Exercise classes have come a long way since the days of step aerobics and Jazzercise. And in an effort to counter the crammed schedules and low motivation that millions of people use as excuses for not going to the gym, fitness gurus keep coming up with inventive ways to work out that promise to be enjoyable and effective for both tenderfeet and old hands. Here are three new techniques that have recently begun to catch on in health clubs around the country.
The hula hoop, a backyard mainstay since the 1950s, has been drafted for gym duty--only now it's larger and heavier and requires more dexterity to maneuver. In classes set to music, exercisers learn a series of moves that, when combined, work a variety of muscles. "You get the whole body involved," says Rayna McInturf, founder of Los Angeles-based Hoopnotica, the largest adult-size-hoop retailer.
BENEFITS: Hooping adds fun to exercise, which means people are more likely to actually do it. "It takes you back to your childhood," says Dr. Cedric Bryant of the American Council on Exercise. "And for many people, their last positive experience with being physically active was in their childhood." Another plus: it works the body's core and can help participants burn more than 400 calories an hour.
RISKS: Like any exercise, hooping can be harmful if participants don't stretch properly.
AVAILABILITY: Though hooping studios are sprinkled throughout the country, it can be done anywhere, partly because of the recent release of two instructional DVDs from Hoopnotica.
Designed by former Navy SEALs, the Total-body Resistance Exercise (TRX) Suspension Trainer uses heavy-duty nylon webbing, attached to wall brackets, to increase resistance as users perform traditional exercises.
BENEFITS: The TRX works the entire body. "When you do a biceps curl, your core is engaged and all of your supporting muscles are working," says Fraser Quelch, director of training and programming at Fitness Anywhere, which makes the equipment.
RISKS: Users who push themselves too hard can incur injuries.
AVAILABILITY: Personal trainers nationwide have adopted the TRX, and health-club chains like Crunch, below, use it in group classes.
Blending two popular forms of exercise--yoga and spinning--makes for a stimulating mind-body workout. Most yoga-spin classes include a full spinning session followed by a full yoga session, while some take an integral approach, interspersing a few minutes on the bike with a few on the mat.
BENEFITS: Cardio-intensive cycling followed by flexibility-increasing yoga helps stretch and condition muscles to perform optimally during spinning. "Injuries occur all the time in group fitness classes because they don't bring proper flexibility to the workouts," says Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming at Crunch. "This technique gives a well-rounded workout."
RISKS: Switching activities too quickly could result in injury.
AVAILABILITY: Crunch offers classes at most locations, and some independent gyms are also embracing fusion.