Whipping into Shape with New Fusion Workouts

If you demand a little more from your workouts than just exercise, get up from that plank and take a look at an exciting new world beyond your sticky mat

Credit: Ken G. Stewart: The Kirk Group

Anti-gravity yoga takes yoga off the mat and into the air

Bar method, anti-gravity yoga, circus school…this is a golden age of innovative and inspiring fusion-style workouts designed to kick your body into shape

If you’re like me and get bored easily with traditional gym-based workouts, you probably need to find something that occupies the mind just as much the body. The exercises below all demand a degree of concentration so great that I guarantee that time will fly. Admittedly, my thoughts were along the lines of, “Please don’t let me fall… How much longer is this?” But that’s beside the point.

The point of these exercises is that they’re challenging, fun and incredibly effective. If ever there was joy to be found in exercising, it would be through these classes. They look deceptively easy – downright graceful – but require a level of strength and skill I absolutely do not have. Most reduced me to a quivering heap within minutes of starting, but I never did fall and I always finished what I started, which was in itself a great accomplishment.

Don’t snicker. I’m not an Olympic athlete, but I’m no couch potato either. If you’ve not tried any of these specific activities, go in with a limber body, an open mind and get ready to be humbled. No matter if you’ve done a million hundreds, lunged the distance across the Straight of Georgia or easily deadlift-ed your own body weight – make no mistake – these exercises will challenge you!

But unequivocally, they’ll be the most fun you’ve had exercising since you were last on a playground at recess.

Bar Method

Photo: Melissa GidneyStretch & strengthen at the bar  /  IMAGE: Melissa Gidney

The Bar Method is a cross-disciplinary technique based on the principles of yoga, ballet and Pilates. Sounds pretty, but it’s actually a gruelling targeted body-sculpting workout that will have your muscles quivering in the warm-up alone.

The shaking is perfectly normal and actually desirable, explains Carolyn Williams, owner of the Vancouver Bar Method studio. “We take the muscles to their most contracted form to fatigue them, and then quickly stretch them out.” This technique produces long, tapered muscles with great definition. In fact, practitioners of the Bar Method have a signature lean, toned body including what is affectionately known as the “Bar Bum.”

Every movement in the jam-packed hour-long class was designed by a physiotherapist, and every instructor has gone through an exhaustive, lengthy training program, so you’re in capable hands. In fact, the attention to precise movements in the Bar Method demands that instructors are constantly watching students, offering hands-on corrections and kind words of encouragement (have I mentioned it’s really hard?). 

And if you work hard and breathe hard, one class can burn upwards of 400 calories.

Anti-gravity Yoga

Photo: Ken G. Stewart, The Kirk GroupGrace through strength & flexibility while suspended in the air  /  IMAGE: Ken G. Stewart, The Kirk Group

Don’t be fooled by words like “relaxing cocoon,” “silk hammocks,” or “toxin release.” Anti-gravity yoga is no nap in a hammock. In fact, think of it more has a harness than a haven. This workout is amazing for flexibility, lower back pain issues, upper body strength and core strength.

It’s not long after class begins that your feet leave the ground. Have faith in your instructor, have faith in your harness (they’ll hold up to 100kg) and have faith that your body will fall into each pose you’re led through. It’s a little like human origami: the instructor tells you how to fold or scrunch or hold the silk, then tells you how to bend your arms, legs, body, and then you unfurl – usually upside down – into position. Voila!

Despite the way it sounds and looks, Rebecca Gehriger, group fitness supervisor and anti-gravity yoga instructor at the Vancouver downtown Steve Nash Sports Club reassures that, “it’s safer than a regular yoga class.”

Anti-gravity yoga can actually help people with back pain issues. “The inversions stimulate the lymphatic system and help flush out toxins,” Rebecca explains. She herself has scoliosis, which was helped greatly by anti-gravity yoga. “When you’re upside down, the spine elongates, creating a space between each vertebrae.”

The key is to work with gravity and to go at your own pace. There’s always a spotter in the room so if you’re feeling lost, just stop and someone will be over to provide assistance. Finish a class and you’ll have burned upwards of 600 calories.

Urban Rebounding

Bust out your old mini-trampoline and rename it the urban rebound / Flickr

If you loved the trampoline as a kid, then this is for you. Now rebranded with a city-slick name and a sleek, modern look, Urban Rebounding has brought the mini trampoline back in a fierce way.

Indoor and outdoor classes are springing up everywhere, and people are keen for a fun, new low-impact cardio workout. You’ll obviously get a great workout for your legs and strengthen your ankles, but the new and improved rebounding classes are designed to give you a full-body workout.

Instructors are careful to intersperse exercises such as crunches, reverse pushups and even the dreaded (but oh-so-effective) plank. Drawing on inspiration from dance, martial arts and gymnastics, many of the steps in urban rebounding are choreographed, which also helps to improve overall coordination.

Remember to drive your knees down into the trampoline and to breathe. And in an hour you’ll have burned up to 300 calories.

Circus School

Now you don’t have to run away to join the circus / Flickr

When Cirque du Soleil exploded onto the entertainment scene in 1984, people everywhere were re-inspired to runaway to join the circus as adults. Circus schools have since popped up all over North America to cater to those hungry for a challenge that combines both physical prowess and artistic mastery.

Classes include performers of all ages (from pre-teens to seniors) and abilities, and many schools have special camps specifically for children. It’s a great way to expend a lot of excess energy, but this may not be for all kids. While it’s a lot of fun, serious circus training is disciplined work that requires concentration and dedication, especially if you want to advance.

Many schools will offer classes in the basic arts: aerial skills, swinging trapeze, static trapeze, trampoline and acrobalance.

Expect to get a fully body workout, with more advanced students achieving a sustained cardio workout. You’ll also improve your coordination, core strength, balance and even concentration. But do expect your fair share of callouses, bruises and bumps along the way as well.

Paddle Board Yoga

Paddleboarding upright not enough of a challenge? Then do it upside-down! / Flickr

Perhaps one of the more deceptively simple exercises to emerge recently is paddle board yoga. That’s right: paddle boarding + yoga… on the open water.

If you’re the type of person who’s obsessed with form and laps up corrections, you’ll love this because if your centre’s off or your body alignment isn’t in perfect harmony, you’ll hit the drink faster than you can say “Namaste.”

Alisen Stewart-Milne, personal fitness trainer and Iyengar-certified instructor has been practicing this form for the past few summers out at Deep Cove in North Vancouver. It was a spontaneous and natural combination of the two, since she was already paddle-boarding. It began first with planking and downward dog, then progressed to sun salutations and she’s currently working her way to a headstand.

“The nice thing about playing around with postures [on the water] is that it definitely makes you find your centre and use your core to shift from posture to posture, from four points to three points and back,” she reflects.

While it’s incredibly hard work and will definitely improve your balance, core strength, concentration and endurance, don’t think this will help you achieve yogi-status. If anything, it’s helped Stewart-Milne more with her paddle boarding than her yoga practice. “It’s really fun, but it’s not yoga with intention,” she explains. “It’s just another way to have fun and be outside in BC.”

You can follow in Alisen’s footsteps and try this on your own, but courses are also offered generally wherever you find paddle boards rentals.

Catherine Tse is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver. From the Great Wall of China to Sydney’s Opera House to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, Catherine loves an adventure and loves to share them with her readers.