Trying FloatFit – a HIIT workout on a buoyant board
Balance, poise and a willingness to get wet are required for a Stratford FloatFit session Florence Derrick hopped aboard a board for an intense, fun session on core stability
Itried to drive home after my first FloatFit class but my legs were shaking so much I couldn’t press down on the accelerator,” pipes up a fellow participant. The war stories are making me nervous. I’ve arrived at the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford after a 29-minute journey from Canary Wharf, for my first go at interval training with a difference.
Each press up, squat and burpee in an AquaPhysical FloatFit HIIT class is carried out on a lilo-like board in the middle of a swimming pool.
But it’s too late to chicken out now. So I slip into the two metredeep pool dressed in full gym gear, dragging the inflated board behind me. The first challenge? Attaching the board to the lane ropes with two clips, to keep it in place during the workout – which isn’t easy when you’re fully dressed, swimming out of your depth and not entirely sure what you’re doing.
I scrabble onto the board, which is custom-made and based on a paddle board, but the size and shape of a door. The first exercise is simply kneeling up but I nearly wobble right off the side, clinging on as the person beside me sloshes right into the water, creating a tidal wave that nearly knocks me off again.
“Just staying upright is an exercise in itself,” Tom Whelan, founder of AquaPhysical, says when we chat after the class.
“FloatFit improves cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength, but more than anything, core stability.”
AquaPhysical is made up of two strands – the exercise programme and the boards themselves.
“We had the idea back in 2015,” says Tom. “It came from how big paddle board yoga was in the States and in Australia. We had the idea to take that into a swimming pool as paddle boarding is so seasonal, especially in the UK. It’s the same technology as a paddle board but adapted into a rectangle.”
The idea was simple but the gap in the market was significant enough for their first marketing video to go viral in May 2016.
“It’s had 250 million views,” says Tom. “That summer, inquiries started coming in from all over the world. “We’ve made and sold about 5,000 boards since then to 55 countries, and trained 1,500 instructors.” What makes it so popular? “It’s the first product in the world that allows you to do that sort of exercise under a roof,” says Tom.
“Plus it’s really photogenic, which our clients love because people upload pictures onto social media and it’s free marketing.”
Those clients include the US Army and the Royal Navy, who use AquaPhysical boards for fitness training and rehabilitation due to their low-impact nature.
‘‘ We’ve made and sold about 5,000 boards to 55 countries, and trained 1,500 instructors Tom Whelan, AquaPhysical
“The rehab process is usually extremely boring and this makes it more fun,” says Tom.
Halfway through the 30-minute class, I’ve hurtled off my board four times and stopped trying to resist the inevitable, throwing myself into each exercise without fear of falling in. In fact, as the pace and my heart rate pick up, slipping sideways into the cool water becomes a welcome relief.
“People definitely fall off on purpose,” Tom says, making me question my over-enthusiastic neighbour’s motives – he’s smacked into the water at regular 30-second intervals throughout the class.
By the end, I can stand fully upright. It’s a greater achievement than it sounds.
I’ve also done countless push-ups, crunches and squats, and can tell my muscles will be burning the next day – but I’ve been so focused on keeping my balance that it’s distracted me from the pain of the HIIT workout.
“It’s fun and different from most other group exercises,” says Tom.
“It’s quite sociable and it often makes you feel like you’re not really exercising.”
I have to agree – although as I leave, my legs are as wobbly as I’d been warned at the start. Lucky I’m getting the Tube.
Sessions in Stratford start at £8.25 for 30 minutes. Better Gym members can access the classes for free. Go to aquaphysical. com for more information and londonaquatics centre.org to book a class in Stratford
Trying to stay on the FloatFit board can be a struggle at first, but is a joy once mastered
The exercise classes improve ‘cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength, but more than anything, core stability’