NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a trend raising images of surrealism in the gym, bicycles have pedaled into the pool for a new fitness workout
An increasing numbers of exercisers, seeking everything from a sanctuary from sweat, to joint relief, to a vigorous, whole body workout, are spinning their stationary wheels under water.
Esther Gauthier, the founder of the New York boutique water cycling studio AQUA, said some 80 percent of her clients come from indoor cycling classes.
"You can burn 600 calories in 45 minutes, water is protection for your body, and when you cycle in water you get natural massage," said Gauthier, 31.
The small, candle-lit classes, conducted in waist-deep water that provides resistance for exercisers, are designed to de-stress. They range from interval training that incorporates abdominal and arm work, to power workouts that mimic uphill rides, to restorative sessions emphasizing stretching and alignment.
AQUA, located in Manhattan's trendy TriBeCa neighborhood, began as a women-only space but Gauthier has added two classes for men.
"It turns out that women love that it's separated," said Gauthier, who discovered the workout in Paris, where she's from.
Aqua cycling started in Europe, primarily in Italy and France, and has spread to more than 100 fitness facilities in the United States, according to Andrea Wilson of Hydrorider, an Italian company that manufactures underwater stationary bikes.
"We're seeing the beginning of the U.S. market," said Wilson, who is based in Miami.
The workout caught on slowly in the United States, she believes, because aqua exercise was associated with the elderly and injured.
"In Europe the fitness benefits are accepted," she added. "Aqua cycling is for serious athletes."
Because the workout is easy on the joints it can help marathoners and triathletes, whose joints take a regular pounding, to remain athletes longer.
David M. Rowland, director of Cornerstone Aquatics Center, a swimming-focused health facility in West Hartford, Connecticut, said aqua cycling appeals to people who don't perceive themselves as swimmers.
"They can exercise without impact on joints and get resistance in every direction without overheating, said Rowland, a former competitive swimmer.
Cornerstone's 14 bikes stand in about four feet of water, and the handlebars and seats are used for push-ups, sit-ups and abdominal work.
"When you get into water, it constricts the blood vessels," he explained. "The heart has to work a little harder because of constriction."
Karen Kent, a fitness and aquatic expert with the American College of Sports Medicine, said while cycling in water enhances the comfort of the joints, it does not offer the same kind of workout as pedaling on land.
"Anytime you're in water you're not negotiating all your body weight," said Kent, who is based in Rhode Island. "When you're biking (on land) you're sitting in the saddle and engaging gravity. In water you're not really engaging much in the saddle."
Although beneficial, Kent said it isn't the same as cycling on land. "You do get a cardiovascular workout, but it doesn't represent what you've gotten on land."
(Editing by Leslie Adler)