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Illustration by Nick Orabovic
 

More than 70 years after Joseph Pilates introduced his revolutionary exercise ideas to the world, clinicians began to wonder if those ideas wouldn’t translate nicely into the water. Thus was born aquatic pilates. However, not all versions of water-based Pilates are necessarily identical to Joseph Pilates’ original vision.

The confusion arises from a landmark court decision handed down in 2000 by the U.S. Southern District Court in Manhattan about the term “Pilates.” The court ruled that the use of “ Pilates” could not be restricted by a trademark, making it as generic an exercise term as yoga or aerobics.

There are many different visions of what water-based Pilates should look like. Following is a Q&A with three aquatic pioneers, each of whom have taken some elements of Pilates into the water. It examines those differences and why the water-based programs have become popular.

Why did you decide to take Pilates into the pool?

Rebecca “Boo” Pfeiffer (creator of Poolates): Poolates began as a result of requests from clients who wanted Pilates put in the water for their own reasons: arthritis, excessive weight or even a desire to cross-train. Poolates differs from other forms of aquatic pilates because it is based solely on the principles of Pilates. As such, all elements translate to the water and some, such as fluidity of movement and precision and control, are enhanced.

Mary Wykle, Ph.D. (creator of Aqua Pi-Yo-Chi):About 10 years ago, I got the idea to take Pilates into shallow, warm water because of the exploding popularity of Pilates and the inability of many to practice this technique on the mat on land. In the water, a flat wall can become the substitute for the mat.

Carol Argo (instructor, “Water Pilates” DVD): Pilates and yoga have been strong fitness trends in the mainstream market for almost a decade. Participants with musculoskeletal or weight issues may be unable to perform land-based Pilates, but the water adaptations are possible for just about everyone.

What aquatic equipment is necessary for this technique?

RP: The pool is the primary piece of equipment for Poolates, but we also use aquatic dumbbells and aqua versa tubes. We might also use other Pilates equipment such as myo balls, foam rollers and Pilates rings.

MW: The basic program requires no equipment. As students advance, ankle cuffs are the first addition. Advanced students can take the basic movements to suspension (shallow or deep water) but complete core control and muscle initiation are essential to achieve benefits.

CY: The supine postures (in traditional Pilates) can be adapted and performed in an upright position in water, but Pilates requires grounding and stability. In the pool, buoyancy provides an unstable environment. Fortunately, a properly positioned noodle can creatively replicate many side-lying, supine and prone positions.

Which environmental conditions are optimum for this technique?

RP: The right water temperature (or availability of wet suits) is very important. Water should be at least 86 degrees Fahrenheit and preferably warmer; the air temperature (for indoor pools) should not be more than 10 degrees cooler than the water. Beyond water temperature, our instructors are trained to be able to provide a safe and effective workout in any pool regardless of conditions. Having said that, because Poolates is a mind-body program, quieter is better.

MW: My preferred water temperature is 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit though I have used cooler water (81 to 82 degrees) with prior warm-up activity. Water depth should be mid-chest. Participants will require wall space with at least 1 foot between participants.

CY: I would suggest a water temperature between 83 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit and depth between 31/2 to 41/2 feet. Each participant needs 32 square feet or a 4-foot-by-8-foot space. Relaxing rhythmic music can induce fluid, graceful movement and breathing.

Who can perform these techniques? Do you have to take classes first? Be certified?

RP: Poolates instructors must complete at least one level of a multilevel certification program. The instructors who complete all levels of the certification can vary classes and private sessions to meet the needs and goals of literally anyone.

MW: I recommend taking a land-based certification for mat Pilates, so find a nationally recognized mat training program first. After receiving your Pilates training, you can seek aquatic specialized training. For instance, there is a certificate program called Aqua Pi-Yo-Chi offered by the Aquatic Exercise Association. This program, which I developed almost 10 years ago, combines Pilates, Yoga and Ai Chi.

CY: A basic aquatic certification (from the Aquatic Exercise Association) is necessary. Aqua Pilates and Aqua Yoga Certifications are recommended, but usually not required.