Getting tough

Exercise: Those looking for quick results at the gym are increasingly willing to fight for them

Focus On Fitness

January 09, 2000|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Take a look at any health club schedule and you'll see a coup in progress. Once the standard of any gym's classes, low and high-impact aerobics have been shoved aside by kickboxing, martial arts, boot camp and weightlifting.

Tough is now king. The people have spoken, and they want sculpted deltoids.

Gymgoers will no longer settle for endless combinations of "the grapevine." They want push-ups, karate-style kicks and drills that leave them weak in the knees.

Here is a rundown of some sissy-proof classes designed to give you results in weeks, not years.

1. Sports Conditioning

Bare Hills Athletic Club

1422 Clarkview Road, Baltimore

410-823-2500

Listed at various health clubs as boot camp, training camp, even recess, sports conditioning is a rehash of your childhood gym classes -- except, with a bigger body to lug around, it's much harder. But it's still fun.

Running between stations of jump rope, medicine-ball throws, obstacle courses, sit-ups, jumping jacks and push-ups, you want to giggle like a kid.

But in the middle of the quad-killing wall squat -- a 90-second sit in the air -- the class seems like something else: a hazing.

Instructor Ruth Levenson draws on training drills used by professional athletes to motivate her students. "I wanted to design a class that would interest men as well as women, something that didn't require dancing," she says.

Pain factor: Impossible to move one hour after class.

2. BodyPUMP

Brick Bodies Health Clubs

Baltimore, Owings Mills, Timonium

410-433-8200

With my muscles screaming in pain 20 seconds into BodyPUMP, it seemed to me that I must have been playing at weight-lifting in the past.

That's because PUMP's trademarked formula focuses on sculpting and strengthening muscles you have rather than bulking them up, says instructor Tammie Nielsen. Weight-lifters aiming for bulk pump about three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of high weights. PUMP pushes lifters through 120 nonstop repetitions using low weights for exercises such as bench presses, rows and curls.

The method was developed in New Zealand in 1990. So if you see the name "PUMP" on a schedule, it's most likely the same class.

Pain factor: Searing muscle burn for entire class.

Pilates

Goucher College

1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson

410-337-6399

Taking a Pilates (puh-LAH-teez) class is like joining a secret club. You say things like, "Start with the Hundred. End with the Seal." You use machines that look like tools of torture and are named accordingly: the reformer, the electric chair, the box.

But stars like Jodie Foster and Courteney Cox and dance legends George Balanchine and Martha Graham have sworn by the method that fitness guru Joseph Pilates developed while a nurse at a World War I prison hospital.

The method combines the Asian mentality of exercise, in which the mind leads the body, with the Western mentality of developing a beautiful physique, says Elizabeth Lowe Ahearn, whose Goucher classes are open to the public.

The more than 500 Pilates exercises -- like the Hundred and the Seal -- work to balance, strengthen and reshape the body's muscles through slow, controlled movements that originate in what's called the powerhouse: the abdomen, lower back and glutes (those muscles that form the behind).

Pilates is in no way a heavy-duty cardio fat-burner, but during and after your very first try you'll feel your muscles shake and burn with pain and soreness.

"The mind leading the body is a very difficult thing for people used to getting on the treadmill and turning on the TV," Ahearn says.

Pain factor: Stomach muscles ache for days after.

4. Kickboxing

Normandy Health and Fitness Center

8488 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City

410-461-2300

The lure of kickboxing is not only the explosive power of the motions, says Normandy instructor Jill Owens, but also how quickly people see results. "My students say to me `Jill, my behind is so hard. I feel the inches falling off my waistline.' People really get off on that."

Kibo aerobics-style won't make you into a street fighter. But after just an hour of front, side and back kicks with upper cuts and jabs mixed in, I was amazed at how hard my glutes were. That's because kibo focuses on squeezing and working the glutes nearly the entire class, Owens says.

Kickboxing hit the aerobics scene in the mid '90s as a spinoff of Billy Blanks' Tae-Bo program. But a backlash began to build this summer as reports of tendon and back injuries piled up.

That makes it even more important to look for a good instructor who will constantly monitor a student's form and structure the class in a way that prevents injuries.

Pain factor: Impossible to climb stairs two days after either class.

The workout mantra

Remember these tips to make the most of any class and keep you injury-free.

1. Always get a doctor's approval before starting a new workout regime.

2. Never hyper-extend or "lock" your knee and elbow joints. Keep them slightly bent, or "soft."

3. Keep your stomach muscles pulled in toward your lower back during the entire workout. Tight abs stabilize the body and provide support for the injury-prone lower back.

4. Breathe, breathe, breathe and breathe.

5. Finally, stick with an instructor who gives constant feedback on students' form and who demonstrates modified moves that play up or play down students' strengths and weaknesses.

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