Five weird workouts to put the fire back in your routine


Instructor and former gymnast Jimmie Manners shows students a flip during a Rebound class at Rebounderz. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)
February 23, 2012

In January, when resolutionaries still cling to their lofty goals of carving out six-pack abs and Brazilian butts, it’s easy to summon the motivation to hit the gym. By February, however, a switch inevitably flips.

We come to terms with the fact that our Victoria’s Secret body is buried under 25 pounds of regrettable dietary decisions, with no hope of getting out. Gyms empty out. We resume eating queso.

But if you’re not quite ready to throw in the towel, we’ve got the answer to combating the monotony of the 30-minute, five-day-a-week grind: five off-the-wall workouts, including a midair take on yoga and a trampoline routine that can work new muscles, put a smile on your sweaty face and quite possibly get you through these dark days.

Having bounced and swung our way through these workouts, we can tell you which are appropriate for beginners or those who want something with less impact and which are probably best for agile ex-cheerleaders. But no matter the one that best describes you, you’ll find something here to bring the burn back to your exercise routine.

— Lavanya Ramanathan

Best for the trend-seeker looking to shed pounds: Kangoo Jumps at Laurel Community Center

It’s a Wednesday evening at the Laurel Community Center gymnasium, and I’m wondering just what I’ve gotten myself into. On the wall next to the basketball court looms a rack of the strangest footwear I have ever seen. Kangoo Jumps look a lot like ski boots, but they have an elliptical apparatus affixed to the soles that gives when you walk.

This is where the “jumps” part comes in — you can jump as high as three feet with minimal impact to your joints. Balancing on the boots also develops core muscles. Spring-loaded boots were originally invented to help athletes recovering from leg injuries, and the Kangoo Jumps routine gained popularity in the late ’90s.

The class atmosphere is welcoming — a friendly group of women in their 30s on up. I’m not the only first-timer here, either. A few of the women have brought their own Kangoo Jumps, which you can buy online for about $200. They clearly mean business, but they’re happy to engage us fresh-faced newbies. Instructor Denise Pullet insists that balancing on Kangoo Jumps is easy and that no one has ever fallen in her class. She helps get me outfitted and literally holds my hand to pull me up to standing.

At first, I feel awkward and off-balance. But as soon as we start jumping, I almost forget that these ridiculous-looking things on my feet are even there. The class consists of two segments — the first focuses on cardio and the second on strength. Lots of jumping in the first half definitely gets my heart pumping, and Pullet is tough but a good motivator through a series of difficult leg lifts at the end (the shoes act as a weight). Upbeat hip-hop and Latin music also helps. And come spring, Pullet takes classes outdoors for Kangoo Outdoor Bootcamp.

The actual workout isn’t much different than your average cardio routine, and the choreography is simple and mostly easy to follow. So what does Kangoo Jumps have on other, less bouncy workouts? Pullet says wearing Kangoo Jumps reduces 80 percent of the impact on your joints and helps burn as many as 1,000 calories per hour-long class. Plus, it’s always nice to have a little extra spring in your step.

Good to know: Make sure your ankles and lower legs are covered — either with socks or leggings — to prevent the boot from rubbing against your skin.

— Jess Righthand

Monday at 7:15 p.m., Robert J. DiPietro Community Center, 7901 Cypress St., Laurel. www.meetup.com/kangoo-jumps-exercise-workout. $25 drop-in, Kangoo Jumps rental included. $15 if you bring your own. Classes with fewer than 10 participants may be canceled.

Best for fit daredevils looking for new challenges — and muscles: AntiGravity Yoga at Crunch Fitness

After countless childhood days spent on playgrounds, the simple mechanics of recess activities should be too deeply ingrained to forget — alternating hands across the monkey bars, seesaws propelled by feet against gravel, the brief flight that concludes a trip down the spiral slide.

That’s part of the allure of AntiGravity Yoga at Crunch — it’s a portal to the youthful pursuits of swinging and amateur acrobatics. The hour-long class uses elements of yoga and Pilates, but it seems more in the vein of aerial performance art, with suspended moves that rely on twisting your arms and legs around a fabric hammock.

Upon entering the studio, each student grabs a “swing,” which looks like an airy white curtain and attaches to metal plates on the ceiling with carabiners. Don’t worry, says general manager Bryan Bullock, these things can hold up to 1,000 pounds. This promise does little to allay fears that I may do a face plant at some point during the next 60 minutes. And the swinging turns out to be anything but rote, especially after such a long (and mostly seated) hiatus on my part. It actually takes a few awkward attempts before I can even remember how to properly pump my legs. But peppy instructor Arja Pirinen’s excitement is contagious, and before I know it I’m upside down.

