10 Fitness Classes to Try Now

Bored with your regular workout? Try one of these alternatives—from tabata to barre to aerial yoga.

When it comes to working out, we’re creatures of habit. Whether it’s a daily jog, a weekly yoga class, a team sport or dutiful visits to the gym, we tend to find something we like (or don’t loathe) and stick with it. And while doing something on a regular basis is certainly better than doing nothing, experts ranging from personal trainers to physical therapists note that repeating the same type of workout over and over is not as beneficial as mixing things up. Adding variety to your routine challenges your body and mind, and keeps your muscles from adapting to any one type of exercise.

With so many fitness options in the area, there’s no excuse not to try something new. But it can be intimidating to show up for that first class, unsure of what to expect. So I did it for you this summer, testing out 10 of the trendiest new workouts at local studios in Arlington, McLean and Falls Church.

For reference, I’m a 40-year-old single mom of two elementary-schoolers, and I work full time, so I know how hard it is to make time for exercise. Still, I manage to get to a barre class a few times a week and I do yoga once a week. I’d consider myself moderately fit, but I’m no marathoner!

Unless otherwise noted, all you’ll need for the classes that follow are comfortable clothes, athletic shoes and a water bottle. Many studios offer discounts for new clients (several even offer a free class or two), making it more affordable to sample different options. You may be surprised by what you end up enjoying. I know I was, and I’ve already added a few of these to my regular routine.

OUTDOOR BOOT CAMP

Where to try it: Body by Ginny, bodybyginny.com
Locations: Parks and schools in Arlington, McLean and Falls Church
Cost: $18 per class; monthly unlimited plans available
Level: Beginner to advanced

Personal trainer and Arlington resident Ginny Wright started Body by Ginny 13 years ago, and many of her original clients still show up several times a week for her popular outdoor fitness classes, which meet in rain, snow and on the steamiest days of the year. The class I attended was in Madison Manor Park, near the East Falls Church Metro.

While the weather that day was as grueling as the workout (picture 60 minutes of cardio with light jogging, lots of jumping jacks and skipping rope, plus free weights and core conditioning like sit-ups and planks, in 90-degree heat), Ginny was warm and enthusiastic, and the two dozen attendees—mostly women, a few men—cheered each other on.

Clients range widely in age, from 20-somethings to septuagenarians, and Ginny offers modifications to cater to every fitness level. A beginner will find the program challenging, but not impossible.

This is an ideal workout for those looking to break out of the gym and enjoy the outdoors. The relaxed format and camaraderie also make it a great way to meet new people. With classes offered as early as 5:30 a.m. in multiple locations, there’s bound to be an option for nearly everyone.

You’ll need a thick yoga mat and a set of 5-8 lb. weights. Classes meet in parks and schools (with indoor alternatives for inclement weather), so bathroom facilities may not always be available.

 

EXTREME PILATES


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Where to try it: Solidcore, solidcore.co
Locations: Ballston, Mosaic District
Cost: $25-$37 per class; monthly unlimited plans available
Level: Advanced

When I heard that famously fit Michelle Obama was a devotee of Solidcore—which Yelp reviewers have called “torture,” “humbling” and “insanely challenging”—I was nervous. I didn’t feel any better when I saw the MegaFormer, an intimidating machine that looks like a weight-lifting bench on steroids, with a movable platform in the center and two stationary platforms at either end.

Thankfully, Jacob and Alex at the Ballston location were more reassuring. Jacob showed me around the studio, while Alex introduced me to the MegaFormer and outlined what to expect.

The 50-minute class, which is based on the Lagree Fitness Method, consists of a series of slow, controlled movements, ranging from lunges to crunches to planks, all using the moving platform to work the core. Alex was hands-on, correcting my form and helping me into the sometimes confusing positions. It’s a small studio and there is no slacking. Alex knew the names of all 13 class participants and shouted out constant cues and encouragement.

This workout is definitely not for beginners, but it’s a great option for fitness buffs who are craving something new and different. Because there’s a steep learning curve with the MegaFormer, I recommend committing to at least three classes before deciding whether Solidcore is for you. (Though not required for newcomers, the “Solidcore 101” class is a more approachable introduction to the workout and the MegaFormer.)

