(Test Ride)

I Tried An Underwater Cycling Class & It Was The Best Full-Body Workout

Bonus: You don’t have to know how to swim.

In Test Ride, TZR staff reviews the popular fitness workouts, equipment, and trends making waves in the wellness industry to see what all the buzz is about. Ahead, TZR’s Marina Liao shares her experience with Aqua Studio cycling classes in New York City.

New York City is a mecca for boutique fitness studios, luxe gyms, and private at-home training programs. This has allowed me to dabble in everything from kickboxing to trampoline sessions for exercise. And, since I’m always on the hunt for a new and fun way to sweat it out, when I came across Aqua Studio, which offers in-water cycling classes, I was very intrigued.

Located in Tribeca, the studio — which I first discovered in a TikTok video — was founded by Esther Gauthier in April 2013, who sought to bring the European trend of underwater cycling to the Big Apple. (This workout is already popular in places like France, where Gauthier is from, as well as Italy and Spain.) She worked with Emma Galland, Aqua Studio’s master trainer with years of experience in the fitness industry, to build out several workout programs for for her new aquatic business venture. They initially launched with three types of classes in the water — Interval, Power, and Restore — and since then have expanded to what the studio calls “land classes” such as foam rolling, postnatal yoga, and a mat toning class. (You can read the full break down on what each class entails on Aqua Studio’s website.)

Aside from the novelty aspect of cycling in a pool — it feels like you’re playing in the water! — there are added health benefits to this workout, which were unbeknownst to me until I sat down with Gauthier.

Aqua Studio

The Benefits Of Aqua Studio

Gauthier outlines several benefits you can potentially reap from taking a cycling class in the water. The first is that, because you’re buoyant in the water, there is no harsh impact to your joints during any of the Aqua exercises, so everyone of all ages and fitness levels can participate in the classes.

“To make an extreme case [for this for example], we often have people in the classes who are coming back from cancer treatments, which can be so taxing for the body,” shares Gauthier. “What’s amazing is that these women would tell me that ‘I just finished chemo. I couldn’t move my arm because all my lymph nodes under my armpits were so saturated with chemicals and I just had no more range of motion.’ Then, over time with the classes, they would see an improvement [in their range of motion and overall health of their body]. I never imagined I would receive these types of testimonials when I first started Aqua Studio, and hearing this still gives me chills to this day.”

Another benefit of being in the saltwater is that you have the natural resistance of the water to help you improve your cardio and endurance. “You’re pushing hard and at the same time the water actually keeps your body temperature cooler, so you are not overheating,” Gauthier adds. “This allows you to keep pushing forward internally. Overheating can be one of the reasons many people struggle to complete a workout — you’re like: ‘I’m too hot and can’t do this anymore.’”

Lastly, Gauthier shares that one of her favorite benefits of exercising in the water is that it applies a pressure against your body, which creates a natural massage against your skin. “As you’re moving in the water, it massages your body. What this does is to stimulate your lymphatic system, allowing all the waste in your body to be eliminated,” says Gauthier.

The Class & Facility

To start, you can book classes on Classpass or through Aqua Studio’s website. As Gauthier advised me, newbies should first take a “Blend” class or two since this introductory lesson will help you get familiar with your body positioning on the bikes and how they operate. (This intro class is $35 for a single visit.) As instructed, I booked the class, led by Tatiana Stewart, on a rainy Saturday morning. When I arrived to the studio, I changed into my swimsuit — you can either wear a one-piece, bikini, or sports bra and swim trunks for the class — and slipped into the water-friendly cycling shoes the studio provides. Then, I grabbed my towel and headed downstairs to the pool.

Since I took an introductory class, almost everyone in the intimate, nine-person lesson was new to cycling in the water. I liked that the environment felt inclusive and not outwardly competitive like that of many cycling studios — there was no score board on stage and no instructor shouting at you to go harder in a dark, loud room. “Making people feel comfortable [especially if they have to wear a swimsuit] and telling them that this is a place where no one will judge them is a topic my team and I talk about a lot,” Gauthier emphasizes. “Aqua Studio is for you and your own health and wellness, so there is no sense of competition of any kind.”

Everyone in my class was there to learn, move, and — most importantly — have fun! The bikes were submerged in the saltwater pool, which was heated to a nice 84 degrees and was only four-feet deep. You neither felt too hot nor too cold while in/out of the water. Unlike most bikes you’d find at a traditional cycling studio, at Aqua, you don’t need to clip your shoes into the pedals or fiddle with the resistance, since the water serves that purpose. Additionally, the bikes don’t feature a flywheel — the weighted disc that sits either at the front or back of a stationary bike, which connects to the pedals via a chain or a belt and stores the rotational energy generated during a workout.

“This means that if you pedal really slowly, there will be less resistance. It’s not as challenging,” says Gauthier. “The harder you pedal though, the harder it will get. Since there is no flywheel, you use more muscle as you’re not only pushing, but you are also pulling, so there is a push-and-pull technique you need to learn when you start doing Aqua cycling classes. It’s challenging, but a really good full-body workout.”

The 45-minute class included the typical hand and body positioning you’d find in a traditional cycling class with the exception of treading in water. This essentially involved me hopping off to be behind my bike while my feet were still pedaling (as seen in the video above). Additionally, I had to move my arms in the water like I was swimming. Since I can’t actually swim, this move was rather difficult for me — I couldn’t pedal/keep my body up/and move my arms at the same time without something to hold on to. Luckily, the instructor offered me another alternative move where I grabbed onto the back of my seat with one hand while pedaling and moved my other arm in the water.

My Takeaways

At the end of class, I felt surprisingly refreshed and alert, like I had a nice cup of coffee and was ready to start the work day. This was different from how I normally feel after an on-land cycling class, which is exhaustion, throbbing legs, and sweaty. Since I hadn’t worked out in over two weeks before I took Aqua’s blend class, I felt like this was the perfect way to get my whole body moving again without pushing it too hard. The next time I come back to Aqua, I feel ready for, and would like to try, a more intensive class, perhaps the one with paddles to work the shoulder and arms or the class that feels like you’re climbing up a hill for 45 minutes straight.