The Metro Center classroom has space for 16 swings, which were filled on a recent Tuesday with mostly women — regulars and newcomers. For the newbies, the hardest thing may be the disorientation of being upside down. It’s harder to comprehend instructions that way, Pirinen says. But there are benefits to inversions. Moves such as the Frog — hands and ponytails dangle above the ground while legs wrap around the swing to resemble a frog’s legs — get blood flowing in a different direction. The Bell (a suspended version of what yogis call “wheel” and gymnasts term “bridge”) provides a much-needed spinal stretch after slouching in front of a computer all day.

Runners may be both jolted and gratified by a pose in which the fabric kneads the often-tight hip flexor muscles; it simulates a static sports massage. And arms get a workout during the AntiGravity jumping jacks that entail wrapping the swing around your arms and using your core and upper-body strength to move your legs.

Luckily, the cool-down is especially relaxing. For the final minutes of class, the swings become cocoons in which students silently meditate while suspended. After using muscles I didn’t know I had, it’s nice to have a few peaceful moments. Little did I realize I would emerge as one very sore butterfly.

Good to know: Some moves require wrapping the swing under your armpits, so Pirinen advises wearing a T-shirt instead of a tank top to prevent chafing and to keep the fabric “fresh.” Those interested in taking the class can reserve a spot up to an hour ahead of time.

— Stephanie Merry

Tuesday at 2:15 and 6 p.m. and Thursday at 2:15 p.m. Crunch Metro Center, 555 12th St. NW. 202-621-6698. Monday at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday at 8 a.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 10:45 a.m. and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Crunch Chevy Chase, 5100 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-621-7622. www.crunch.com. Free for first-timers interested in joining the club. $15 drop-in; $7.50 for those visiting with a member. Monthly memberships are $39.99 to $49.99.

Best for the no-pain/no-gain set: Rebound at Rebounderz

It’s possible to channel your inner comic-book hero in the Rebound trampoline workout, which will have you leaping to towering heights, bouncing off walls and bounding across the room. But just like in the comic books, all the high-flying can end in a resounding “splat!”

The hour-long Rebound class at Rebounderz in Sterling has little in common with the trampoline aerobics of the ’80s. Instead, it aims to teach nifty tricks for going airborne while quietly ratcheting up your heart rate. But tossing oneself at a trampoline wall and landing on your feet takes practice, and tumbles (or in my case, a dozen tumbles and a skinned elbow) are inevitable.

All the falls are not only normal, they’re safe, coach Jimmie Manners offers reassuringly during a recent class. (He’s right; when I hit the pliable trampoline, the only thing that really took a beating was my ego.)

Manners, 24, a hip-hop dancer and former gymnast with a rubber band body, went to Rebounderz with a friend shortly after it opened last year and was hooked. He developed the Rebound workout and began offering classes in January; they’re held in a corner of the arena that’s roped off from the areas teeming with kids.

A recent afternoon class, which drew a few students, began with a lesson in falling back on the trampoline and bouncing back onto our feet. It wasn’t long before we were jumping high and passing a ball between our knees, Globetrotter-style, and channeling our inner cheerleaders with midair pikes. From there, much of the class focuses on putting the moves together to create routines. But make no mistake, it’s all harder than Manners makes it look. Yet there’s something so liberating about flying through the air that I caught myself grinning ear-to-ear for much of the class. I hardly noticed I also was dripping in sweat.

Manners likens the workout to jumping rope for an hour: A 130-pound woman can burn upward of 600 calories. But more telling is how you feel afterward: sore, achy, mildly regretful. Anyone who has ever worked out knows those telltale signs of muscles working, and, in the case of trampoline workouts, it’s your quads, your abs and your obliques that are pumped into submission.

“It’s the best workout, because it works your stamina,” Manners adds before launching into an effortless flip. “That’s why I love it so much. You can be a ninja out here.”

Good to know: Bring your driver’s license; first-timers to Rebounderz need to show it with the required waiver. Also a good idea: water to keep you hydrated during the intense workout and maybe even an extra layer of socks to help absorb the shock of an hour of bouncing.

— Lavanya Ramanathan

Classes are typically offered on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. but are subject to change. 22400 Davis Dr., Sterling. For reservations, call 240-498-4714 or e-mail jimmiemanners87@yahoo.com. www.rebounderzsterling.com. $12.

