Update Your Workout With a New Fitness Class

If you’ve never taken a fitness class or haven’t been to one since high- and low-impact aerobics made their debut in the early 1980s, now’s the time to consider adding one to your exercise lineup.

“This sector of the fitness industry has blossomed, so there are more fitness classes available than before,” says Jan Schroeder, Ph.D., director of event programming for IDEA Health & Fitness Association in San Diego.

From aerobics classes that feature South American dance moves, to Ironman and Ironwoman classes that provide training for the ultimate triathlon, there’s something for everyone.

Here’s a rundown of the latest class offerings you’re likely to find in health clubs and fitness centers throughout the country. Be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.

Athletic performance

One of the biggest trends in fitness classes is athletic drill or sports performance classes, which teach you the biomechanics of a particular sport and help you train for an event such a bi- or triathlon.

“There tends to be a lot of drill or intervals in these classes and they’re aerobically based, but you don’t have to be graceful or have rhythm to do them,” says Dr. Schroeder.

For that reason, she says, “men who may not have been interested in group exercise before are gravitating toward them.”

Because the classes are purpose-driven, they can be a convenient way to meet others with common goals and like interests.

Mind/body

On the other end of the spectrum, another current hit in fitness classes is in the wellness realm.

“Although most group-based exercise classes can help you manage stress, these classes are about calming down, not amping up,” says Dr. Schroeder.

Designed to improve flexibility and balance and relieve physical tension, popular wellness classes include all forms of yoga, some done by candlelight or in a heated room, or in combination with dance moves and martial arts. You’ll also find guided meditation classes that require little actual movement.

“Although you don’t need to be fit to participate in many wellness classes, some do demand a certain level of flexibility,” says Dr. Schroeder.

Martial arts

As a trend, kickboxing classes are on the decline, Dr. Schroeder says, but refreshing versions of martial arts classes are being developed to keep participants kicking, punching, jabbing and swinging.

These include high-energy group sessions that incorporate ancient Thai fighting techniques and actual contact boxing fundamentals; some classes even offer time with equipment, such as speed bags, combo mitts and heavy bags, as well as opportunities to spar with fellow exercisers.

Not for the faint of heart, boxing and fighting-technique classes help build strength and endurance and rev your cardiovascular system.

Cardio

In this arena, the latest offerings include dance-based classes with an ethnic bent that feature intricate moves to work out your mind as well as your body.

“Belly dancing and Hawaiian dancing classes are big,” says Dr. Schroeder. “So is hip-hop, street stomp, African dance, cardio Latin, Argentine tango and ‘fusion’ classes that combine aerobic dance with disco or yoga.”

Other cardio classes to be on the lookout for include “step and strength,” which meshes step aerobics with specific conditioning moves for the upper body; “tread ride,” which is akin to spinning on a treadmill; and “neuromuscular integrative action,” known as NIA, a dynamic movement class that blends elements of modern dance, martial arts, African dance and tai chi into 60 minutes of exhilaration and calming movement.

To pick the right class for you, “find one that matches your fitness goals,” advises Dr. Schroeder. “Whether it’s to lose weight, improve your strength, reduce stress or just have fun, there’s a class out there for you.”

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