Most people go barefoot, but you can opt for grippy socks if you prefer. Towels are provided, and there are large restrooms where you can change.

 

INDOOR CYCLING


Photo by Lisa Helfert

Where to try it: Zengo Cycle, zengocycle.com
Location: Mosaic District
Cost: $17-$22 per class
Level: Beginner to advanced

Zengo Cycle is part of a new generation of spin classes that combine cardio, free weights, crunches and dance-inspired choreography. Zengo founder Marc Caputo, who opened his first cycling studio in Bethesda in 2011, envisions his program as a “full-body escape, far away from [our] plugged-in, high-stakes world.”

Even if you have done spin classes before, you’ll want a tutorial from the knowledgeable staff. They set up my bike, showed me how to clip my shoes into the pedals and provided a gel-filled seat cover (trust me, you’ll be thankful for it).

Instructor Cassidy introduced herself to the first-timers and explained the hand positions we’d use throughout the 50-minute class. Then the lights went down, the loud club music went up and we started pedaling.

Cassidy’s cues were easy to follow, and while she often encouraged us to add resistance to get our hearts racing, it’s up to the rider to customize the pace and level of difficulty. Self-regulation makes it easy to adapt the class to your fitness level, but it also means you have to push yourself. In the dark, crowded studio, no one is going to notice if you ease up.

Couch potatoes will find Zengo exhausting but doable, while experienced riders have plenty of options to boost the difficulty level.

The studio provides showers, lockers and towels. You’ll need clip-in cycling shoes. You can bring your own or rent them for $3 per class.

AQUAZUMBA


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Where to try it: 24 Hour Fitness, 24hourfitness.com
Locations: Falls Church, McLean
Cost: Monthly memberships run $35-$48
Level: Beginner to moderate

As a kid, I once accompanied my grandmother to her water aerobics class, where the ladies used pairs of empty bleach bottles as weights and the class consisted of a lot of kicks.

AquaZumba aims to revolutionize old-school water aerobics by adapting the popular dance-based Zumba class for the pool. While some elements are similar—I was still the youngest person in the group, and we used foam dumbbells in place of Clorox empties—the workout itself is a lot more fun and energetic. My classmates were all regulars and went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

We warmed up to “Proud Mary,” following along as our instructor, Elvie, danced on the pool deck, then moved on to a mix of oldies and newer hits like “Uptown Funk,” which was clearly a favorite. The moves are easy to follow, but I was still grateful that, in the water, no one can see if you’re off a beat. For the last three songs, we used the foam weights to increase the challenge.

Regular exercisers are likely to find this workout too easy, but AquaZumba is ideal for someone who is just starting to get fit or for those with joint pain or who are recovering from injuries.

24 Hour Fitness offers a large locker room with showers, a sauna and steam room, child care and a variety of other classes and workout equipment. All you need is a swimsuit; towels are provided.

 

AERIAL YOGA


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Where to try it: Spark Yoga, sparkyoga.com
Location: Lyon Park
Cost: $25-$30 per class
Level: Beginner to advanced

This was the class I was most excited to try, and it didn’t disappoint. Aerial yoga is easily the most fun I’ve had while exercising in years.

I’ve taken many yoga classes, but I was just as unsure about how to use the hammock—a wide swath of silky fabric suspended from the ceiling—as everyone else in the Aerial Basics class (required for first-timers). Our instructor, Diana, made certain each person’s hammock was at the right height and offered clear instructions during the 75-minute session.

We cycled through a number of poses, from the familiar (down dog and tree pose) to the more exotic (my favorite, gazelle, is kind of like an upside-down dancer’s pose). Some poses, like down dog, are done from a standing position, using the hammock for support, while others, like gazelle, are done while suspended about two feet from the floor. With such a small group (all aerial classes are limited to seven), Diana had no trouble spotting anyone who needed an extra safeguard. At the end, we did the traditional savasana rest pose in our hammocks while Diana gently rocked us. Pure bliss.

Because so much time is spent on setup and explanations, the Basics class isn’t an intense workout, but aspiring aerialists can move on to the regular Aerial class, which I found comparable to a traditional flow class.

