Inventive Exercise Challenge

Bored with the same old fitness routine? We sent our writers across Hampton Roads to test some fun and fresh workouts that will spice up your normal sweat regimen

Getting Warmer
Fitness Test: Hot Yoga

In my mind, yoga had always been a rather pointless activity. I’d tried it when I was younger (and more bendy), but I didn’t understand the importance of breathing correctly or realize that it could actually be a great workout— and a serious mood lifter. When I found an opportunity to try a yoga class for half the price (thank you, Living Social Deals), I decided to give it another shot. After all, this wasn’t just regular yoga. This was hot yoga, something I’ve always been curious to try.

Hot Yoga Studio in Virginia Beach describes its class as 26–30 postures practiced in a heated environment to warm muscles, sooth joints and detoxify through the process of sweating. After entering the yoga room, I was delighted to see that it was a small class considering it’d been awhile since I did yoga, and I didn’t want to distract anyone with my non-proper poses.

The temperature was warm in the beginning, a welcome change from the chilly outdoors. I took notice of everyone laying in child’s pose so I did the same. The lights were dim, and the soft music immediately introduced a gradual calmness.

When our instructor,Tiffany, entered, she asked everyone to think of something or someone we’re thankful for and dedicate our class to it. I’m thankful for my mom and my husband and my ability to balance. Please don’t let me fall over. We stood, bringing our hands above us and down to a prayer position, and Tiffany explained the breathing technique that we should followfor the class—in through the nose, out through the nose.

From there, we practiced many traditional yoga poses as well as some I’d never tried before (don’t worry—nothing too tricky), and the heat, which intensified as the class continued, helped to loosen the muscles tremendously. At the end of our session, we lay face up on the floor with our palms out, and Tiffany placed cold wash cloths on our hot foreheads, which was an incredible feeling. I could have stayed on that floor meditating for the rest of the day, but it was time for work, so I gathered my belongings and floated out of the studio in my little cloud of calmness.

I arrived to work that day feeling revived and energized (and that’s even without coffee). I stretched muscles that haven’t been worked in months, I felt as if my posture had improved, and I was even craving a salad for lunch on a cold, cloudy day when I’d normally be wanting fatty comfort foods—absolute proof that my body got a taste of healthy and wants me to continue on this path.

Hot Yoga Studio is located at 2700 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach. 757-486-5002,       —Angela Blue

Fin it to Win it
Fitness Test: Finning

I love yoga, spin and kickboxing classes. But after two years of being fairly dedicated to these three types of exercise, I’ve been finding excuses to sit in my leather chair and eat Pop Tarts every morning instead of venturing to the Y. Finally, a few days after Thanksgiving, I came to terms with my boredom—and the 10 pounds of turkey I had eaten. That buttwidening combination propelled me to try a new class—one that would challenge my fitness level and my fear of putting my face in water.

The Y’s “Finning” class sounded fun when a friend mentioned it last year. She’s like me—a fairly regular exerciser but not a fitness fanatic. Surely, if she could do it, so could I. It took me awhile to realize that I might have to, for the first time since 6th grade, actually swim with my face in the water and get my hair wet. The class description was what made me worry: it mentioned “high cardio” and “total body,” which sounded like a lot of splashing.

As Stacy, the smiling teacher at the Greenbrier Y, rolled out the garbage can filled with fins, I tried to play it cool and follow the experienced finners. They flipped over the flippers, looking for a size close to their shoe size, so I did, too. Some then headed to the “fast” lanes on the left and others to the “slow” middle section, after sliding on their fins as they sat on the edge.

After 11 minutes (yep, I looked), I wanted to quit. A few newbies who looked to be 20 years my senior were going faster than me as we alternated laps between swimming on our side, our stomach, our back and a weird sitting-in-a-chair position and did different kicks (straight-leg flutters, bent-knee kicks, mountain climbing-like kicks). I am not proud to admit this but I am competitive; I would hate to be falling behind with people my age. I nearly wished for death as the adventurous seniors left me behind.

Until … well … the turtle that I am started to see the hares hesitate.

Stacy focused on me and said to do this crazy, on-my-stomach move. My hands were behind my back in a downward prayer-like position, and my legs were kicking like a frog. I think. As I finished the lap, she cheered me on and, although I really wanted to play it cool again, a smile crept onto my face.

“That’s it!” she said.

Next I had to go on my back and hug one leg as I kicked with the other and reverse it for a final lap. As awkward as scratching your own back, but I did it. Who cares that I was the last one to finish—and stupidly attempted to do the end-of-class cool down stretches with my flippers on. I had somehow managed to only get one quarter- size splash of water on my face, my hair was mostly dry, and I made it through the whole class. No need to harp on the fact that it was only 45 minutes long.

