Fitness Trends – Gyms exploded in the 1980’s with the onset of the fitness craze. They continue to prosper today as part of a regular routine for millions, with proven success from combinations of weight training, aerobics, running, and a wide range of machine exercises, not to mention more recent trends like CrossFit, boot camps, P90X and Insanity workouts.
But the past few years have witnessed the growth of newer exercise programs, many in less traditional studios or outdoors, and some characterized by creative expression through innovative inventions. Some are extensions of performance arts, uniting the fitness benefits of workout programs with theatrical routines associated with dance, acrobatics, gymnastics and contemporary circus acts.
Inspired by high-flying shows like Cirque du Soleil and renewed interest in burlesque, aerial performers climb a suspended apparatus—trapezes, hoops, slings or silks, often with the use of safety lines—to suspend, fall, swing and spiral their bodies into various positions, all while gaining a rigorous, full-body workout.
“It’s mostly a core and upper body workout, but it becomes full body because we go through different positions in a series of maneuvers,” says Alex White, director of Crescent City Aerial Arts in New Orleans.
According to White, positions work certain muscle groups more than others, but because aerial routines include negotiating a series of maneuvers, the wide range of motion offers full-body benefits.
“Holding yourself up and balancing helps develop upper body strength,” White says. “Inverting helps activate lower ab muscles, which are hard to work in traditional exercises.”
The varying apparatuses allow for a range of artistic expression and differing levels of strength, balance and endurance. Since fabrics are pliable and always moving, they can be more challenging because executing maneuvers depends on creating one’s own stability and balance, which demands more strength and endurance. Trapeze bars and hoops remain more stationary, so the workout can be less strenuous. And while holding each aerial position requires a combination of upper body and core strength, perfecting them also develops the lower body of a ballet dancer, experts say.
“The workout is mainly core-driven, but it requires control of the leg line like dance and also has a huge upper body component,” says Lorelei Ashe, a fitness instructor and retired circus performer living in New Orleans. “With different grip positions, you utilize different muscles, so even the simplest hanging maneuvers engage the full body.”
Aerial yoga, or “anti-gravity” yoga, another variation of suspended acrobatics, has gained popularity in recent years. Touted for being less stressful on joints and muscles than traditional yoga, people position themselves in an apparatus consisting of support chains, a webbing strap and a silk hammock at a set height. The hammock acts like a swing or soft trapeze, supporting one’s hips for forward and backward bends. And while it borrows poses from traditional yoga, the hammock allows a person to control body position to assume as much strain as desired.
“In traditional yoga, you’re often relying on extremities to balance and support your weight, but aerial yoga is less stressful on the body because the apparatus supports you,” White says. “It’s great for people with mobility issues or people recovering from injuries.”
To illustrate the hammock’s effects, White references the classic “downward facing dog” pose. In traditional yoga, in addition to stretching, holding this pose places stress on the chest, shoulders, wrists, ankles, thighs and knees, but in its aerial version a person can choose to allow the apparatus to take more of the body’s weight to focus specifically on the stretch.
“Aerial yoga has similar poses to traditional yoga, but the technique is different,” White says, pointing to a creative expression seen in dance and other performing arts contexts. “It’s so fun you forget you’re getting a strenuous workout, and the challenge of making it pretty is part of it, so you can express yourself in the process.”
Like aerial fitness, acro-fitness and acro-yoga combine maneuvers of circus and dance with traditional gymnastics and yoga, resulting in a distinctive acrobatic activity offering social as well as health benefits. The activity relies on the mutual balancing between partners who share in the success of each pose or maneuver by assuming roles of either base or flyer. The base has more contact with the ground or mat, often lying with back flat to support the flyer, who is elevated off the ground by the base, with spotters nearby to help ensure safety.
“Most people specialize in being either a base or flyer, but the really experienced people often do both,” says Andrew Zutell, an instructor at LA Motion studio in New Orleans. “If you’re a base, it’s about being supportive, and if you’re a flyer, it’s about trusting your base.”
People compete in acrobatics as a sport, but the kind of acro-fitness at LA Motion and other facilities focuses on the non-competitive, performance side that compares more to circus art.
Describing it as “a partner adagio type of dance somewhere at the intersection of CrossFit, tumbling and yoga,” Zutell promotes acro-fitness as a comprehensive workout. “It incorporates strength, flexibility, core fitness and endurance. Your posture and balance will improve, and you’ll have better spine alignment.”
And like aerial, acro-fitness has the potential to translate into real performances. Zutell began learning acro maneuvers six years ago. Now, in addition to teaching the practice, he also regularly stages it professionally in partnership with his girlfriend, performing regular “gigs” that pay anywhere from $100 for a set to as much as $1200 for an evening show.
“People wear costumes, and performances range from slow and sensual to fast and high-intensity,” Zutell says. “We’ve performed for television, parades, birthday parties, local circus groups and variety shows.”
The performance aspect, then, has the capacity to transform it from a fitness activity to a creative pursuit through personal expression. Accepted maneuvers are cataloged like an index, but a creative element arises from how the moves are strung together along with the beauty of the poses themselves.
“The creative element comes from how you put the moves together into a kind of choreography,” Zutell says. “Once you have a foundation of skills, you have an infinite number of ways to express those moves.”
Another benefit of acro-fitness is the low cost. Although lessons are helpful especially in the early stages, absent are the costs of specialized gear or formal gym studios. People can do it nearly anywhere with little or no equipment. And though the social element begins with a dual partnership, it extends further.
“It’s intentionally about the community,” Zutell says. “They have communities in every major city, and in the past few years people have even begun going on tour, so the communities are connecting.”
Another new fitness trend involves an innovative transition from sea to land. Long known for their lean muscles and athletic physiques, surfers develop fit bodies through paddling, kicking and balancing. New York-based entrepreneurs Mike and Sarah Hartwick took this concept to land, developing a land-based exercise surfboard—basically a board attached to a rotating ball device—then founded a small startup called Surfset Fitness. In 2012, they pitched their invention to the television show “Shark Tank,” receiving a $300,000 investment from Mark Cuban, launching them from one location to more than 180 locations in 12 countries and 1,400 trainers.
Building on Surfset’s success, Dallas-based Mitchell Brown developed a comprehensive workout program using their invention to form another company, City Surf Fitness, which will soon add a franchise in New Orleans to join three Texas locations. Exercises within the program include names like “buddha board” (yoga), “pipeline” (barre), “beach body boot camp” (cardio) and “big kahuna” (strength training) as well as other City Surf-designed moves.
“We target developing long, lean muscles you only tap into when you’re in the act of surfing—core muscles and an athletic body,” says Becky Hardin, director the upcoming City Surf location in New Orleans. “The core workout comes from stability and balance, which also engages the legs, but there’s cardio as well—you’re sweating and out of breath by the end of a workout, and you’re sore in muscles you may not have ever felt before.”
Because of the learning curve in using the surfboard device, Hardin encourages people to come three times to allow muscle memory to take hold. And like acrobatic fitness workouts, she promotes City Surf as a community dedicated to having fun while exercising.
“We want to create not just a fitness studio, but also a community,” Hardin says. “You get a challenging workout, but it’s a lot fun—we all laugh a lot.”
With any exercise program, people should work with experienced instructors to ensure safety as well as proper form and conditioning. But in the proper environment, these new fitness trends offer variety, community and creativity to complement a traditional gym workout. Whether flying through the air on a trapeze, tumbling and somersaulting over people, or balancing on a surfboard, participants can expect full body health benefits within a unique, fun and expressive environment.
Source: Health & Fitness Magazine