Experienced students can move up to Aerial II, which will challenge even the most avid yogi.

You don’t need to bring anything—classes are done barefoot, and you don’t need a mat. Lockers and changing areas are available.

TABATA


Photo by Lisa Helfert

Where to try it: The Energy Club, theenergyclub.com
Location: Shirlington
Cost: Monthly memberships run $49-$80
Level: Moderate to advanced

I arrived late, dreading the stares as I snuck into class. Imagine my surprise when, instead of meandering my way through rows of exercise equipment, I was led to the top of a five-level parking garage, where at least 50 people were warming up to pulsating club music.

I got settled just in time to start the core of the class—three sets of 14 exercises that alternate between cardio (such as burpees, a move that combines a pushup with a jump) and strength (pushups, planks and crunches).

Each exercise lasts just 60 seconds, which can feel longer than it sounds. I was grateful when instructor Matt shouted alternatives, including a very welcome “Hate burpees? Do jumping jacks!”

The staff describe Matt as a “star” trainer, and it’s easy to see why his classes are so popular. Despite the crowd, he kept an eye on all of us, shouting encouragements to regulars by name and making sure newbies had good form.

By the third set, I was tired, although my form was better than in the first sets. Tabata (which is named for its inventor, Japanese physician and researcher Izumi Tabata) is a difficult workout, but the vibe is fun and social. I even ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since high school.

A yoga mat isn’t required, but it does provide a helpful cushion on the concrete (as an alternative, the club provides towels; if you go this route, grab three or four and layer them). Classes are held inside when the weather is rainy or cold. The Energy Club is a full-service gym, with changing areas, lockers and a wide range of other offerings.

 

INTERVAL TRAINING


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Where to try it: Orangetheory Fitness, orangetheoryfitness.com
Locations: Ballston, Rosslyn,Falls Church
Cost: $17-$30; monthly unlimited plans available
Level: Beginner to advanced

I could tell Orange-theory was going to be different from the standard cardio workout as soon as I strapped the provided heart-rate monitor across my chest. Instantly, my name appeared on a big screen, along with my heart rate.

Julie, a trainer in the Rosslyn studio, explained that my goal was to log 12-20 minutes in the orange zone (84-92 percent of my maximum heart rate) during the 60-minute class, half of which is spent on the treadmill, while the rest is split between free weights and a rowing machine.

Once class started, I became obsessed with hitting the elusive orange zone, pushing myself to work harder. (Although you can see everyone’s results on the screen, they aren’t ranked and you’re competing only against yourself.)

Throughout the class, we alternated intervals of all-out effort with rest periods. This formula creates an “afterburn effect” that torches calories long after class is over, according to Mark Steverson, who owns both Orangetheory franchise locations in Arlington.

Watching the results on the big screen gave the session a bit of a video- game vibe, and the difficult workout went by quickly. (Especially motivating is watching your calorie count rise—I burned 586 calories.) Every element is adaptable for all fitness levels, meaning you choose how hard to row, which weights to use and which program to follow on the treadmill (power walker, jogger or runner). I dislike running, so I opted for “power walker” and easily hit my target rate.

All you need is a towel. Orange-theory offers showers and large bathrooms for changing.

BARRE


Photo by Jonathan Thorpe

Where to try it: Lava Barre, lavabarre.com
Location: Rosslyn
Cost: $24-$30 per class; monthly unlimited plans available
Level: Beginner to moderate

Lava Barre feels more like a spa than a fitness club. In addition to its three studios—which are used for a variety of classes, from spin to yoga to TRX and, of course, its namesake barre class—it offers a spacious lounge, locker rooms with showers and a child care area.

Many people are hesitant to try barre, assuming that they need a dance background or at least a reasonable level of coordination. I assure you, I have neither, and barre is one of my favorite workouts. Loosely based on ballet, it combines dance-inspired exercises like pliés, arabesques and relevés with planks, push-ups, crunches and hand weights for full-body strength building.

Every barre studio takes a slightly different approach. Lava Barre’s version is light on cardio, but the challenging lower body and ab exercises make for a great workout. Instructor Lauren’s cues were easy to follow over the catchy dance music, and she was very attentive in ensuring that the eight women in the class had the correct form. In keeping with the spa atmosphere, Lauren handed out cool, mint-scented towels at the end of class.

