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Friday, July 19, 2013

Aqua (Con)Fusion at the 92nd Street Y (or Splash Dance -- Oy What a Feeling!)

The city is very hot and steamy this week, and all of my regular classes have been extra crowded (probably due to the hot weather, but maybe there are some Metro Mermaid readers in the mix). I found a lovely respite from the heat at the 92nd Street Y swimming pool.

I have a long relationship with the 92nd Street Y, starting with nursery school. Here I am at age 3 honing my creative (pre-blogging) skills in my Y nursery school class (and looking vaguely like a very young Edna Mode).

I think I actually took swimming lessons at the Y as a preschooler. I always loved the water but I was terrified of the deep water until I was about 12 (thanks partially to my then-teenage brother's obsession with the film Jaws). I finally conquered my fear at summer camp -- thanks to a patient swim teacher and a shark-less lake. The following summer, I actually worked as an assistant at the camp lake, teaching younger kids how to swim. But I digress....

Anyway, over the years, I have taken dance and art classes, appeared in theater productions (Lucy in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown), and attended lectures and cultural events at the Y, and I even swam there for a few years when I lived on the East Side after college. The pool at the Y is great -- an old fashioned 25 yard tile pool on the third floor with lots of windows (so it's nice and bright). Compared to Equinox, the lanes are a bit wider so it seems a little less congested. They used to have bleachers along one side of the pool. They have re-done the pool deck in the intervening years, and the bleachers have been replaced by two jacuzzis, which are really divine (except during a heat wave). The Y has a very comfortable neighborhoody/family vibe.

When I was doing my "knee-search" for water classes, I came across a description for the Y's Splash Dance, which was advertised as follows: "Get groovin' and build stamina in this high-energy impact water-dance aerobics class." I was slightly dubious about the word "groovin'" but reviews of the class and online videos described/depicted music and dance moves. It sounded fun, so I registered for a 6-week summer session.

The first clue that something was off was when I arrived, and the advertised instructor Bettina turned out to be a man named David. There was no music, no dancing, and no explanation. I was a little puzzled but I was already in the pool, so there was no turning back. The 45 minute class was fine, but more splash than dance. The following week, I learned that the original instructor was injured and that the class was actually "Aqua Fusion," which cleared my confusion.

Unlike Aqua Boot Camp, Aqua Fusion is a less active workout (your Bubbe's aqua fitness class). There is a little bit of aerobic exercise at the beginning, but the focus is more on stretching, toning and strengthening. We move the whole time but it doesn't get the heart racing. David -- who is one of the senior trainers at the Y -- has a boxing background, so the class incorporates some boxing moves. The class is geared more towards seniors with a few younger students in the mix (the folks in the class are a close knit group and very welcoming -- I sort of imagine them going out for coffee and a nosh after class, and maybe one of them has a nice single son for the Mermaid). David has introduced me to some great arm exercises, and he is well versed in kinesthesiology -- he keeps an eye on us to make sure we are doing the exercises properly, and is also attentive to posture, alignment, etc. He is a good teacher and the class is fun. Overall, I am not sure I am going to take the class again (I don't find it challenging), but it is a good complement to the more aerobic/rigorous workouts. The stretch at the end of the class is always excellent. I would definitely train with him -- he clearly knows what he's doing.

If you live on the East Side, check out the Y's website for this class and other offerings. The Y has multiple aqua fitness classes during the day and several evenings a week. They are free to members of the Y's May Center, and pretty reasonable for non-members (it worked out to about $20/class when I registered online). Groupon occasionally offers membership specials for the Y -- keep an eye out for them -- it is a very nice well run facility. They even have a little cafe outside the fitness center.

The Y locker rooms are spacious and very clean, and someone on the cleaning staff is an undiscovered towel art genius -- I leave you with three of her recent creations which I have entitled Towel Dogs, Towel Oasis  and Towel Bouquet (I am very literal).

A Google search revealed that several others had photographed the towel dogs -- clearly I am not the only one who finds them fascinating.

The Y is located at 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10128, (212) 415-5500. The fitness center is open 7 days a week.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee

Check out today's New York Times Magazine for a great article on the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee.  In addition to a live mermaid show, there is even a week-long "Sirens of the Deep" camp where you can learn how to be a mermaid.  You can even get a custom mermaid costume (they apparently made one for Lady Gaga!).  The video on the NY Times site is awesome.  Possible Metropolitan Mermaid field trip!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Aqua Boot Camp at Equinox: Water Aerobics with Attitude!

I have a confession.  Even before I hurt my knee, I enjoyed water aerobics.  I have been “curvy” for most of my adult life, which can make it a bit of a challenge to get a good aerobic workout (and running and jumping on dry land clearly did a number on my joints).  In the water, however, my curviness is an asset -- maybe I really am a mermaid. I am more buoyant and can run and jump without pain, and the resistance of the water makes water exercise great for toning.  

