxing – under water is that you are using its natural resistance to amp up your workout. At the same time, the pressure protects your joints and minimises the risk of injury. Furthermore, the buoyancy improves balance, stabilises blood circulation and removes some of the negative impact that we place on our own water-heavy bodies, as we can become up to 90 per cent lighter when submerged. Aqua-based fitness classes are also a great way to exercise outdoors during the sweltering summer months.



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According to a report by Harvard Health Publications, a 30-minute aqua-aerobics session can burn between 120 and 178 calories for people who weigh between 57 kilograms and 84kg.

There are a number of aqua-fitness activities currently on offer in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Sessions last for about 45 minutes and cost from Dh75 per class. 

Aqua Zumba

While music features in most fitness classes, the peppiness stakes are raised by several notches in an aqua Zumba session. As Abu Dhabi-based instructor Roula Saleh puts it: "Every class feels like a party." The workout itself involves classic Zumba dance moves, twists and stretches, all done while overcoming the natural resistance offered by water, which is about 800 times denser than air. Dubai-based instructor Jackie Miles Kirby tells The National: "Every time you move a litre of water, you are moving a kilogram, in terms of resistance. You are also working the ligaments that are attached to the joints, so it encourages sleeker, smaller muscles. The other thing is that the water is self-massaging, so it helps to break down cellulite." There are aqua Zumba sessions available at select locations across Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including Dubai Ladies Club.

Circuit training at L'Atelier Aquafitness. Courtesy L'Atelier

Aqua aerobics 2.0

The original water-based workout has now evolved to include full-body toning regimes, such as underwater "boxing" for slimmer arms; using the bed of the pool as a trampoline as you jump as high as you can without losing your balance on the way down; and running through water to execute kick-like movements on either end of the pool. Aqua aerobics classes typically use props such as pool noodles, foam dumb-bells, plastic balls and bar floats. While these are still around, the focus now is on pitting your own body weight against the water. In Abu Dhabi, aqua aerobics classes are held at Al Seef Mall, Oriental Spa and Inspire Sports, both at Al Bateen, and Cobra Fitness at Al Bandar. In Dubai, L'Atelier Aquafitness on Al Wasl Road has a range of mixed-exercise classes, such as Aqua Swing, Aqua Functional and Aqua Circuit Training.

Watsu at L'Atelier. Courtesy L'Atelier

Aquatic shiatsu

Shiatsu, which means "finger pressure" in Japanese, is a relaxation technique that involves manually activating pressure points on the body, through massage and assisted stretching, to relieve tense joints. Its aqua form, "Watsu", is one of the first water-based body therapies, and originated in the 1980s. Now L'Atelier is offering one-on-one Watsu sessions to its clients, in which the receiver is cradled, rocked and stretched to mobilise the joints and relieve any aches, pains and knots, all while being supported to keep afloat, of course. We know this isn't technically a workout, but your body will definitely feel the benefits.

Aqua Spin at Fairmont The Palm. Courtesy Fairmont The Palm

Aqua biking

Aqua bikes might not have fancy display screens or be able to monitor the distance you cover, but they are specially created to stand sturdily on the pool floor as you pedal against the pressure of the water. The low-impact, high-intensity workout can be done sitting or standing, depending on your strength and stamina. Riders are typically submerged up to chest level when seated. In Abu Dhabi, SeaTime holds Aqua Cycling classes at Al Raha Beach Hotel and the Hilton's beach club on the Corniche. In Dubai, Fairmont on the Palm offers Aquaspin classes, and L'Atelier Aquafitness on Al Wasl Road has both Regular Aquabiking and non-stop Cardio Aquabiking classes for those with advanced fitness levels.

Doing core exercises while balancing on water is a great way to get fit while still having fun. Courtesy Float DXB

Float DXB

The latest aqua-related fitness concept to come to the UAE, Float DXB is more about balancing on the water's surface than being submerged under it. The 40-minute class involves burpees, lunges, squats, push-ups, planks and other high-intensity interval-training exercises, all performed while balancing on a floating device and trying to keep your core stable. It's not as unnerving as it (looks or) sounds, though, because the workout takes place on the ultra-sturdy Boga FitMat. The class was introduced at the Fitness First branch at the Meadows last month.