Having trouble sticking to your exercise routine? Choosing an alternative workout could be the answer.
Photos By: Cybelle Codish
Get off work at 5:30 p.m., sit in traffic, let the dog out, scarf down a quick meal. And if your motivation level is high enough, rush to the gym. Sound familiar? If this routine isn't cutting it, maybe it's time to rethink the way you view fitness.
This is the perfect time of year to reset your mind and start a new, healthy version of yourself. But too many of us already have gym memberships that we'll renew, only to show up a handful of times each month.
If you work full time and arrive at the gym after 5 p.m. during the week, chances are you're walking into an over-crowded room with fluorescent lighting, a line to use the treadmill, and additional fees if you want to consult a personal trainer.
While some people thrive in this environment, if you've been questioning whether you're making the most of every workout within the time constraints of your hectic life, or simply looking to throw some variety in your fitness regimen, consider one of several nontraditional workouts.
I sought out alternative workouts in the area to find out what works best (for me at least), and what was the most fun. Then I asked a few experts for their take on the workouts as well — from the nationally known "7-Minute Workout" guru Chris Jordan to Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, the author of Paleo Fitness for Dummies and a nutritionist for the Birmingham Wellness Center.
"Exercise needs to be something you do on a consistent, regular basis, and if you can find variety in your exercise regime, chances are you'll enjoy it more and it will be more engaging — you'll stick with it in the long term," says Jordan, director of Exercise Physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla.
"All of these workouts are potentially more effective because the body is designed to work as a whole, not in isolation," Jordan says. "You can walk into your traditional gym and find a machine for every muscle group, but really the body was designed to have all the muscles working together at the same time, and these exercises are more functional exercises. They get the entire body engaged."
Petrucci agrees. "Steady-state cardiovascular efforts, such as trudging for hours on a treadmill, offer very poor metabolic return," she says. "Your body loves to be surprised. It always responds better to variety."
Indoor Rock Climbing
Planet Rock is a prime example of the growth in the alternative fitness market around metro Detroit, even though the 6,000-square-foot rock climbing gym opened in Pontiac almost 20 years ago. A second location was opened five years later in Ann Arbor at almost twice the size. Now a third climbing gym is being built from the ground up in Madison Heights to replace the Pontiac location.
"The last six years we've seen steady growth, and we've outgrown the Pontiac location. We've stretched it as long as we could here," owner Nick Cocciolone says.
The new climbing gym will be ready in early February at an impressive 20,000 square feet — more than tripling the original space.
You don't need to have experience or even interest in climbing mountains outdoors — the anaerobic exercise is great for any age or skill level, and even conducive for those with disabilities. Planet Rock prides itself on being a supportive community and meeting space for everyone, including those who are blind, deaf, or have autism. Classes are offered for children as young as 3 years old, all the way up to adults.
"You don't have to be a super athlete to do it," Cocciolone says. "It's a good foundation, core sport, similar to gymnastics, because you use your whole body as well as your mind."
All you need to climb is a partner who can be your belayer (the person at the bottom in charge of the rope), but Planet Rock will teach you all the safety practices if you are a beginner, so there's no need to feel intimidated.
I found that I would much rather do an hour of climbing than a few arm repetitions with free weights. Different routes to the top create gradual levels of challenge. It's also fun to try a timed test to see how fast it takes you to get to the top of a wall.
Not only does climbing offer a challenging workout, but it also boosts mental health. It's been proven that the higher you get off the ground, the more focused your train of thought becomes, Cocciolone says.
"Indoor rock climbing is really hard work and it engages the upper body muscles you didn't know you had," Jordan says. "You can meet anyone who claims they are fit and take them rock climbing for the first time and they'll be challenged — it's all about variety."
The new Planet Rock will also offer aerial silks classes, indoor ice climbing, and ninja warrior training elements.
Visit planet-rock.com for more information.
Aerial Silk Fitness
You don't have to join Cirque du Soleil to perform in midair. The art of aerial silks is an approachable, full-body workout. More than just performance art, aerial silks classes focus on building core and upper body strength. With a foundation of strength exercises, performers eventually learn to climb suspended fabric without the use of safety lines, and rely on their training to ensure safety.
When Detroit Flyhouse Circus School began six years ago, there was nothing else like it in the area. Today, the school can be found in Eastern Market and owners Micha Adams and Matt Buss offer a range of classes — including aerial silks that teach foundational circus moves while building life-enhancing skills like self-confidence, responsibility, poise, teamwork, and self-discipline.
I didn't have the time — or the guts — to try this, so I asked Stephanie Daniel, an Hour Detroit production artist, for her take.
"You know how they say you should do one thing a day that scares you?" Daniel asks. "Aerial will most definitely be that one thing, but it's OK to be scared. That just means you're a rational adult — the feeling of overcoming and excelling at something that once scared you is very empowering."