The Greenbrier Family YMCA is located at 1033 Greenbrier Parkway, Chesapeake. 757-547-9622,      —Kristen De Deyn Kirk

Punch, Kick, Repeat
Fitness Test: Kore Kick

The treadmill will burn off the calories. The weight room is a great place to tone and tighten. But, let’s face it, sometimes it just feels good to punch something. I had a chance to punch and kick to my heart’s content in a new class called Kore Kick Fitness at Hybrid Training Center in Virginia Beach.

Created by Hybrid Training Center co-owner Buck Grant, the class is held in the center’s “bag room,” basically a big room full of punching bags suspended from the ceiling, and alternates between abdominal exercises and a hardcore kickboxing workout. I’m talking the real thing here—no prancing around the dance studio throwing phantom punches to the beat. This is down-and-dirty with one welcome exception—no one punches you back.

I got my first taste of Kore Kick in a semi-private training session with Grant, who competed in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling and mixed martial arts before dedicating himself to coaching and teaching. A patient and encouraging trainer, he showed me how to properly wrap my hands before slipping on boxing gloves (OK, he did it for me), the right way to punch to minimize pressure on my knuckles and how to turn my body into a kick for maximum power and protection of the opposite knee and ankle.

Kore Kick is a great whole body workout and stressreliever— the kind where you walk away drenched in sweat with the faint strains of the Rocky theme song in the back of your head. But Grant also draws on the mind-body connection prevalent in martial arts by incorporating yoga-style stretching and even meditative moments in the class.

“We talk about the core training being the physical core,” he explains “but really what we’re getting into is the spiritual and mental core, coming from the inside and working our way out and using kickboxing as a medium to reach that goal.”

Don’t let the Hybrid Training Center’s testosteroneheavy exterior fool you. The ladies hold their own in this place, and all fitness levels are welcome. They offer a variety of classes and programs for children and adults.

“The mystique of our gym is that it’s a mixed martial arts, cage-fighting gym,” says Grant. “Some people feel a little intimidated by that, but this class has been a conduit to bring people in who wouldn’t think of doing martial arts as fitness. They get here and realize this really is for everybody.”

The introductory rate for unlimited Kore Kick Fitness classes at Hybrid Training Center is $50 per month. The classes last one hour and are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon; Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m; and Saturday at 1 p.m.

The center is located at 3636 Virginia Beach Blvd. (behind Burger King), Virginia Beach. 757-490-6906,      —Leona Baker

Paddle Away the Pounds
Fitness Test: Kayaking

In Hampton Roads, we love to find new and creative ways to enjoy the water that surrounds us. Case in point? The humble kayak.

An ancient mode of transportation, the kayak has grown in popularity in the past decade or so. Kayaks afford advantages that other water-based recreation simply can’t. They’re relatively cheap and require no gas. A kayak can slip silently in to inchesdeep water among rustling reads, offering a sense of solitude that’s hard to come by in an increasingly developed and motorized region. But a real draw for many— and the reason I was drawn to kayaking in the first place—is the physical effort involved in making kayaks go.

I’ve been kayaking for five or six years now. Some friends introduced me to it as a way to fish—and fish we did, at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, the jetties at Little Creek Inlet and anywhere that promised to be productive. Since those earliest angling days, however, I’ve often found myself heading out—sans fishing gear—because the kayak is simply an enjoyable form of exercise. Today you’re as likely to find me in a remote corner of a local reservoir, toddler in lap, as you are to find me under a bridge coaxing a flounder to bite.

There are a handful of kayaks propelled by pedals, and others still with motors, but the vast majority use only paddles. Kayaking gives the upper body a meaningful challenge. I’ve often returned to the kayak after a long hiatus and found the muscles in my chest and arms a bit sore afterwards, having forgotten the memory of the paddling motions.

The beauty of kayaking is that you can choose the level of rigor, stepping it up some if you want to go far or fast, or, on the other hand, just floating along on a lazy Sunday when you want nothing more than to be outdoors. I’ve seen folks paddle several miles to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge- Tunnel’s first and second islands, although that’s admittedly a long way off for me.

People’s biggest apprehension about trying out kayaking seems to be spilling into the drink, although modern kayaks are surprisingly sturdy, wide and flat-bottomed, so there’s not much chance of tipping. If you’re still unsure about managing a kayak, however, do a quick Google search. Chances are good you’ll find all the guided tours, classes and rentals you need to get your feet—or paddles— wet nearby your Hampton Roads home.      —Ben Swenson

New Heights in Fitness
Fitness Test: Aerial Silks

I’m suspended above the floor in a silky, nylon hammock. My spine is stretched long and slightly arched, and the back of my body is fully supported by a smooth sling of blue fabric, head and arms dangling weightless so that my hair nearly grazes the mat below me. I’m feeling relaxed and graceful, enjoying the sensation of floating or flying. I’m also grinning.

