No Sweat

The latest regimens aren't meant to break your spirit. Now exercise is about feeling good.

Focus On Fitness

January 07, 2001|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,Special to the Sun

Fitness in the '80s was about power and pumping -- feeling the burn. In the '90s, working out meant six-pack abs and getting tough. But for the millennium, it's all about sanity, according to fitness authority Liz Neporent.

The new exercise trends for 2001 reflect a need to go internal. "It's almost anti-sweat," says Neporent, author of "Fitness for Dummies." "It's about feeling better and getting in touch with yourself."

Fitness, in other words, is getting warm and fuzzy. Here's what to look for this year:

Trends for 2001

What's in:

Water tai chi and water aerobics

Cyber trainers

Radical Aerobics - classes with a circus, wrestling, belly-dance or Latin theme

Outdoor fitness and adventure programs

On the ice

A lot of people are tired of going to the gym. Rather than shaving off those calories by slogging through workouts on the StairMaster, they're hitting the ice.

"I don't think you notice you're exercising, and dance is just so much more fun than plain toning," says 49-year-old Perry Hall resident Joan Miller. Following her childhood desire to skate, Miller started ice dancing in her 30s, and heads to the Northwest Ice Rink in Mount Washington once a week for a lesson and practice session. Now, she even performs in exhibitions.

More adults are signing up for classes, says Miller's skating teacher, Lisa Vaughan. After they master the basics, they're off and running doing spins and jumps.

Cyber trainers

The spiritual movement is sweeping through athletic clubs, but so is the Cyber Age. New hand-held cyber trainers, like Intel's Vivonic Fitness Planner ($199, or $50 for software compatible with Palm units; www.vivonic.com) and Physical Genius' Fitness Trainer ($169; www.physicalgenius. com), are a smart substitute for those who find flesh-and-blood trainers too expensive.

Choose and customize workouts on your PC or through partner Web sites. Then, download the information into the palm-sized device, and at the gym your cyber trainer directs you through your workout, advising you on duration, rest periods, number of repetitions, etc. Back home, upload the information to your PC and produce charts of your progress.

Add an extra $10 a month to your membership at the Maryland Athletic Club, and you can use its Fitlinxx cyber trainer system. Personal trainers program a prescribed fitness plan into the system. At each machine, members punch in a code, and the machine tells them how many repetitions to do, at what weight and then where to go next.

The New Aerobics

First, don't call them aerobics classes. Call them "group fitness classes." And the kickboxing phenomenon is over. "Box aerobics? It's all gone," says Meadow Mill Athletic Club's fitness director Shelley Sehnert. "We had only one class for about six months, and nobody complained."

Group equipment classes are now the vogue. It's Stomp classes on the StairMaster and Trekking on the treadmill, along with rowing and Spinning classes.

Teachers also are searching for new ways to keep classes fresh. At the Downtown Athletic Club in Baltimore, Marissa Muro teaches a body-sculpting class called "Up the Drama." She starts with African dance music for a warm-up, moves into techno, adds a show tune like "Cabaret" or a Strauss waltz to mix it up, and ends with a jazz ballad or a Barbra Streisand song.

"It's like a show here on Tuesday nights," she says.

Starting this month, she'll have two percussionists beating out Afro-Cuban rhythms on conga drums to keep her class energized.

Court time

Gone are the days of Buns of Steel blondies and their rippling Adonis counterparts. In the millennium gym, you must prove yourself smart and clever.

Squash, anyone?

The ideal squash player is not big, buff or dauntingly strong, but efficient and cunning. What the squash player is working out along with his heart is his brain.

"It becomes quite creative. There's a real sense of strategy," says Frank Cushman, squash pro and owner of Meadow Mill Athletic Club in Hampden, which is seeing a surge in squash playing.

Legend has it that boys at England's Harrow School in the 19th century fine-tuned a game invented in British prisons called "rackets." The boys found that puncturing a rackets ball made for a greater variety of shots and a more difficult game, and squash soon became a hit in Britain and Australia.

The sport never really took off in America, until now, as racquetball courts are losing their players to squash across the country, says Cushman.

"Racquetball is a power play, you have to blast it," says his wife, Nancy. But working with a smaller, less bouncy ball and a smaller court, "squash involves a little more finesse. ... People say it's like the difference between chess and checkers."

Look to the East

The big takeover is by yoga, tai chi and their American counterpart, Pilates. And for good reason. People hurt.

"It's a reaction to all the pumping and pounding we were doing over the past several decades," says Liz Neporent. "People are saying, 'I'm tired, my body's had enough. I need ... a break.' "

At the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium, aquatic tai chi classes put students into a warm-water pool for 45 minutes of exercises. "It relaxes you," says club owner Liz Rhode

Pilates, devised in the 1920s by Joseph Pilates, is gaining in popularity. It is commonly taught as a series of controlled movements done either on the floor in mat classes, or on equipment such as the Reformer -- a bed-like contraption with pulleys. Professional dancers and celebrities have flocked to Pilates, praising its ability to create long, lean, powerful muscles and improve flexibility.

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