Daniel raves about the aerial classes she takes at Agora Arts, which opened less than a year ago in Ferndale, and offers classes in belly dancing and yoga, as well as voice and music lessons.
Studio owner Pia Bucco is a proud 52-year-old Venezuelan woman who is part of the Flint Symphony and has been a violinist her entire life.
"Aerial is exhilarating. It's fun, and even though it's challenging, there's something about it that makes you want to keep going," Bucco says.
Following her dream and opening the studio that has 15-foot ceilings, Bucco partnered with 28-year-old professional aerialist Irina Laura Cotfas. The excitement and passion for aerial radiate off the two women, who pride themselves on creating a fun class experience, with lots of one-on-one attention. Student performances are held three times a year to showcase their talents while performing aerial acts, playing music, or belly dancing.
Cotfas has traveled the country performing aerial professionally, and initially began her training with a former Cirque du Soleil member six years ago. She has the strong, toned body of a dancer, and as she effortlessly climbs to the top of the silk, it's obvious that aerial proves to be an upper body and core workout to the extreme. The average student can climb to the top by their fourth class, Cotfas says.
"When I started I had absolutely zero upper body strength, I had very little athletic background, I didn't do gymnastics, I wasn't a dancer," Cotfas says. "I just tried it out of the blue and found it to be so challenging I became addicted."
All aerial classes begin on the floor, and every new trick is mastered on the ground before climbing up high, she says.
"It's a lot of stretching, flexibility, holding poses, and displaying poise and inner peace — even though your body is screaming out in pain," Daniel says. "Anyone who has arm strength already has an advantage when learning aerial, but my friend who just had a baby was able to climb those silks in the first class."
If a combination of exercise and performance art sounds right up your alley, another workout to consider is Xtend Barre, which incorporates Pilates and dance.
Xtend Barre Rochester Hills opened in last November as the first Michigan studio to exclusively offer Xtend Barre. The beautiful Tiffany blue studio has tons of natural light and is the pride and joy of studio owner Angie Nobile. Nobile left the corporate world in San Diego to come back to her home state and open the facility because she felt so strongly about the program, she says.
Her friend and the founder of Xtend Barre, Andrea Rogers, is also a Michigan native who has led the program to worldwide popularity with studios in places like Dubai and London. The beauty of Rogers' program is it allows you to get a strong, conditioning, challenging workout, but you also get elements allowing you to feel like a ballerina for an hour.
"Clients will walk into the studio after a few weeks and you just notice that their presence and posture have improved," Rogers says. "They have their shoulders back, and their chest proud, and you can see that their abs are engaged."
With upbeat music and a welcoming atmosphere, classes are limited in size for a fun, full-body workout combining the core strengthening of Pilates with the music, rhythm, and cardio of dance for a unique experience.
"We target the problem areas many women typically face," Nobile says. "We perform a series of exercises called isometrics, and that means we do tiny, targeted, isolated movements to focus on key muscle groups."
After putting Nobile's class to the test for the first time, I walked out incredibly energized and surprised by how challenging the workout was. The class definitely targeted all of what I would consider to be "problem areas", e.g., arms, abdominals, thighs. And someone said I was glowing afterward.
"A workout like this that uses light to moderate intensity with lots of repetitions is what is referred to as strength endurance," Petrucci says. "You will gain tremendous movement efficiency with these exercises and you will fine-tune your nervous system — you get long, lean beautiful muscle with this form of exercise."
Xtend Barre classes can also be found seven days a week in Bloomfield Hills at Equilibrium Pilates Studio.
Train Like a Division 1 Athlete
Walking into Bloomfield Tennis & Fitness, you might not guess that there is a professional turf field in back where you can get the workout of a lifetime.
This was the hardest workout I have tried in a long time; it pushed me to my aerobic threshold, in a good way. The experience was challenging to say the least, but walking away I was impressed with how much you can accomplish in one short class.
"Every workout, regardless if you're working to be in the Olympics, play professional football, or just get out and burn calories, starts with a dynamic warm-up," owner Zach Goetz says. "We want to treat everyone like we would treat a Division 1 athlete."
The D1 facility is huge — and workouts will never be the same. Whether it's one of their group boot camp classes, or a personal training session, the trainers here act more like coaches. You will feel as if you're training for a big soccer game with the level of intensity they bring to each workout. There will be speed, agility, conditioning, weight-lifting, core, and flexibility training. You might even push a giant wooden box or find yourself running to the 50-yard line and back.
It's intense, to say the least, but extremely exhilarating. A combination of circuit training and CrossFit-like exercises will work your body in ways you probably would never be able to accomplish without the help of a D1 professional.
"Our muscles are made up of both slow-twitch fibers [for endurance], and fast-twitch fibers [for short, explosive bouts]," Petrucci says. "These types of workouts focus on the fast twitch for explosive movements — a big benefit is that these more explosive movements give you a very high return for your time."
