Dive into the new head-to-fins water aerobics class for a serious core, cardio, and strength training workout that'll actually have you feeling sore the next day.

By Sarah Z. Wexler
Updated: March 29, 2017

It was around the time I swallowed a glug of pool water that I realized I may not have my Ariel moment. In the heated pool on a sunny-but-cool-for-San Diego day, I splashed around with seven other women clad in fish tails in the Hotel Del Coronado's mermaid fitness class. My hair, which I'd styled into beachy waves for maximum mermaid effect, was dripping wet and lacquered to my head. I'd hoped to be as graceful as Ariel, but instead I was flopping around like a grouper gasping for air on a dock.

I work out regularly and growing up watched my The Little Mermaid VHS until the tape wore thin. So when I heard about the Hotel Del Coronado's mermaid fitness class ($25 for visitors; $10 for The Del members), I had to sign up. Launched last summer, it instantly shot to cult status, with women registering three months in advance for the Friday and Saturday morning classes. The 45-minute splashfest is designed to update Grandma's water aerobics class for millennials with a fusion of swimming, core, cardio, and strength training that's actually challenging enough to make you sore the next day. (P.S. Mermaid Toast Is the New Insanely Beautiful Breakfast Trend You've Gotta Try.)

As we each picked our tails from a rack of shimmering turquoise, emerald green, gold, purple, and neon pink, our instructor, Veronica Rohan, who created the workout, assured us the tails would engage our cores in a totally different way. But getting the tail on was easier said than done. Rohan suggested we bunch up the tube part of the tail until we could slip our feet into the fins and Velcro them securely in place, then wriggle the bunched fabric part up over our legs and hips. To accomplish this, we each executed the graceful move of lying on our backs, sucking in, and shimmying up the skintight material, which felt like trying to zip up a too-skinny pair of skinny jeans. I felt a little more voluptuous Ursula than lithe Ariel.

After Rohan cranked up the music, we all jumped in the pool. I tried to keep my hair dry, but keeping myself upright with my tail and my resulting new center of gravity proved difficult, and I fully dunked myself. Rohan explained that the best way to propel ourselves forward was to do a body roll-basically a sexy underwater undulation from neck to knees-so we wouldn't try to use our legs as much as our core. She passed out pool noodles and asked us to swim on our stomachs in a circle around the pool. My years of childhood swim team, and doing the butterfly's similar movement, shot me forward at high speed... right into the mermaid in front of me. Luckily, she wasn't annoyed, because she was busy propelling herself into the corner of the pool, where she got stuck and had trouble turning around, thrashing her tail around above the surface.

After I did a few laps on my stomach, trying not to get a second mouthful of pool water, we were told to flip over onto our backs. We did the same body roll around the pool-and suddenly I was zipping through the water like an actual sea creature. I continued feeling nymph-like as we stood in place, my tail balance much improved from a few minutes before. We did triceps and biceps work with the noodle underwater, lifting it and lowering it slowly against the water's resistance. (Another trendy pool workout making waves? Aquacycling.)

Next, it was time to hop out of the pool for ab exercises. Easy enough, right? I'm used to hoisting myself out of the side of the pool with my arms until I can get a knee on the ledge, and then use my lower body to push myself up. Try that with a tail on! Turns out, the only way out of the pool is to push yourself up with your arms, then flutter your tail like mad to drive yourself out of the water enough to swing your butt around to the concrete in one fell swoop. This also caused some exertion-groaning, some falling back into the pool, and a lot of splashing and laughs. Once we were all sitting on the ledge, we were instructed to lift our tails out of the water, and we did a series of holds and tail-flaps, basically "The 100" move I'd done about 100 times in various Pilates classes. This time, though, it was considerably harder. Even though the wet tail probably weighed less than 5 pounds, it was enough of a counter-lever to make my core work a lot harder than usual.

Despite my #mermaidfails, when the 45 minutes were up, I didn't want to take my tail off and resume life on dry land. I thought the class would just be silly and fun, but I could actually feel the burn in my arms from the high reps and in my core from stabilizing myself. (It's possible my core also hurt from all the laughing.) Turns out, there's nothing to immediately transform a group from strangers to sisters like the vulnerability of flopping around in semi-nudity.


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