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It’s safe to assume that a fair number of gym-goers have a good idea of what muscles they’re exercising. There are some ignoramuses, sure, but gym regulars with a consistent workout plan can likely be counted on to identify what muscle groups they’re working on, and how whatever given exercise they’re doing affects those groups.
What general workouts of large, visible muscles like biceps and quadriceps miss, however, are the small stabilizing muscles between them. These help us keep our balance while standing, walking, and doing just about anything physical, yet they’re harder to target because of their peripheral nature. However, these muscles are just as important, especially in terms of preventing joint dislocation and related injuries.
BOSU balls and other equipment can create that destabilized effect, but Leila Francis Coleman wanted to think of something better. In 2015, she launched Aquaphysical, combining her lifelong love for exercise and upbringing of sailing.
The English company’s main product, aquabase, is an inflatable fitness mat designed to float on water, creating that uneasy effect to workout the all-important stabilizing muscles.
“You have to be on an unstable surface to isolate them, because your body has to react to something that it’s not predicting,” Coleman says. “The water is unpredictable, so your body has to react to that to stop it from falling over.”
The exercises performed on top of the aquabase are designed to maintain a low center of gravity, especially for beginners who might be more apt or afraid of falling into the water. Sit-ups, mountain climbers, bicycle kicks, and other routines that don’t bring participants too far off the board but still accentuate core strength, stabilizing muscles, and overall balance.
“When you see somebody get onto the aquabase for the first time, their confidence isn’t great,” Coleman says, “but throughout the class their confidence grows, and you can see their basic balance really improving.”
Part of improving balance is fixing one’s preference of leaning or shifting toward their dominant side. And though it seems obvious, the aquabase provides an intuitive incentive for staying focused and on point with your balance and exercises.
“It’s motivational, because you don’t want to fall in,” Coleman says. “But if you do, it doesn’t matter.”
Those who are naturally fit or have backgrounds in balance-intrinsic sports like surfing can move onto more advanced standing exercises that raise one’s center of gravity, creating more difficulty in terms of staying stable on the base.
“You might hold a lunge, and we actually do burpees,” Coleman says. “So standing up, and once you bring jumping in, those are more of the advanced exercises.”
As of now, Aquaphysical hosts pop-up classes and events, but its main focus is selling the aquabase and licensing the classes out to gyms, where they teach instructors how to incorporate it into their group exercise timetable. Demand has remained fairly high since Aquaphysical’s eye-catching debut last year.
“We did a launch event on the Serpentine [lake] in Hyde Park in London on a really nice evening, and we basically had crowds of people watching this class we were holding, and people seemed so interested by it,” Coleman says.
Soon afterward, the company had to host a similar aquabase event for journalists due to the amount of national media attention it received. After that, there was even more interest, as scores of people began inquiring about joining classes.
“Everyone who tries it loves it,” Coleman says. “I think it’s one of those things that because it’s so different, and people are on the water, it’s just more fun. You don’t realize that you’re doing a workout so much because it’s such a different environment.”