Floating in hammocks

Photo: Bruce Barnard.

Floating above earth in slings that can carry baby elephants.

The idea of this conjured up thoughts of hammocks, floating, Dumbo the movie and storks delivering babies so I set off to check it out.

I found Float Fitness owner Louise Kirkham's husband Chris at the end of a paintbrush. Above him, five huge beams.

“They're 100-year-old wharf poles,” says Louise. “They were sitting in a sawmill in Waihi and our friend who is an engineer saw them. That was a labour of love for my husband Chris.”

Louise had been in the local library studying for an exam to become the NZ AntiGravity® Fitness (AGY) instructor trainer when she saw a photo of elephants lifting wharf poles at the Mount Maunganui wharves. She thought it quite amazing as the poles in the photo were sent to Waihi. Maybe they were the same poles that Chris was making her studio beams from?

While this may be difficult to verify, certainly the slings hanging from the poles can take the weight of a baby elephant, being made from fabric tested and approved by safety engineers for 450kg.

Louise has been preparing the Float Fitness studio for opening to the public, making sure all the health and safety compliance requirements are in place, accessibility for wheelchairs completed and signage up. All that's left is the front desk and a chandelier feature.

Why Float?

“I have a background in rhythmic gymnastics, balls, hoops and ribbons,” says Louise. “A girlfriend of mine went to Hawaii and did this anti-gravity technique there, came home, found no one was doing it here and she said ‘you should do anti-gravity, it's amazing!' She kept on about it so I had a look into it. The technique has only been in Australia since 2011, so I flew over to check it out. I'd never touched a hammock before that, but went and did my training in Sydney three years ago.  I realised I'd have to build my own studio because I wanted to be able to offer it to everyone. It's such an amazing technique.

“It's got so many benefits, especially our celebrated zero compression inversion. We hang upside down which lengthens the spine realigning the vertebrate and creating space to hydrate the spinal discs.”

Releasing happy hormones, bringing fresh blood to the head, helping lengthen the lower back – it certainly seems a youthful, fun experience.

Hanging upside-down, new Float Fitness convert Leah Rogers readily agrees.

“This is my thing,” says Leah. “I'm so passionate about it.”

She flips over mid-air into a batwing formation, her core abdominals tensing as she hangs suspended over the floor. It has a push in it. Made from cushioned vinyl on top of a soft underlay, it's a new technology from Japan called Ecofloor. 

Louise's early years also included dancing, competitive swimming, netball and athletics, so this is a natural progression for her. She is now a level four AGY trainer. 

There are six studios in NZ affiliated to AntiGravity® Fitness, a trademarked technique in the USA.

AntiGravity® Fitness is a form of low-impact exercise, inspired by both yoga and acrobatic movements.

Movements are performed in the ceiling-mounted hammocks, which provide support and resistance. The idea is that by performing all techniques above ground, the body utilises more muscle groups to balance, providing an all-body workout. The goal is to see increased strength, drop weight, increase tone, have a full-body workout, de-stress, raise endorphin levels, complement current training to improve balance and stability, and provide an entry workout for beginners.

The hammocks utilise the same equipment used in rock climbing and provide for three-dimensional movement.

“Most people are really tight in their hips,” says Louise. “Especially if they sit or drive a lot. You're lengthening with your inversions and releasing into your hip flexes in our wonderful front belt wrap. We work the core too by constantly realigning through the three-dimensional movement.”

The hammocks can be lowered for younger people and for restorative work. A chiropractor will be working at Float Fitness with people who have lower back issues, teaching restorative classes.

After leaving school Louise lived and worked in Queenstown, working for a modelling agency as a spa and beauty therapist, specialising in make-up on feature films and high-end commercials. She then moved to Edinburgh to work as a senior spa therapist for a holistic Zen lifestyle spa. During her time there this holistic Ayurveda-influenced day spa was awarded the prestigious title of ‘UK's top Day Spa'.

“I had always wanted to do something post-babies,” says Louise, who is a mother of two. “I'd been travelling a lot with Chris for about eight years and was looking to do something that combined my love of exercise and movement. This is just perfect for me. I get to work and do what I love.”

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