- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

In the past couple of decades, it's been relatively easy to pinpoint the most popular group fitness trend. After a few years of high-impact aerobics came Step, which showed up on the fitness scene about 15 years ago.
Step, in which each class member uses a bench to step up and down in combinations to increase the heart rate, took gym goers by storm and became an overnight superstar with large followings at all fitness levels.
Today, no single form of group exercise dominates. Most American gyms still offer Step, but other forms of group exercise such as Latin dance, boxing and Pilates, an exercise form that strengthens the torso — share the schedule with the old faithful.
In group fitness — instead of having one dominating fitness trend — three defined areas are grabbing the attention of gym goers: the athletic workouts, the dance versions and the mind-body classes.
"Things have become so diverse. We have over 100 formats," says Lisa Hufcut, director of group fitness for the New York-based Town Sports International, which owns more than 100 gyms on the East Coast with more than 250,000 members. In the Virginia-Maryland-District area, the company owns the 13, soon-to-be 15, Washington Sports Clubs branches.
"With so many choices, nothing that is introduced is going to have as much dominance as Step once had," Ms. Hufcut says.
Trends in the fitness world seem to follow the evolution of trends elsewhere. In television's adolescence, for example, there were a few shows that everyone seemed to tune to, including "The Ed Sullivan Show" and the "Texaco Star Theater Show." Now there are so many shows — including cable — that it's difficult, if not impossible, for anything to dominate.
"It's sort of interesting that the same people like Spinning on the one hand and yoga on the other. The intensity level is so different," says Robert Teri, area director for the Washington Sports Clubs in the District. Spinning is a group exercise class using stationary bicycles.
The athletic workouts, which are experiencing a surge in popularity, include Spinning, boot camp, cardio-boxing (a series of punches and kicks set to music and arranged with some choreography) and classes in which weights are used, such as Body Pump or total body conditioning.
All-athletic workouts focus on either raising the heart rate or building strength, or both, and de-emphasize choreography, with which Step traditionally is jam-packed.
At the Washington Sports Clubs in the District, athletic classes are a top commodity, Mr. Teri says. The club offers 19 cycling (or Spinning) classes every week, outnumbering Step by far.
This fall Mr. Teri is adding boot camp classes and super-cycling classes (which extend the 40-minute class to an hour). Another popular class is the running camp. Participants meet at 6 a.m. for an extended run outside. Mr. Teri says he's adding one more running camp because "that's what the members want."
Among popular dance classes is Latin Groove, which Andres Ocando, a full-time aerobics instructor originally from Vene-zuela, teaches.
"It's my favorite class," Mr. Ocando says after finishing 11/2 hours of teaching an abdominals class and a power dance Step class at the Dupont Circle branch of Washington Sports Clubs.
"The members love it — the hard part is teaching the shimmy," he says with a laugh. "Some people have a hard time moving just the shoulders and not the hips."

While Spinning and other athletic classes are booming, the other end of the fitness spectrum — the mind-body class — is also becoming increasingly popular at area clubs. Both the Washington Sports Clubs and the YMCA are adding more yoga to the fall schedule.
"What are we adding? Well that would be yoga and yoga and yoga," says Melanie Lupton, general manager at the Dupont Circle branch of the Washington Sports Clubs.
Yoga — of course — is not new on the scene, but lately it's experienced a renaissance.
"I think it's popular because the celebrities are doing it," says Keli Roberts, a fitness instructor to movie stars and pop divas in Los Angeles. Ms. Roberts has made several video tapes and written books on fitness and among her students have been Cher, Jennifer Jason Lee and Faye Dunaway.
"Yoga is popular because people like Madonna do it," Ms. Roberts says.
She also attributes the mind-body renaissance to the demographics of gym goers. The baby boomers are getting older.
"People who have been exercising for a while now are aging. And we're paying with bad knees and shoulders," Ms. Roberts says.
"Yoga and Pilates feel good on your body," she says. "I am certain there is going to be a continuum of this mind-body track."
Another mind-body class is Pilates, which strengthens the trunk of the body.
At the National Capital YMCA in Northwest, mind-body classes take up at least a third of the schedule, and group fitness coordinator Gia-Ninh Chuang is planning to add some more this fall.
"We have found that people want to add flexibility training into their routine because that's what they usually neglect," Mr. Chuang says.
"I think part of the popularity is that people are realizing that if they just put focus on one aspect of their fitness, other things may be neglected," he says. "A lot of people are saying 'I'm not here just to get washboard abs, I'm here to get stronger and healthier,' "
Mr. Chuang is adding a SynergyDance class this fall. The class combines dance with "spirit-recharging" movement, he says.
"I think the fusion classes, like SynergyDance, are the future. I think pretty soon they will start flooding the market," he says.

When gym goers return to their respective health club this fall after a summer hiatus, it's possible more classes will stare at them from the wall-posted schedule than ever before. It seems it could be a difficult choice for the indecisive, the person who has a hard time deciding on one among a dozen different brands of toothpastes in the grocery store.
But on the contrary, both members and instructors seem to like the variety.
"I don't think people are overwhelmed by it, and some people just like to try new things," says Mr. Teri, who has been an instructor for 23 years. It also prevents burnout among the instructors, he says.
Full-time instructors actually benefit from the variety of classes. While they have to spend more money and time on getting certified in the different formats, they now have the luxury of taking a break from the high-heart-rate classes like Spinning and kickboxing by teaching yoga and Pilates.
"Cross training is very important," says Mary Anne Dolbeare, who teaches up to 10 different formats at the Washington Sports Clubs. "As long as people are creative and the different exercise forms are developed in a safe manner, I think the number of choices is good."
Meredith Dahl, of Northwest, is a telling example of today's gym goer. She cross-trains and has an appetite for exercise forms on both ends of the energy spectrum. While sitting on a mat at the Dupont Circle gym, waiting for her classic stretching class to begin, she says, as if on cue, that her favorites are Spinning and yoga.
"Spinning is the just the best workout out there right now, and yoga is a way to relax," Ms. Dahl says.


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