I Tried 5 Weird Fitness Classes, and It Changed the Way I Work Out
Like most people, I woke up on January 1st with a laundry list of new health goals. Call it cliché, but I love a good New Year’s resolution (even if I only achieve mine like 20 percent of the time.)
I’m trying to get healthier, but it’s hard for me to work out on my own. I thrive in class settings because I’m a social butterfly, but after a few weeks of the same routine I tend to get bored. So I decided to challenge myself to go to five new and different fitness classes.
Before signing up for the classes, I spoke with Cody Robinson, MPH, who’s an exercise physiologist and certified person trainer in Birmingham, Alabama. He gave me a little preview of what to expect—and what to watch out for—in each of the classes.
Here’s how it went, and what I learned:
Before heading to my hoop class after work, I mentally prepared myself for a grueling workout because Robinson had told me, “Hula hooping provides good cardio and core work. It also targets your hips, glutes, arms, and shoulders. It brings out the kid in you so you won’t even feel like you’re working out--but you definitely are.”
Based on the cool videos of hula hooping I’d watched, I expected a class with loud EDM music and a bunch of super fit 20-somethings twirling and spinning at the speed of light.
This was not that kind of class.
Instead, I found a group of 50-to-60-year-old women gently swaying their hips to Otis Redding. Not only that, but it turned out, the instructor was on vacation, so one of the regulars had decided to "teach" the class instead.
We started with the basics—something I struggled with because I am the world’s worst hula hooper. No, seriously. Even as a kid, the hoop would be around my ankles 99 percent of the time. Turns out, 20-something years later, my coordination and hip movements haven’t improved much.
Thankfully, everyone was very patient with me and helped me do some alternate movements, like arm circles and deep stretches. The instructor even offered me a heavier hula hoop that everyone affectionately calls “the grandma hoop”. Here I was, the youngest person in the class and a former college athlete, and I was using “the grandma” hoop.
Everyone in the class was really sweet, even as my hula hoop flew off my arms and nearly knocked people over like dominos (which, to be fair, Robinson had warned me about.) These middle-aged women were hooping circles around me to crooner tunes from the 1950’s. One woman even did a Scorpion trick.
Difficulty Level: A walk in the park.
This class provided a decent core workout, but I wanted it to be set to dance music and move at a much faster pace. I meant to record this class with my Apple watch to find out calorie burn, heart rate, etc., but my watch died after 20 minutes. During that time I burned about 174 active calories.
Enjoyment Level: Taking the SAT.
This is a truly personal rating, because I’m awful at hula hooping. However, the people in the class who could actually hula hoop seemed to really enjoy themselves. I’d give it another try if I had any coordination in my hips at all.
For this class, I went to a yoga and pilates studio called Aero Joe. According to the website, “Aerial Yoga is an innovative program that blends elements of traditional yoga methodology with the unique conditioning of the aerial arts. Experience the benefits of yoga with the exhilaration of flight!”
Going into this class, I was a little freaked out. I’m not someone you’d call “coordinated” or “graceful”, so the idea of hanging from silks with nothing to prevent me from falling was terrifying. Visions of cracking my skull open danced in my head, but I was reassured after I walked in and noticed that there were only three other people in the class. A small class size meant that the instructor could watch me (and my delicate skull) closely.
After a series of stretches and basic trust exercises (like downward dog with your legs suspended on the silk), the instructor began to explain our first inversion. She was methodical, and went to help one person at a time, modifying the moves as-needed. Everything was explained clearly, I liked how hands-on she was, and I never felt like I was endangering myself.
Difficulty Level: Saying no to extra toppings at the fro-yo bar.
The class I took was like a yoga class on steroids. It challenged my arms, legs, and my core in a major way. All of the little muscles I never knew I had were activated. I was sore for about 2 days afterwards and had “silk kisses:” a cute little name for where the silk digs into your skin. They don’t hurt, per se, but they do look like hickies on your hips and armpits (which is awkward). Also, hanging upside-down causes the blood to rush to your head, which can feel a little uncomfortable at first. Some people have gotten migraines from it (I did not.)
Robinson says hanging upside-down can actually be a good thing. “It puts good tension on your body since you’re using your arms, legs, and core to stabilize. Some inversions may actually help improve blood pressure, and getting traction in your spine could help take pressure off your disks.”
Enjoyment Level: Riding a bike for the first time.
I really enjoyed this class, and I like that I got a mental workout, too. Trusting my body to hang from silks with no hands wasn’t something that came naturally to me, but once I did, I was hooked (no pun intended). I would totally go back to this class because it made me feel graceful, capable, and, honestly, really badass.
I went kickboxing at Gauntlet Fitness and completed a 30-minute workout that was divided into three parts: warm-up, “running the Gauntlet,” and cool down.