When Goetz was asked what he would tell people who are intimidated by this type of training he says, don't be.
"We have guys that are 55 years old and who've never worked out. We have 23-year-old women who are probably ready to run a triathlon. We have 58-year-old women playing tennis next door with bad knees, bad hips, bad backs. And then we have 30- to 40-year-old men, who are big, strong, physical, and intimidating looking — but they all come together in the same class," he says.
Visit d1detroit.com for more information.
BOYO: Bringing Boxing and Yoga Together
"You have everything it takes, but it will take everything you've got," is the saying painted on the wall of Jabs Gym in Birmingham.
At first glance, the two entrepreneurs who run this place seem to have nothing in common, but they couldn't be more alike. David Tessler is a white, professional yoga instructor who mastered the art on a retreat to Belize. He met Willie James Fortune about 3 1/2 years ago. Fortune is a black, professional boxer whose record is 17-1 and can be seen fighting on pay-per-view and Showtime.
Tessler had always loved the sport of boxing and was looking to up his training. Fortune started including yoga into his fight prep, too. In a short time the two realized they complement each other quite well. They are both hard-working, caring, and passionate guys who created a unique workout — BOYO, a combination of boxing and yoga. There's no other workout like it, and you can find it exclusively in Michigan.
"Before there was a business relationship, we were already bettering ourselves with the core concepts of BOYO," Fortune says. "It was a very give and take relationship, which is very rare to find."
Jabs Gym opened less than a year ago and has already expanded once, from 3,500 square feet to just under 4,500 square feet. Although the word "gym" is in the name, it's not your average gym.
Music plays loudly overhead at my first meeting with the pair. I have no idea what to expect, and I begin to laugh, thinking they are joking as they have me strap on gloves and climb into the ring for a one-on-one introduction to boxing. After climbing out of the ring, Tessler leads me in a cool-down with classic yoga moves, and I find myself unable to hide a grin from all the fun I had.
Then we move to a dark group classroom, where BOYO takes place. The room has black lights, punching bags, no mirrors, no clocks, and fits no more than 31 people. BOYO incorporates about 40 minutes of boxing and 30 minutes of yoga for a really unique workout that I've found myself addicted to.
"We try to set it up more to imitate an actual boxing fight, and everything is set to rounds," Tessler says. "So you do an ab warm-up or light yoga warm-up, then we go into the boxing and we do eight, three-minute rounds, with one minute in between where we will do core work, squats, or yoga poses with the gloves on. Then the punching bags are able to be moved to the side and people grab their yoga mats and we do a half-hour of Vinyasa yoga."
Jabs Gym is all about getting people into their own zone, and their trainers all have memorable personalities. The kicker? They are genuinely really personable people who make you want to come back for more.
In regards to one of their popular trainers named ICE, former Hour Media staffer Jessica Decker says, "He's like a giant, ass-kicking teddy bear."
"You get lost in the music and the black lights, and you are coming in, creating your own space and working in your own zone," Tessler says. "We have boxers who never thought they would do yoga before, and people hitting the bag who never knew they had it inside of them to hit something, it goes both ways."
Boxing gets a bad reputation, but there's a difference between learning how to box, and learning the art of boxing, Fortune says.
"You apply this to your life, you go through things and sometimes you just want to hit something, but the real life factor is you can't hit everything, you have to deal with it on the inside — we are about making life champions before ring champions," Fortune says.
"Boxing is the greatest workout known to man," Fortune says. "To give people the boxing workout which targets repetition, high cardiovascular, and strength training all in one, and it's in a fun setting, then it boosts confidence, and teaches you a sense of discipline, and self-defense."
Visit jabsgym.com for more information.
For those who claim to have no time to attend a class or aren't interested in any of the workouts suggested, Jordan recommends his well-known "7-Minute Workout," which he designed for those with limited time in the corporate world. It was first published in the American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal, but it has been picked up by many media outlets, including the New York Times and ABC News.
Jordan emphasizes that no equipment is needed for an effective workout, and his idea utilizes 12 exercises using only body weight, a chair, and a wall by doing repetitions of exercises like jumping jacks, wall sits, push-ups, squats, and more.
By incorporating high-intensity circuit training with short rest periods, it can help you lose more fat than traditional resistance training — high-intensity workouts release greater levels of the fat-burning human growth hormone immediately after exercise.
At the end of the day, don't be afraid to try something new, whether it be playing in the air at Agora Arts or letting off steam and punching a bag at Jabs Gym.
"Many people face boredom and burnout, and trying something new is an opportunity to challenge yourself," Jordan says. "And to accomplish something new is even more exciting and gives you a great sense of achievement and instinct to repeatedly do that new workout and master it."