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Variety makes fitness fun

We tried the newest ways to whip a body into shape, and some of them were actually fun.

Hailee Kaliban (right), owner and instructor at City Gym in Waldo, demonstrated an exercise while Staci Parelman followed along during a recent TRX Circuit class.

Special to Ink

Fitness is like fashion. It can take a while for trends to catch on. But once they do, it’s no-holds-barred … even in Xtend Barre, where ballet worshippers go weekly to get glorious glutes (while I left with two sore snare drums).

To unveil the latest and greatest fitness methods, gyms, classes and techniques in the Kansas City area, I tried (or observed) six top workout trends: Xtend Barre, RealRyder indoor cycling, tandem training, hooping, CrossFit and TRX circuit and Pilates. There are others out there, but these stood out for their unorthodox, fun and allegedly survivable traits.

I checked in with Greg R. Van den Berghe, a surgeon at Carondelet Orthopaedic Surgeons, after my fitness regimen to assure myself that my hurts were harmless. I probably should have checked in prior, as Van den Berghe gave good advice.

“Have realistic expectations of what you are hoping for with any fitness activity,” he says. “Make sure you choose a facility that keeps a watch on you, too.”

He assured me my aches and pains were common: No, I wouldn’t require any treatment for tight hamstrings and tired triceps; yes, I got accurate information from trainers and coaches; and alas, my endorphin-spiked dreams of Olympichood were fairly common.

Van den Berghe liked the assignment, because he hopes that fitness trends keep exercise interesting for the uninspired. He maintains that overuse of one exercise and improper coaching coupled with a bad diet, lack of sleep, and lots of stress will contribute to a trip to his operating table. When a workout mixes cardio and strength training, you’re more likely to achieve a well-balanced body and mind, he says.

International fitness and exercise expert Kelli Calabrese agrees. She urges everyone to try something new and put negative thoughts behind them.

“People like having options and mixing it up,” she says. “One trend isn’t the end-all, be-all.”

Calabrese assesses trends across the nation in gyms and at trade shows, including the six that I tried. The biggest craze is squeezing as much exercise into a short amount of time as possible for folks living on-the-go, she says. There has also been a growth in outdoor fitness activities and boot camps, an enthusiasm for Pilates, as well as a preference for boutique-type gyms. She has also noticed an emergence of equipment-based classes focused on one item, such as the TRX Suspension Trainer, a kettle bell or a jump rope.

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Beginning hoop

Cost: $80 for four weeks

Where: Quixotic School of Performing Arts, 2820 Cherry St.

More info: quixoticschoolofperformingarts.com or lunabreezeperformance.com

First of all, these aren’t your dime store hula hoops. Second, these aren’t your first-grade moves. Hula hooping, hooping or hoop dance is an art form.

“It’s getting to be as big as boot camp,” says instructor Luna Breeze. “And it’s way better than being on a treadmill for an hour.”

Luna Breeze, better known as Brie Blakemen, teaches hooping in the metro area and all across the world. She is a performance artist who shows all the signs of being a “hooper.” She has feather earrings, a solid core and artistic flair. Her moves were so fluid and instinctive that I could swear she had hula hoop arms and legs.

It’s easy to be transfixed by the sport while watching Breeze. Recently she taught a free hour-long class for her hooping devotees at Loose Park, and I was lucky to attend. She promised we’d become “friends with the hoop,” but I knew there was no way I could toss, write, concentrate and avoiding knocking out everyone (myself included).

Breeze did note that dropping the hoop is an essential part of the learning process. As the other 12 hoopers orbed on, I studied the child-like physical activity.

Grace Vivant, 24, of Kansas City has been hooping for a year and a half. She credits the plastic sphere for her 15-pound weight loss. Moves like “the wedgie,” “the warrior” and “the elevator” had everyone laughing.

“Hooping is like magic,” Breeze says. “It looks impossible, but it’s really accessible, with a lot of repetition. It’s not easy to stop hooping.”

A community of hoopers meets a few times a week for hoop jams.

  • Drum Circle: 7 p.m. on Mondays at Loose Park

  • Kansas City Juggling Club: 6 p.m. Wednesdays at St. Teresa’s Academy

  • Quilombo Cultural Center: 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday nights

RealRyder indoor cycling

Cost: $20 per class, rate packages available

Where: Inspired Fitness 505 W. 75th St.

More info: 816.550.7227, inspiredfitnesskc.com

Best lunch date ever. A little Elvis Costello, a lot of Wanda Shoffner and zero calories consumed. I had a goofy grin for a good hour during Shoffner’s RealRyder indoor cycling class a few weeks ago at Inspired Fitness in Waldo. It was 105 degrees outdoors, so how bad could an indoor bike workout be? Shoffner found a way to heat things up for six of us, including Jennifer Tierney, who started taking the class a year ago and considers herself an “addict.”

“It’s just more of a fun workout than regular cycling, and it’s more of a core and upper body workout, too,” Tierney says.

Shoffner let everyone settle into their bikes, which took away a lot of my undue stress about how to properly mount something with knobs, wheels and pedals. She ensured me that I wasn’t going to fall off, so off I screeched to the sounds of the ’70s with a wall-mounted flat screen that showed scenes from coastal Maine. I could swear that I covered the approximately 3,400 mile trip from Kansas City and back in one hour, and it was a blast.

Shoffner says the class can burn almost 500 calories per hour depending on personal intensity. She checks on her “little family of riders” before, during and after a session.

“If you are looking for something different but still familiar to up the ante, this is for you,” Shoffner says.

After class, I said something cliche: “It felt like a real ride.” And the next day, it still did. Ouch.

