contemporary aquilates

Despite the challenges it presents, transitioning Pilates moves to the pool environment can result in effective and original aqua classes, says Kayla Duke.

Contemporary Aquilates is based on the concept of introducing Pilates breathing and smooth flowing movements to the aquatic environment.

Taking matwork Pilates concepts from the studio to the pool presents many challenges, however. Firstly, it is not possible to lie down on the bottom of the pool; secondly, many matwork movements would not be effective or even possible in the water; and thirdly, we have to consider the water temperature and make sure the Pilates movements have sufficient intensity to prevent participants from getting cold.

Despite these limitations, the Aquilates concept still has a lot going for it, provided the following points are taken into consideration.


Traditional Pilates breathing is lateral, with the inhalation expanding the rib cage and the exhalation narrowing the waist, while mindfully lifting the pelvic floor, keeping it activated as much as possible. The exhalation should be synchronised with the most challenging part of the movement, as the outward breath facilitates more activation of the core and hence assists in performing the exercise.

We can take this breathing technique directly from the matwork class to the aqua class without modification. As we progress through the class and participants become more proficient at such breathing, we can train them to automatically breathe this way through all Aquilates exercises and even apply it to regular aqua classes. This breathing will help create a stronger mid-section.

Keeping up the movement

In the Contemporary Aquilates class you will find that it is necessary to work at different intensities, mixing up the movements and speeds. Working with slow Pilates-style moves and no equipment, participants have a tendency to get cold, detracting from their enjoyment of the workout. It is easy to prevent this by incorporating lots of movements that involve the feet not touching the pool floor, which increases exercise intensity. Even though the movements may not be particularly fast, the body will be working hard and therefore stay warm.

Choreography creation

When choreographing a specialised class such as Aquilates, I continually practice the moves both on land and in water to ensure they are more effective in the water. By so doing, you can be sure that participants will never question the exercises or wonder whether you, their instructor, is getting more of a workout than they are! I also find it incredibly important to work with the water resistance and buoyancy as the unique qualities of water are the great advantage we have: there is no piece of Pilates equipment that can compare with the supportive resistance of all that water in the pool.

I am fortunate to have a contemporary dance background, which helps me create Contemporary Aquilates exercises. Such experience isn't essential, however; Aquilates exercises can also be developed by taking moves from videos of dance performances and ballets and trying them out in the water. Trial and error is the only real way to find which moves work in the

Aquilates environment, but of course you must carry out all experimentation on your own before unleashing it on participants!

Sample exercises

The following choreography and images illustrate two exercises that you can implement immediately in your Contemporary Aquilates class. Use them as they are or modify them with your own ideas.

Balance with hip rotation and back work
The focus in this exercise is on working the back by pushing the arms back and forward through the water in a pulsing action similar to the 'hundreds' movement, but pushing in a different direction. This not only works the back strongly, but also requires the centre to be 'switched on' in order to stay balanced on one leg. When adding the leg movement, start with the easy option with knee bent, then progress to a straight leg, which increases work in the lower body with hip rotation, and also challenges balance.

Flotation work with core control and upper body stabilisation
This exercise requires the arms to circle in the water, while the legs are lifted off the pool floor. This works the back and also stabilises the shoulders, creating stronger alignment. The arms can move as fast as the participant likes, but the slower the legs move, the greater the intensity will be for the core.

Kayla Duke
Currently based in Singapore, Kayla is group exercise country manager for California Fitness. She instructs, choreographs programs, trains and assesses instructors and regularly presents nationally and internationally. Before beginning her career in the fitness industry, Kayla danced for 17 years in stage productions, giving her a truly unique presentation style. Kayla was named Network's Author of the Year at the FILEX 2010 fitness industry convention.