The Gauntlet consists of 8 stations that change daily, and you do each station twice (once on your right side, once on your left). For 30 seconds, you do a combination of kickboxing-specific moves (for example: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, front kick, roundhouse kick), then switch to a body weight exercise for 30 seconds (such as sit-ups or squats). Then, you do the kickboxing combination again on your opposite side and rest for 30 seconds before heading to the next station.
Robinson says, “This type of kickboxing is great because it keeps you moving at a high intensity. The time segment helps you push yourself rather than relying on reps. There’s also a plyometric element, which is better for your body than stagnant weight lifting.”
Difficulty Level: Running a 10K without training.
This class may only be 30 minutes long, but I don’t think I could have lasted the hour. Despite eating breakfast and chugging water, I felt like I was going to literally pass out. This is an intense cardio session, but it also works your large muscle groups. I was sore afterward and couldn’t take the stairs at work for the next 3 days.
Enjoyment Level: Petting a puppy.
When it comes to workout classes, I have a really short attention span—so I was glad that this class only lasted 30 minutes. The constant moving and switching between exercises kept my mind engaged. Also, punching and kicking bags as hard as you can is a GREAT way to relieve any stress or anger.
I’ve been to Zumba classes before, and they’re really fun. They are essentially Latin dance parties with a bunch of strangers, except you all know the same choreography. I was curious to see how that would translate to water. I headed to my local Lifetime Fitness to find out.
When I arrived at the pool, I nervously stripped down to my bathing suit in front of a bunch of strangers. But after getting used to the water temperature and starting to "dance," I loosened up.
It’s kind of unnerving to dance in water, because the moves really don’t translate. Our instructor was on the pool deck doing fast-paced Zumba moves, but the water caused all of us to move about ten times slower. I've never tried kicking my legs vigorously in a pool full of Jello, but if I was a betting woman, I’d place cash on it feeling exactly the same.
Difficulty Level: Brushing your teeth with your left hand.
The calorie burn was actually shocking, because it felt like I wasn’t moving very quickly at all (blame the Jello water!) The cool part was, I felt like I got a good workout, but I wasn’t sore afterwards at all. Robinson says this is because the water puts less pressure on your joints. “By using water as resistance you can get a really good workout and engage your arms, shoulders, and legs, especially if you’re using water weights.”
I also didn’t feel sweaty afterward. The water hid any evidence that I’d worked out, which was weird.
Enjoyment level: Eating peanut butter right off the spoon.
I was the youngest person in the class by about 20 years, and I chuckled to myself as I danced to a hilarious music mix of Dion’s Runaround Sue and Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee.
I loved that it felt like a mixed-age dance party instead of a traditional “sweat, push, burn” type of workout. Everyone was really laid back, and it was cool to watch nervous women in their bathing suits blossom into confident, booty-shaking mavens when Mi Gente started playing.
Full disclosure: There wasn't a trampoline fitness class nearby, so I dragged my fiancé to an indoor trampoline park called Urban Air.
We were the oldest people there by about 15 years (I’m not sure what’s with the huge age disparities in these workout classes, but I digress). When we walked in, we had to sign injury waivers and buy special no-slip socks. My fiancé has a size 13 foot, and really struggled to put on the XL socks they provided. But once he forced his big feet into the little kid socks, we were ready to hit the floor.
Robinson says, “Trampolining has a fun factor, and the trampoline absorbs shock so there’s less stress on your joints. It’s also a great core and cardio workout.”
Robinson did advise me that there are some risks involved. “You feel invincible on a trampoline, and you get excited because you see a room full of pads and it’s easy to land wrong. Waivers are there for a reason—no one is there to guide you.”
Keeping this in mind, at first we just kind of bounced around and played popcorn. Then, we got competitive and decided to run and bounce as fast as we could across the trampoline floor. This is where things quickly got sticky. My fiance stubbed his big toe on one of the barriers, and he definitely did some damage.
He soldiered on for the rest of the 30 minutes, but his toe has been black and blue for the last four days and there’s a solid chance it’s broken.
Difficulty Level: Shopping on Black Friday
Trampolining is no joke, y’all. We were sweating, huffing, and puffing, while these little kids effortlessly bounced around us like it was the most natural thing in the world. If you’re not a fan of running but still want a killer cardio workout, hit up your local trampoline park (but please, please be careful!)
Enjoyment Level: A kid at Disney World.
Despite my fiance’s toe possibly being broken, we had an awesome time. It was fun to feel like a little kid again, and it’s always fun to do moves in the air that you can’t do on the ground (like a split!)
What I Learned
All of these workouts were different than I expected, and I enjoyed some more than others. I’m glad I tried all of them, because it’s made me redefine what “working out” means. If you’re trying to switch up your fitness routine, or want to try something new, I highly recommend trying any of these in your area. All you have to do is search by the name of the workout and the city you live in.
Robinson says, “Choose something you’ll enjoy and that will be a challenge, but gauge your fitness level. If you have concerns about trying a new class, speak with your doctor about possible limitations.”
As for me? I’ll be hitting up the silks once or twice a month.