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Self-Help: Water Aerobics

How to get fit and stay cool at the same time. Suit up for Kim Ashton and Adela Stoulilova's water aerobics class... It's not silly, at all.
Last updated: 2015-11-09

In an attempt to reverse the downward spiral of your mental and physical wellbeing, in these Self-Help articles we bring you suggestions of classes, sporty things, team events, volunteering and educational stuff that might just pull you out of that boozy tail-spin.

We're well into swimwear season, but if you're still carrying around that muffin top, there might be hope for you yet. Water aerobics is a great way to get an intense, calorie-burning workout for the whole body. It's like regular aerobics, only you flail your body about in a pool, using the water for resistance.

Classes are conducted by health coach and nutrition expert Kimberly Ashton. If you're a vegan, raw foodist or of that ilk, you may be familiar with her seminars at Sprout Lifestyle. She is also joined by fellow health coach and yoga instructor Adela Stoulilova. The venue is centrally located as well, a private pool in a posh apartment compound near Xintiandi.

What you need

A bathing suit that you can move about in freely. You're going to be doing a fair amount of complicated moves, so no itsy bitsy bikinis, banana hammocks or anything that will fall off just because someone looked at it the wrong way. It's a tough workout, too, so bring a water bottle to keep at the edge of the pool. A plastic bag for your wet swimsuit will also come in handy.

What happens

Before anything happens, your instructor takes an inventory of who's pregnant and who's not. Pregnant women need a little more clearance than the average person, for obvious reasons, so be sure to give them plenty of room. They don't need you accidentally kicking them in the belly.

Once the breeders have been identified, you put on webbed-gloves and run back and forth along half the width of the pool, arms completely submerged, pumping them up and down to work your biceps. You do high knee kicks and then butt kicks and move your arms in various sequences to work your triceps and shoulders. Then you do some crab walks back and forth while making a scooping motion with your hands. Some of it requires a lot of coordination, but it’s okay if you’re not good at it. Just keep moving and try to ignore the fact that pregnant women are twice as fast as you are.

Then you move to the side of the pool to do push-up reps where you lift your body out of the pool. For these, you tuck your legs behind you so you can’t use your feet to jump-lift yourself up. It's harder than it sounds. And Kimberly and Adela will notice if your cheating. Don’t even try it.

Next up, you ditch the webbed gloves, grab some foam dumbbells and sit on one of those giant neon Styrofoam neon noodles.

A word about the dumbbells: they weigh nothing outside of the pool, but create resistance underwater. They’re really big, so when you push or pull them in the water, there’s resistance. It's a simple matter of physics.

Once you have taken the classes for a while and can mostly stay upright, you get these leg “weights” that you buckle around your ankles. They're not too heavy, but they make your legs go all wonky when you do the exercises. You try to kick straight ahead, and you end up shanking it to the left. The challenge is to try to control your movements.

Once you’re weighted and noodled up, you do laps back and forth, generally starting with your arms in a breaststroke, your legs bicycling and your whole body upright. The instructor gives you a different task for each lap so that sometimes you can use your legs and sometimes you can’t. Your arms are also doing different things each time and it’s really tough to propel yourself back and forth while doing each rep properly without going under.

At some point in the class, you also do karate kicks where you push your weights in one direction and kick in the other. Then you do shoulder rolls and make infinity signs in the water with the weights.

Simply trying to keep your head above water makes this a great core workout by default. There are a bunch of exercises thrown in where you bring your legs up or out or (try to) stay at the surface while pushing the weights down. Those are great for your abs hard too.

Every class is a little different, but they all follow roughly the same format, and doing laps with different movements and types of weights are always part of it. There’s always a group stretch at the end to the length of the final song.

Who goes in for this

Pregnant women, people who want a whole-body workout that’s easy on the joints and people who are hard-core about dropping the pounds. The classes are capped at eight participants. Thursday nights tend to be a co-ed crowd. Many are competitive types training for their next big triathlon or marathon.

There are a few participants who have been coming for two or three years; some even attend every session. For others, its just a way to mix up a weekly exercise routine. But it’s a consistent group, and people tend to get to know each other well enough to crack wise with one another after a few sessions.

How much of your life will this take up

There are one-hour classes available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7am and Thursday at 7pm. They also offer a prenatal class every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am. For obvious reasons, it’s more popular in the summertime.

It’s easy to tack on an additional workout before or after class, so a few triathletes and swimmers come and do an extra half-hour or hour of laps in the pool before or after class.

How much does it cost

180 kuai, so about the same price as your typical yoga class, and this includes pool and locker room access.


The setting. It’s in an indoor pool with glass ceilings and air conditioning. You feel like royalty just walking into the place. The locker rooms are spacious, the showers hot and there are saunas and steam rooms as well.

The hassle factor is minimal, too. No one makes you wear a swim cap and goggles. Towel and normal amenities like shampoo, soap and all the Q-tips you need are provided.

You don't sweat. Actually, that's not true. You do sweat. You just don't notice it because you’re in a pool. So when your workout is over you feel tired but refreshed, not sweaty and disgusting.

It's fun. You feel ridiculous doing some of the moves and everyone belly laughs when they mess up. It’s great for blowing off steam, and it’s no surprise that it’s gaining popularity in a city that takes itself way too seriously.


Most classes are offered during the day. So if you've got a day job, it's not the most convenient workout. Nevertheless, the instructors are open to offering more evening classes if there is enough demand.

It’s not the kind of thing you can brag about over cocktails during happy hour. People love hearing your stories about Muay Thai boxing or how your marathon training is going, but you may get teased for talking about how slippery underwater weights are. So you have to be pretty comfortable with yourself to do something this silly.


Water aerobics classes are held in the pool at the Lakeview Regency residence at Shunchang Lu, near Zizhong Lu. To enroll in a class or to get more information send an email to