Whenever I would tell friends that I was taking water aerobics, they would nod and smile and tell me that their mom/dad/grandma/great aunt in Boca Raton really enjoyed water exercise.  In researching classes in NYC, I came across numerous references to “women of a certain age.”  It was a little discouraging.  Water aerobics had all the sex appeal of a round of mah jongg and an early bird special.  But maybe I was being ageist.  After all, I have been influenced by many fabulous smart experienced older people throughout the years -- grandparents, parents, mentors, teachers, and friends.  I trust them for advice and guidance on other aspects of my life, so I decided they must be on to something -- a great workout that is kind to your body.  But I also needed to find a class that would give me a challenging workout.  

With no disrespect to my elders, Ellis Peters’s Aqua Boot Camp class at Equinox is not your grandma’s water aerobics class.  His class is an active fun workout which has helped me get stronger and leaner with minimal impact on my joints.  Aqua Boot Camp offers core training and improves cardiovascular endurance, balance, flexibility and strength using webbed gloves, foam “buoyancy bells” and pool noodles.  

Ellis is not your typical boot camp drill sergeant -- he runs a great class but he is personally very laid back. Ellis is a former USS age group swim coach and swim instructor.  He got started as an aqua fitness instructor when he was working as a lifeguard and swim instructor at a pool with water aerobics classes.  He started taking classes and loved them -- he ended up filling in for the teacher and went on to get certified as an aqua fitness instructor. And the rest is history.  He has been written up in numerous publications including Business Week, and Fit Pregnancy and featured in AM NY and on MSN Fitbie.   Ellis is featured in the July/August 2013 edition of Women’s Health magazine.  It’s not yet available on line but the article is great and the iPad edition offers a four-page instruction guide on a few of Ellis’s signature moves.  I'll post a link when they put it online.

At the beginning of each class, we put on our webbed aqua gloves 

which make me feel vaguely like a superhero -- Aqua Girl.  They offer increased resistance in the water.  We spend about 15 minutes doing laps around the pool (jogging, kicking, marching and moving our arms).  Ellis will interject shouts of “double time” to get us to speed up.  We also change direction and run against the current.  

Next we do about 20-25 minutes of calisthenics -- running in place, jumping jacks, kicking, cross-country skiing in place, and doing “tuck jumps” -- all at regular and double time speed.  Some of the exercises are done in place, and we also travel side to side back and forth across the pool.  

Then we grab foam buoyancy bells

and run laps around the pool doing various arm exercises (presses, cycling, etc.).  We then switch to a foam pool noodle, which we use for leg resistance exercises. We recover from the leg exercises with an exercise called the plank. 

My friend Andrew (a yoga teacher) informed me that the plank is actually a yoga exercise.  I love the plank -- it’s kind of like a standing push up and it is great for engaging your abs and stretching out your body.  Finally, we do another series of arm exercises and intervals with the bells, and end each class with a stretch and cool down. 

I really adore the class.  I am finally using my Equinox membership on a regular basis (I used to go so infrequently that I joked that my average workout cost upwards of $200).  Ellis keeps us moving for most of the hour, and I feel like the exercises give me a full body workout. 

The whole time, Ellis presides over the class with a firm hand and an eagle eye, making sure that no one injures themselves, and adjusting exercises to deal with various physical conditions (pregnancy, knee and hip injuries, etc.).  The class covers a wide age range, and I’ve met some really interesting people.  

When I asked Ellis what he enjoys best about teaching Aqua Bootcamp, he told me, “connecting with folks and helping folks get to their next level.  I love my job.”

Aqua Boot Camp is offered Monday at 6:30 pm and Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Equinox on Greenwich Avenue, at 97 Greenwich Avenue in the West Village.  

The only drawback of the Greenwich Avenue branch is that you need to walk through part of the lobby in your swimsuit in order to get to the pool.  On the plus side, whenever I take the Monday night class, there is inevitably a very fit guy stretching and doing yoga poolside (I guess people like stretching out by the pool).  I know I am objectifying my fellow club members, but I am not ashamed to say that the eye candy makes the workout a bit more pleasant.  

Aqua Boot Camp is also offered on Saturday at noon at Equinox Columbus Circle at 60th and Broadway in the basement of the Time Warner Center.  

You can enter the pool deck directly from the locker rooms, and the pool is great.  Both pools are about 4 feet deep.

Equinox also has pools at 63rd and Lexington Avenue and East 54th and 2nd Avenue.  I've taken water exercise classes at both locations (the West Side clubs are more convenient for me).  The 54th Street pool is smallish and also somewhat shallow -- 3.5 feet.  I’ve tried a couple of classes there but the pool is a bit too shallow for a water workout.  Equinox is spotless (they clean the pool deck and locker rooms constantly) and they offer amenities like a juice bar and a spa at most locations.  The spinach, pear and tofu smoothies at Columbus Circle are addictive (seriously -- improved by the addition of half a banana).  

For those of you who don’t belong to Equinox, several other gyms offer Aqua Boot Camp classes, including the nearby 14th Street Y.  I wish Equinox would offer one more evening class during the week (hint, hint).

This video gives you a flavor of Aqua Boot Camp (a class in Atlanta).