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Variety is the spice of exercise

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2009 - It's hard to know where to begin -- TRX Suspension Training (which was invented by a Navy SEAL)? Bollywood dancing? Or maybe just lifting a kettlebell (basically a cannon ball with a handle.)

"I'm seeing a lot of the group stuff," says LeAnn Harris, associate director of health and wellness with the YMCA of Greater St. Louis.

But remember Jazzercise, Tae Bo, the Thigh Master?

What's with all the trends in fitness?

"It's so cyclical," says Greg Plavidal, personal training manager at Wellbridge Athletic Club and Spa . "It just depends on the market at the time."

So, trends are just a part of the world of fitness, but lately, most of those trends have a few things in common. For instance, largely, they're about the whole body, usually the mind and often the soul. Usually, they're accessible for everyone, from tweens to boomers and beyond. And often, people are taking classes for the relationships formed as much as any fitness  they find.

The good thing about all theses trends -- they offer something for everyone, says Martha Tillman, director of the South 40 Fitness Center at Washington University.

Here, we examine a few new and newer things in fitness, and you can judge for yourself what's worth trying.


Zumba isn't in its super new phase any more, but it's new enough.

Floored on Grand just added Zumba to its offerings. (They also have pole dancing and men's nude yoga. "We're just really diverse," says owner Melissa Kassly.)

Zumba uses Latin and international music and dance to burn fat and tone.

"It's just a new dance craze," Kassly says.

Instructors have to be certified to teach. Currently, Zumba's being taught in 75 countries, according to the Web site, zumba.com. That includes fitness centers around St. Louis.

It's becoming as standard as step or yoga.

"It's a lot more fun than your traditional dance class," says Harris.

Kassly agrees, and all that fun seems to pay off.

"You burn a ton of calories. It's insane."

Bollywood Dancing

Bollywood dancing is also not new, but in case you haven't heard of it, it's based on the songs and moves of those epic and musical Bollywood movies from India.

In St. Louis, Bollywood dancing has been taught for seven years by Pallavi Chandak, owner of Bollywood Shuffle om Chesterfield.

Chandak teaches workshops on the weekends made up of 45 minute sessions for six weeks. In the classes, she teaches different styles depending on the people taking the class, like Bollywood hip-hop or 70s Bollywood.

Chandak's students range in age from 4 to 65, and while all that dancing certainly is a workout, she says it doesn't feel that way.

"It keeps the mind working every second," she says. "When you're learning the dance and dancing the dance, that itself is a workout."

TRX Suspension Training

If MacGyver had invented a fitness trend, it would have been this one.

Instead, a Navy SEAL did it.

TRX Suspension Training was invented by a SEAL to help his fellow SEALS stay in shape while on missions.

TRX is an industrial strength nylon webbing, according to the company's Website . Once the TRX is hooked up, to a ceiling, a doorway, the hold of a ship, whatever, then you use your own weight for resistance as you do moves.

"It's a full body workout," says Plavidal, and that's another trend he's seeing now, and one he likes -- working out the whole body, not just one muscle.

"The thing to me that's out, definitely ... is just sitting on a machine and doing three sets of three."


Another trend that's got some history -- the kettlebell.

"It's really old school," says Plavidal. "It's really fun. It's kind of like a cannon ball with a handle."

The kettlebell originated in Russia and provides a full-body workout, he says, focusing not on reps but on movement.

"It translates more to what we're doing in everyday life," Plavidal says.

Basically, you use the kettlebell through a range of motions, which strengthens the body.

Plavidal says the workout is appropriate for everyone.

Punk Rope

Remember how much it stunk jumping rope in gym class?

Good, now forget that. At Four Rivers Area Family YMCA in Washington, Mo., the Punk Rope class gets you jumping as a team for one hour.

The classes are set to punk music and have themes, like Sesame Street, or '70s night, and uses intervals to keep things interesting, according to physical director Michelle Villmer in an e-mail.

"This class is made to be fun for everyone," she says, "especially those who feel they are lacking coordination."


"We just keep adding more screens on to our equipment here," Plavidal says.

Technology does have a role now in fitness, from programs you can download on your iPod, to shoes that will tell your iPod how you're doing.

"If it helps with exercise adherence, so be it," he says.

At Washington University, they've stopped putting TVs on machines, Tillman says. "Most of the students prefer to bring in their iPods."

She thinks all the plugging in helps. "I think technology has probably helped with retention because it's not quite as boring," she says.

The Tend To Trend

While everyone interviewed says trends come and go, what matters is having variety to keep people interested. Maybe one month you're all about Zumba, then Bollywood dancing, then Punk Roping.

But beware the burnout. "If you do too much of any thing, it's not good for you," Harris says. And it may cause you to quit faster.

All workouts are not made equal, just like the people in those classes aren't. While you might get more from one class than another, finding what works and keeps you working is important.

Don't be surprised by whatever new trend or fad pops up next. "We're all just learning as we go," Plavidal says of the world of fitness. "It's the oldest science, at the same time, it's the newest as well."