Mix & match, fusion workouts take the “same old” out of exercise.
My task had been set: find the perfect hour-long workout – one that would flatten my stomach, give me Jane Fonda thighs, ballet dancer calves, Secretariat lungs, and upper arms that wouldn’t embarrass me should I go sleeveless. I wanted to relieve stress and lose the dark circles under my eyes. Would it be Pilates? Yoga? Aerobics? Boot camp?
I won’t hold you in suspense. What I discovered is that there is no perfect workout – not for me, not for anyone. So stop looking for perfection. Instead, just get out there and find the activity you enjoy. As Renée Holden, who has a fitness studio in Belfountain, says, “I don’t care what gets you out the door, just get out the door.”
Fortunately, there is a seemingly endless choice of hour-long classes to choose from. As I tried a few, I discovered the trend is toward workouts that fuse several techniques – a smidge of Pilates and a smattering of yoga combined with a dollop of conditioning or dance. Renée says she uses so many techniques in her classes that she doesn’t know what to call them.
First up was ballet barre. I was heartened to learn that we’d all be wearing regular workout togs: tights or yoga pants, a top fitted enough that it doesn’t reveal all if you do a move that requires you to be head down, and running shoes. No tutus or satin slippers, but there would be pliés, pirouettes – and a bar (or “barre,” a nod to ballet’s early development in France).
The ballet barre classes offered by Elise Solway at Serenity Pilates, her beautiful studio near Palgrave, combine a respectable cardio workout with ballet techniques, strength training and Pilates. “Most Pilates studios now offer ballet barre classes,” says Elise. “It’s a good combination.”
What sets ballet barre apart is that while using a ballet bar for balance, you do a lot of small pulses known as isometric movements. In theory, they will give you long, lean Karen Kain muscles. The literature also promises to improve your posture and core strength and enhance your mobility. I don’t doubt that over time, ballet barre workouts do this, but what I liked about the class was best expressed by Elise. She said, “I like to feel my body working. [Ballet barre] is fun and it’s fast.” The class raised my heart rate. I was carried away by the energetic music, and the next day, my butt told me the workout had found some hard-to-work muscles. I believed Elise when she promised that ballet barre “tightens everything, especially your rear end.”
My next experience came about when my friend Chris Eades told me about the Essentrics classes offered by Joanne Manderson at Riverdale Fitness Mill in Inglewood. Chris explained, “It’s a perfect start to the day. My flexibility and balance are better; my posture is better, and I feel more energetic after doing one of Joanne’s classes.”
Essentrics combines tai chi with ballet and physiotherapy. Because it promised to be “perfect for injury recovery and prevention, pain relief, stress release and promoting health,” I was keen to give it a try. Joanne’s Essentrics class mostly involved stretching and strengthening. What it lacked in dynamic pace, it made up for with the best music ever. Used to droning yoga music, I was delighted when Joanne warmed us up to Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Then we stretched our way through Frank Sinatra’s “The Lady Is a Tramp” and the Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Humming, I breezed through the hour.
Joanne explained that the September class I attended was geared toward beginners, many of whom were getting back into their fitness routine after a summer break. Beginner or otherwise, proof that Essentrics works is Joanne herself. “Essentrics helped me lose 26 pounds and regain half an inch in height,” the tall willowy blonde told me.
Fear of pirouettes was nothing compared to my apprehension when I signed up for aerial yoga. Any thought of the workout being a combination of yoga, Pilates and dance all “performed” with the help of a silk hammock was lost in my concern that I’d fall on my head. Who cared if it would decompress my spine?
Trusting Caron Shepley, who has just opened Personal Best Fitness Studio in Mono Mills with her husband Barrie (one of this year’s “Local Heroes”), I discovered that hanging upside down in poses known as an “inverted star” and the “one-legged king pigeon” looks more difficult than it actually is. In fact, it was fun to play acrobat. But it was stretching while cocooned and weightless inside a silk hammock that impressed me most. “You can relax into the poses,” Caron explained. “Less weight equals more stretch.” The class flew by, even though there was no music at all.
Whether pirouettes, Marvin Gaye or visions of Cirque du Soleil energize you, and whether you want a gentle stretch or enjoy a good sweat, there is a class out there for you. But don’t wait for the perfect workout. Just find one that gets you out the door.