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February 2, 2012 By:
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The Dragon Boat Workout at Main Line Health & Fitness

Want to look as fabulous as Jane Fonda does at age 74? Envious of those celebrity moms who look red carpet-ready six weeks after they give birth? Inspired by Bob Harper’s sculpted 46-year-old body or those he creates on “The Biggest Loser”? Looking to interest kids and grandkids in fitness? Post-partum, post-injury or post-winter, the Philadelphia area is filled with fitness options for people of all ages and abilities. 

One thing Philadelphia doesn’t have: Soul Cycle, the Zumba-meets-meets-spinning classes that are sweeping New York. In its place is Body Cycle, which opened 15 months ago in the Rittenhouse Square area and is the only studio in the city dedicated to indoor cycling. People of all ages and fitness levels can do Body Cycle’s high-cardio, low-impact, heart-thumping, sweat-inducing spinning. The music, the lighting, the vibe: it’s a great workout that burns 400 to 800 calories in one, 50-minute class. Bikes can be modified for beginners and to accommodate lower back issues. “It’s fun and addictive the way that Zumba is,” says Judy Cohen, a 57-year-old who has become a Body Cycle enthusiast. “It’s very high energy, so it holds your attention and it really works your entire body. I go home sore, but happy.”

Another great option: Piloxing, a combination of Pilates and boxing set to high-energy dance music. Basically, Piloxing is Pilates with cardio intervals. While Pilates classes are largely attended by women, Piloxing has man appeal because of its boxing moves. Men and women are attending Piloxing classes at Newtown Athletic Club, Philadelphia Dance Fitness in Center City, Ploome in Northern Liberties, Aquatic and Fitness Center in Bala Cynwyd and Intoxx Fitness in Manayunk. No Pilates, boxing or dancing experience is required, and workouts can be done in low-impact fashion, making them safe for joints and backs. 

Based on its name alone, the Dragon Boat Workout might seem a bit scary. But Mary Hackett, director of Main Line Health & Fitness in Bryn Mawr, says this new exercise discipline is perfect for beginners. “We’ve had amputees, people who are hearing-impaired or blind, teenagers, senior citizens and people of all fitness abilities do the class,” she says. “We are the only fitness center in the entire United States to offer this class. People love how unique it is and the workout it gives them.”

The Dragon Boat Workout takes place in, yes, a dragon boat that is affixed to a block of cement in MLHF’s four-foot-deep pool. The boat holds 24 people and one instructor who leads the hourlong class. “We do stretching and a lot of core work and get the legs involved,” Hackett says. “It’s different from a rowing machine and even different from row tanks, because dragon boat paddling is done two-handed, but on one side of the body at a time. It’s low-impact, but a real challenge.” 

Here’s another challenge: finding time to exercise while taking care of young children. Luckily, there are plenty of things that fitness-minded parents and grandparents can do with their toddlers. The Philadelphia Gymnastics Center in West Conshohocken offers a You & Me class. “It used to be ‘Mommy & Me,’ but now the kids come with daddies, nannies, grandparents and even a few aunts, so we changed it to ‘You & Me,’ ” says Jacquelyn Bier, the owner and director of the center. 

The 40-minute class is for girls and boys aged 21 months to 2.5 years. “It’s an instructional movement class that incorporates running, jumping, basic tumbling and other motor skills,” Bier explains. “Under the supervision of both a parent and a member of my staff, the kids use specially oriented gymnastics equipment. For example, we have balance beams that are four inches wide and on the floor. Kids walk on them, turn, jump — in doing that, they are learning balance, coordination and gaining leg, core and arm strength. Are they young? Sure. Can they do this? Absolutely. They love it. They like the challenge of trying to control their bodies. The kids get a real sense of accomplishment. And, it’s adorable to watch.” 

Adorable is great. Inner peace might be even better. Wes Tudor, owner of Rittenhouse Square’s new Raja Yoga, introduced a twist on traditional Mommy & Me classes. Raja’s class is for kids ages 1 to 4 and the adults who want to bond with them through yoga. “Some classes focus on incorporating the child into the adult’s yoga practice,” Tudor says. “This is tailored more toward the children. It’s a creative playtime with a yoga theme. We don’t even use mats. The kids and their adults get in a circle and do animal poses, fun songs and stretches. Then, we’ll do special things like the adults making a downward dog tunnel and the kids crawling or running under it.”

Tudor says that parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles bring toddlers to the classes, which are a bit more high-action than typical yoga classes. Tudor’s instructors are trained by Karma Kids, the New York studio which holds yoga classes for parents and kids of all ages. “It’s different than signing your kid up for soccer or baseball and watching them do the sport,” Tudor says. “With this, parents and kids do the activity together.”

Family yoga classes for adults and young children are also held at Young Garden in Narberth, Studio 34 in University City, Yoga Child on South Street and Yogawood in Collingswood.

Another new option: Red Hot Dance. Created by Philadelphian Christine Gallagher and debuted at the end of 2011, Red Hot Dance is Zumba-esque dance done to American pop tunes instead of Latin music. It’s a little bit sexier than Zumba. And a little harder. Experienced dancers can do Gallagher’s advanced moves while newbies master the basic steps. Like Zumba, Red Hot Dance is approved for people of all ages and fitness levels. It is taught periodically at the West Chester YMCA and Main Line Health & Fitness.

For Zumba-philes looking for a real challenge, there’s Master Jay’s Roller Skate Dance Class. Held at two locations in Center City, Master Jay’s classes are pretty much what they sound like: dancing on roller skates. Salsa, merengue and other dance steps are made more difficult by adding the challenge of stabilizing the body while on roller skates. The hourlong classes are set to fun, uptempo music and are fine for folks of all fitness levels. 

 And, finally, the best thing to do while getting back into shape: save money. Groupon, Living Social, Google Offers and other social media sites often offer coupons for discounts on fitness classes so you can get a deal while you get in shape.

Melissa Jacobs is the senior editor of Special Sections.

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