TRX Circuit and TRX Pilates

Cost: $59.99 per month gym membership fee, rate packages available

Where: City Gym, 7416 Wornall Road

More info: 816.326.8790, citygymkc.com

“I’m not going to have you hurt yourself to have a kick-ass workout and make you throw up,” promised Hailee Kaliban, owner of City Gym in Waldo.

She kept her promise. But it hurt.

When I walked into the room, I thought “torture chamber” when I noticed the TRX suspension straps hanging from the ceiling. Kaliban, a smiling bundle of muscles with an upbeat attitude, makes you forget that you are about to collapse in a jiggly heap after a 30-second side plank balanced in a wiggling TRX strap. Her TRX Circuit class was a complete cardio workout that involved all sorts of resistance, lunges and complex maneuvers. However, she encouraged me when I got all strung up and stuck in the straps.

“You’ve got to step out of the box if something isn’t working anymore,” she says.

So, I did. I stepped right out of my box and right into those straps again for TRX Pilates with instructor Jenny Chronister. The TRX suspension straps are the answer to “no more wiggling” during Pilates, she says. They remove the momentum often used to execute Pilates moves, and they isolate everything into your tummy. After two children in two years, my tummy needed isolating.

After the class, I needed isolation to deal with my tummy ache. But I swear my jeans fit better in two days after TRX. And, I would totally torture myself TRX-style again.

Xtend Barre

Cost: $20 per class, rate packages available

Where: Brookside Pilates & Barre, 405 W. Gregory Blvd.

More info: 816.533.4333, brooksidepilates.com

Hilary Valine was celebrating the month of the derriere in June. Despite the back-porch focus, she managed to torture each of my muscle groups in a single session of Xtend Barre, a cardiovascular ballet barre workout that combines dance and rhythm with Pilates. Thinking a little bit of sweat in a sweet little ballet class? Try resistance props and full-volume club music.

Valine has been trained in Xtend Barre since spring, when she opened Brookside Pilates & Barre with Nancy Sommerland. The calm and soothing interior of the renovated space doesn’t seem to match such a sweaty endeavor like barre, but the cardio-Pilates combo was appealing.

Boy, was this former ballerina well-schooled. Moves with names derived from ballet terminology took a turn for the added “ugh.” Even though I loved Valine’s energy, in my sleep I sometimes hear her saying “relevé” on repeat.

Valine modifies the class for participants based on age, ability and injury. She claims that the worth-it results are a more lengthened and sculpted physique.

“Other barre programs are boring and tedious,” Valine says. “This is energetic with a very specific format.”

Tandem training

Cost: $80 ($40 each) per hour session, rate packages available

Where: Burn Fitness, 3510 W. 95th St., Leawood

More info: 913.322.2876, burnfitnesskc.com

A note on the wall said, “Partner up!”, so I knew I was in the right place.

Kelly Heaven, Burn Fitness owner and trainer, says tandem training has taken off with her clientele. She regularly trains about 10 sets of tandems. Girlfriends are the biggest fans of the tandem trend, but she also works with couples and mother-daughter duos.

“Tandem training provides a good buddy system, shared cost, comradery and commiserating,” says Heaven, who likes training in twos versus one because things don’t tend to get chatty and soar off course.

My unlikely fitness partner was on Daddy duty, so I obligingly let Katy Jennings and Melissa Novak serve as the fitness duet on display. Tandem training with Heaven for almost three years, twice a week, has doubled as their “girl time.”

“Guys go to a bar, and this is how we spend our time together,” Jennings says. “It’s a good way to see my friend, and it holds me accountable.”

Between lifting dumbbells and dropping for 20, Jennings and Novak found time to discuss pool parties, Jon Hamm and the pencil test. They complimented one another, shared recipe ideas and complained about their day.

Count me in. I was already lining up girlfriends for when I left. Plus, they have $2 childcare, which gets Daddy off the hook next time.

CrossFit

Cost: Three month unlimited membership, $225, rate packages available

Where: Bootcamp Fitness, 5317 W. 94th Terrace, Prairie Village

More info: 913.905.1944, crossfitkc.com

Stats on a whiteboard scare me. But a lot of folks find the daily public posts motivating and inspiring. Most of those people are the competitive type, according to Michael Rutherford, also known as Coach Rut, who owns Bootcamp Fitness in Prairie Village. Building better bodies is his business.

Enter CrossFit, a challenging strength and conditioning program utilized by the military and law enforcement to ready personnel for physical challenges. It’s also used to train high-performance athletes. Coach Rut promises that CrossFit output is individual, although all participants are tasked with the same exercises each day via Crossfit.com. Recently, the exercise of the day was 70 burpees, 60 sit-ups, 50 kettle bell swings (about 54 pounds total), 40 pull-ups, and 30 handstand push-ups. After a Google search of a burpee, kettle bell and handstand push-up, I tried my best. I collapsed after burpee No. 11. Despite my shortcomings, Rut says that his business has exploded in the past two years.

Theoretically, an 85-year-old and a 20-year-old may do the same daily exercises, but they will have different experiences and different output. Most of Rut’s clients are young professionals or older professionals on the verge of retirement. They like the variety and the high intensity of the workouts, he says.

“You know how a carpenter needs a lot of tools to complete a project? That’s like CrossFit,” he says. “You can do simple body resistance exercises one day and complex Olympic movements the next.”

Back to those daily stats …

“Men will die for points,” says Rut, which is probably where the controversy surrounding the safety of CrossFit comes in.

“Most people come in here to improve their body composition, to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass,” he says. “But they start to see that we are all athletes chasing performance, a better time, a higher score and a body transformation.”

Personally, I’ll settle for the body transformation bit in private. But, I better master a burpee first.

Carla Corban Kath is a freelance writer in Prairie Village.

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