This workout is low-impact, and the exercises can be modified for most fitness levels, although a complete beginner will definitely be sore the next day. Barre is an excellent complement to a cardio-heavy regimen like running.

All you need are the required grippy socks, which can be purchased at the studio.

 

BELLY DANCING


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Where to try it: Saffron Dance, saffrondance.com
Location: Clarendon
Cost: $200 for 10-class session
Level: Beginner to advanced

If you hate the gym and are wary of hard-core programs like CrossFit, belly dancing might be for you. It’s a fun way for people of all ages and body types to get in shape that offers all the benefits of exercise with none of the intensity or competiveness. And while belly dancing may sound exotic, anyone who’s taken barre, Zumba or another dance-influenced class will feel comfortable in Saffron’s Shimmy Shakedown fitness course.

During the hour-long session, our instructor, Dona, combined core-tightening belly-dance moves with traditional strength exercises like planks and crunches, hand weights for upper-body toning, and yoga poses to ensure we got a full-body workout. The fast-paced dance steps, set to traditional belly-dancing music, add a strong cardio element to the class.

As a newcomer, I found the signature belly dance “shimmy” (the proverbial hip-shake) tricky to master, despite Dona’s expert coaching, but that didn’t keep me from getting a great workout. Other women in the class were experienced belly dancers—several were rehearsing for an upcoming show—so if you feel uneasy about jumping in cold, I recommend starting with the four-week beginner crash course (4 classes for $80) to learn the basics. If you find you enjoy belly dancing, there is no shortage of additional classes to try. Yoga mats and weights are provided. Most students go barefoot, but you can wear dance shoes or grippy socks if you prefer. There are restrooms available for changing.

KICKBOXING


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Where to try it: 9Round, 9round.com
Locations: Courthouse, Ballston, Falls Church, Columbia Pike
Cost: Monthly memberships run $79-$109
Level: Moderate to advanced

No time for an hour-long class? Want to work out on your own schedule? Kickboxing isn’t new, but 9Round offers a fresh approach with its compact 30-minute workout. There are no set class times. Just show up and go.

You spend three minutes at each of the nine stations (exercises are posted and change daily), with a 30-second rest period between each one. Three minutes may sound like no time at all, but it feels endless when you’re doing jumping jacks and burpees. After two stations of cardio, there are six stations of punching and kicking various boxing bags, followed by one station of core strength.

While most of the workout is done independently, trainers Elizabeth and Maurice were on hand to get participants set up at each station and keep everyone motivated. The workout is challenging, and the difficulty level can be ramped up with additional “active rest” exercises between stations.

I found punching and kicking the heavy bags to be exhausting yet cathartic. (Just picture an ex or that co-worker you dislike, and take all your aggressions out on the bag.)

A beginner will find the session tough—this workout is best suited to someone who’s moderately fit—but the atmosphere is positive and supportive, and anyone who’s willing to stick with the program will benefit.

There’s only one restroom available for changing, so you’ll want to come in workout gear. Boxing gloves are provided for your trial workout, and are included in the membership cost if you join.

Which Workout Is Best for You?

Most social…
Body by Ginny
Tabata at The Energy Club

Best for beginners…
AquaZumba at 24 Hour Fitness
Belly dancing at Saffron Dance
Barre at Lava Barre

Best for serious athletes…
Solidcore
Orangetheory Fitness
Tabata at The Energy Club
Kickboxing at 9Round

Widest variety of classes…
24 Hour Fitness
The Energy Club
Lava Barre

Best for gym-haters…
Aerial yoga at Spark Yoga
Belly dancing at Saffron Dance
AquaZumba at 24 Hour Fitness

Highest male-to-female ratio…
Tabata at The Energy Club
Orangetheory Fitness

Best for cardio…
Orangetheory Fitness
Zengo Cycle
Body by Ginny

Most cathartic…
Kickboxing at 9Round

Best value…
24 Hour Fitness

Robyn Gearey is a writer and editor in Alexandria. @RGearey

Categories: Health & Fitness
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