Best for the jaded exerciser in search of excitement: ZenGo Cycle at ZenGo Fitness

“Pretend your back tire is stuck in mud? There is no mud!” jokes Marc Caputo, the owner of ZenGo Fitness, about the one major difference between conventional indoor cycling and ZenGo’s version.

Where for decades indoor cycling classes have required participants to ape racing up hills and “feeling the wind” on their faces while riding in dank gym studios, ZenGo’s goal is to help riders pass the zippy 45 minutes by engaging the whole body — not just the imagination.

Once the lights are cut in a recent Sunday morning class, the 45 cyclists begin to pedal furiously, keeping time with the blasting beat. Nothing new there. Then, just five minutes in, instructor Melissa Kullen calls on riders to perform the first of several unusual rituals: push-ups, on the bike. The class dips in unison, leaning on the handlebars to perform a series of push-ups. We keep right on pedaling as we engage the next set of muscles — the abdominals and obliques — with a series of side-to-side sways (to prevent spills off the bike, ZenGo requires special shoes that clip into the pedals; newcomers should take care because they’re awkward to walk in). And then, with just a few songs left to go, the class picks up weights slipped into a nook near the handlebars and begins to pump iron. Our wheels never stop turning, but without strenuous hills or sprints to endure, it isn’t impossible to get through.

Caputo’s inspiration for ZenGo came from classes he had taken on the West Coast, where instructors seem to have advanced beyond traditional cycle classes and added their own twists. He opened his Bethesda studio, which also offers ballet-inspired barre classes, in October. Combined with the dim lighting and the upbeat tunes (the studio enlists DJs to create mixes just for its classes), the moves do seem to make the workout whizz by.

“It’s so much fun,” says Jennifer Okun of Washington, who has been taking the classes since October. “It really is like dancing on a bike.”

Good to know: Sign up for classes in advance with an online registration system that’s much like booking a plane ticket; you can pick your own bike. Registration for the week ahead opens Monday at 1 p.m.

— L.R.

Class times vary. ZenGo Fitness, 4866 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. 301-312-6658. www.zengofitness.com. The first class and shoe rental are free; classes are $21 apiece, and shoe rental is $3 thereafter. Packages available.

Best for folks easing into exercise at any age: Aqua workouts, available at various locations

Want to mix up your routine, lay low while recovering from an injury or simply splash around in a pool like a kid again?

Try taking your workout underwater.

Belly dance? There’s an aqua version. Running? Zumba? Check and check. Although water workout classes have been offered for upward of three decades, as new calorie-burning fads emerge, so do aqua versions. There’s one for almost any land-borne exercise, in fact; hydro spin classes — which place stationary bikes in the water — launch at Glenarden’s Theresa Banks pool next month. (It is surely only a matter of time before Kangoo Jumps finds its way to the shallow end.)

“Exercising in the water is less jarring on the joints,” says Hermione Rhones, who has been teaching aqua classes for 15 years, including my recent aqua bootcamp class at Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool. (The courses are offered through the company H20 Fitness, which contracts with community centers to host them at public pools.) The workout, Rhones says, lies in “the way you move in the water. You create something to fight against.” It’s not necessary to be a good swimmer, though these classes aren’t for those lacking confidence in the water.

I join a handful of men and women at the indoor pool on a chilly winter night for an hour of rapid-fire punches, crunches and cross-country skiing. Underwater, however, even the agile are rendered somehow slow and awkward. A water workout, you quickly realize, is about the control you can muster, not the sweat you work up.

Half of the Chillum bootcamp class is spent doing routines that will remind some of aerobics, and the other half doing a more intense “deep water” workout. It’s during that second half that we don foam belts to suspend us in the water (where the simple act of staying afloat works our core). The foam is deceptive; the “barbells” feel like 15-pound weights underwater, so it’s a good thing that Rhones is enough inspiration to make you want to crank those biceps, if only for a shot at having arms like hers.

Just under an hour later, we climb out of the pool, exhilarated but not depleted. It also doesn’t hurt, I realize, to get in a little pool time during the dead of winter.

“I like that I work out, but I don’t feel tired and sweaty,” says Aisha Thompson of Mount Ranier. “You’re playing in the water.”

Good to know: Bring a towel and padlock for the lockers.

— L.R.

Classes are offered at several area community centers. Theresa Banks Pool’s four-week hydro spin sessions begin March 5. For details, visit www.h2ofitness.com. Classes are offered in four-to-eight-week sessions and cost $30 to $72 a session.

Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan.
Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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