The class is called Cloud 9™ Beginner Silk Fitness, a 60-minute workout billed as an introduction to the art of aerial silk. Created by Airotique Movement studio owner Cynthia Smith, the class is designed to introduce students to the silk hammocks and to prepare them for more advanced adventures in above-ground fitness. Drawing from yoga, pilates, and dance, with a dash of Cirque du Soleil, aerial silks are widely touted as the next big thing for decompressing delicate vertebrae, improving core strength and increasing flexibility, all while having a good time.

I signed up online for the Saturday morning class. As recommended by the studio website, I’m wearing yoga clothes and no jewelry. The studio has the high ceiling of a warehouse; a half-dozen colorful nylon hammocks spill down from a complicated series of hooks above us. The space is low-key and comfortable, with strands of white lights wrapping the room, and there is a trapeze hanging off to one side. It seems improbable that the hammocks, simple u-shaped swaths of cloth, can accommodate the weight of an adult. As it turns out, the silks safely support up to 500 pounds each; Smith assures us that we’ll be fine.

There are three of us in class; we are all completely new to aerial silks and regard the hammocks with varying levels of skepticism, particularly when Smith mentions that we’ll soon be going upside down. “You’re going to have fun,” Smith tells us, convincingly. Throughout the practice, she will encourage us to be playful but mindful; she’ll remind us to breathe, point our toes and keep smiling.

Soon, the time comes for us to work with our silks. The tendency is for the hammock to swing back and forth from its hooks, and I quickly realize that stabilizing the it is a challenge to be fielded primarily by my core. We practice drawing both knees off the floor and up toward our chests while holding onto the lengths of nylon like rope handles. It’s hard work—my arm muscles and abs are complaining—but the novelty of being in the hammocks proves a good distraction.

Smith, skillfully assisted by instructors Cherry, Nicole and Janice, demonstrates and guides us through a variety of poses. For some, we place the loop of the hammock at our lower spine and tip back as though preparing to flip over. From there we are led into increasingly challenging but surprisingly doable poses. I recognize some of them from yoga—there are variations of splits, bridge, pigeon and chair pose. Others are more rooted in the cirque arts.

By the time class is over I feel lengthened and stretched, simultaneously relaxed and invigorated. It’s been a good workout, and my muscles have definitely been tested. I think I’m hooked.

Airotique Movement is located at 1181 Jensen Dr., Virginia Beach. 757-332- 9762,       —Patti Hinson

Where You Lead, I Will Follow … Usually
Fitness Test: Ballroom Dancing

One, and ah two …

Ballroom dancing is as easy as counting to two. Well, not exactly. But the effort to learn is well worth the investment for both body and mind.

No one was more shocked than me when, about 12 years ago, my husband, Joe, and I started taking weekly ballroom dancing lessons, encouraged by one of his martial arts friends who is about as unlikely of a ballroom dancer as you can imagine. But there are similarities between the two art forms. So our terrific
teacher, Diane O’Neal, skillfully analyzed the way Joe and I each learn and continues to teach us accordingly, likening some “holds” to martial arts moves for his sake. He’s a very athletic dancer.

In the beginning stages, ballroom dancing requires more mental than physical exertion, as there is a lot of starting and stopping. But once you’ve mastered some of the basics, and learned how to link them together, the physical demands and rewards of dance become more apparent. The type of workout depends on the dance—Latin, smooth, rhythm, etc.— with some of them, like our beloved East Coast Swing, quickly becoming a heart-pumping experience, and others placing greater demands—in a good way—on the legs and arches of the feet. And let’s not forget the upper body, for some of the holds in the smooth dances require—and build—considerable strength in the arms and back.

The mental benefits of ballroom dancing are infrequently touted, but considerable. The man, especially, must think at least one beat ahead of his partner so that he can provide a proper lead early enough for his partner to know what he wants. Still, following a man’s lead is no walk in the park, though some make it far easier than others.

If someone had told me that, first, Joe and I would still be taking lessons after more than a decade; and, second, that each of us would have competed separately— and done well—in the local United Way’s Dancing with Our Stars—I would have sworn they were lying. The experience confirmed what I already knew: that competing is almost debilitating for me, while performing, though still frightening, makes me stretch in a positive way.

So, I have continued to take private lessons with my partner, Brent Dunn, owner of Shall We Dance. He choreographs routines to music that I choose. And we perform in showcases for which there are no rules.

Finding and harnessing the mind-body connection is a beautiful thing for both the mind and the body. All the better if it involves spending an hour in the arms of someone you love or the company of someone who has become a trusted mentor and friend.

Shall We Dance is located at 114 South Witchduck Rd., Virginia Beach. 757-971-0151,      —Betsy DiJulio

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