Ever dreamed of being a circus star? Or maybe a Broadway dancer or rock singer? How about a competitor on “Survivor”? Even if you never hit the big time, you can pretend with new fitness classes aimed at putting a smile on your face while giving you a good workout, too.
AT THE CRUNCH gym in SoHo, one of the club’s eight locations in New York City, members can take a “circus sports” fitness class involving handstands, tumbling, backbends, juggling, hula-hooping (with multiple hoops), acrobatics including a large human pyramid, even the trapeze.
And just like in the real circus, class participants are encouraged to strike a pose at the end of each stunt — arms in the air, head held high.
“It’s a good overall workout and it’s fun,” says Jennifer Gillespie, 29, of Brooklyn, who regularly attends the class. “You feel like a kid jumping around again.”
The activities help build strength, coordination, balance and flexibility, says instructor Christopher Blake Mays. “Acrobatics and tumbling are total-body exercises because you’re using all the muscle groups.”
The circus workout is just one way Crunch is trying to inject some fun into tired fitness routines.
“People are just burned out on step aerobics, they’re bored with spinning, and they want something fun and different,” says Mays. “And when it’s fun and different, you don’t think so much about the exercise aspect.”
The chain, which has clubs in Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Mission Viejo, Calif., also offers classes like cycle karaoke (“ride the bike and grab the mike,” the brochure says), Broadway dance classes (you can slink along the floor like Bebe Neuwerth in “Chicago”), urban rebounding (a class taught on mini trampolines) and the seemingly unlikely disco yoga.
There’s also a class for Survivor-wannabes. The goal: make it through a demanding series of speed, agility, endurance and strength “challenges” to become the last person standing. If you lose a round or fall behind, you may be banished to the corner for some pushups or other “punishment.” The winner gets temporary fame — and a complimentary smoothie.
Always wanting to mix things up and attract and retain members, gyms around the country are starting to offer a variety of “fun” classes, including swing, hip hop, Caribbean and cha cha dance sessions, and classes like cardio-fencing, “boot camp” and boxercise that tend to be popular with male members.
“The creative programming that’s coming into play is trying to get that smile on people’s faces,” says Ken Alan, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and spokesperson for the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise.
“I think more and more in the near future, we’ll see an element of playfulness where you can let go and not be so rigid with the exercise formats,” he says. “There’s a move toward doing things that you did as a kid — jumping rope, hopscotch, hula-hoop, tag. These are now being recycled into fitness activities.”
“Everywhere, we see and hear from clubs that are pursuing ‘exer-tainment’ — exercise and entertainment,” says Bill Howland, a spokesperson for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association in Boston.
In addition to coming up with fresh new ways to liven up workout classes, Howland notes that many clubs are getting their exercise equipment wired so that members can watch their favorite TV show or movie, or surf the Web.
“For most people, there are days when it’s tough to get yourself motivated,” he says. “Exer-tainment adds interest and takes their minds off the tedium. It’s one way clubs are trying to reach out to people who find that getting exercise is a challenge.”
Another trend that’s become increasingly popular is to take class outdoors, according to Alan.
“The laws of fitness are being revamped,” he says. “Who says that if it’s a gorgeous day out you should spend the whole day in the gym. Warm up inside and then go out.”
Some trainers put a boom box in their backpacks and lead a “spontaneous circuit” of exercises tailored to the outdoor environment, he says. Activities might include performing relays, doing step-ups on a curb, jumping up to touch a branch on a tree, or doing pushups against a wall.
As with any new form of exercise, make sure to start slow and check that your instructor has professional certification and sufficient training for the class, Howland advises. And keep in mind that staying fit doesn’t have to mean running on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a pop.
“Some of the classes involve new skills like balance, agility, coordination and dexterity, so you may not feel like you’re getting the kind of workout you’re used to getting,” Alan says. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time.”
Experts recommend incorporating a range of physical activities — aerobic, strength-training and stretching — into your lifestyle so that you work out your entire body, prevent over-training and avoid the boredom that makes the couch so appealing.