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New fusion classes are shaking up the fitness menu

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IRVINE, Calif. - In the old school of health-club exercise, cardiovascular conditioning, strength training and flexibility are like restaurant entrees that you have to order separately, one at a time.

But the new school of fitness says combination platters are hot.

Pilates with yoga. Indoor cycling and weight training. Cardio kickboxing plus tai chi.

It works for music and gourmet cuisine, so why not fitness?

These new fusion classes are shaking up the fitness menu across the country and especially in Southern California, a hotbed for fitness trends.

Blending classes was a natural evolution, given the wider range of class formats available now compared with six years ago, said Pat Ryan, vice president of IDEA, an international association of fitness professionals.

"The teachers love this stuff," she said. "It gives them a chance to go out and explore. They say, 'I'm tired of my usual step class, let me add something to it.' And they're innately gifted on how to fuse different formats."

There are many good reasons to take fusion classes, said Todd Durkin, a spokesman on group exercise for IDEA. "If you have only an hour for exercise, this allows you to sample from the smorgasbord."

These classes enable people to work on more components of fitness, instead of targeting one or two, Durkin said.

We can cross-train without having to eke out another block of time in our busy lives, Ryan added. In the process, our exercise program becomes well-rounded and we can become more fit, she said. And the break from routine may even help reduce our risk of injuries from repetitive motions

The classes are gaining acceptance because exercisers are becoming more open-minded about what they can do in an hour, said Donna Meyer, corporate director for group exercise at 24-Hour Fitness. The traditional one-hour workout typically focused just on one component of fitness: cardiovascular conditioning or strength or flexibility.

Now, exercisers can spend half an hour on cardio and the other half on flexibility or strength without feeling like they're not getting enough of one or the other. Or they might take a class that combines two complementary formats. The chain offers, among others, PiYo, a class that seamlessly meshes Pilates mat movements with yoga asanas.

The classes not only offer longtime exercisers a way to add variety to their workout program, but also an opportunity to try formats they might have not tried before, Meyer said.

Until three months ago, Sam Nam, 35, went to 24-Hour Fitness in Irvine, Calif., only for strength training. But a friend suggested that he take "Shift n' Lift." This class starts with half an hour of studio cycling, followed by about 20 minutes of strength training with barbells and 10 minutes of abs work. Nam tried the class and became hooked on it. He now takes the class three times a week. Although he never intended to lose weight, he said he dropped 10 pounds as a result of taking the class.

"It's been a transformation," Nam said. As he has become more proficient in the class, he has begun to think about the importance of fitness beyond the aesthetic benefits. "I'm looking at a new direction for my workouts and long-term goals such as living a healthy life and feeling great each day."

Twice a week at the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, Calif., guests can take an indoor cycling class combined with yoga for a total of an hour and a half. Instructor Adrienne Mulvaney said she tailors the yoga movements specifically to stretch muscles that have become tight during indoor cycling, such as the hamstrings, back and hips.

The class counts Leisa Cuddy, 43, among its fans. "It's the yin and the yang of exercise," Cuddy said. "I've taken yoga and indoor cycling separately before. I like the combination ... because I usually don't include stretches at the end of my cardio workouts."

Rather than feeling depleted at the end of the class, Cuddy said, she feels "completely renewed."

Group exercise directors say we're going to see a wider range of fusion classes. At the Montage, fitness director Dru Barrios said she and her team of instructors are constantly experimenting with new combinations to offer hotel and spa guests. The ideal mixes are those that combine hard movements with the soft. It's all about balance and complementary exercise. Some of the recent matchups: swimming and pool yoga, Pilates mat class and weight training. Others in the works: boxing and dance as well as hip-hop and salsa.

These types of classes are not going to replace the classics, said Meyer, of 24-Hour Fitness. But exercise buffs are going to have many opportunities for cross-training and improving overall fitness in an efficient way.


(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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