In 1818, engineer William Cubitt visited a British jail, where he was horrified to find that prisoners just lounged around in the yard all day. Cubitt set to work devising a machine that would keep the prisoners occupied, and he came up with a device that required the prisoners to step onto rotating blades, which in turn would grind corn or release water. The guards at the jail were pleased that the prisoners labored in such a monotonous, degrading way [source: Roth]. Soon, this device was in every prison. Now, that machine is in every fitness club and gym.
Cubitt is credited with introducing the first modern treadmill, though its design has been tweaked over the years. Still, there are likely some gym rats that dread their turn on the contraption much as those early prisoners did. Tired of running and getting nowhere? These days, there are many workouts that you're likely to find more interesting and innovative than the treadmill.
Some women exercise to look good in their underwear, to put it frankly. That doesn't mean that they want to exercise in their underwear, though. And despite what you may think about classes called Cardio Striptease or Turning Tricks (a pole dancing class at Crunch), women aren't working out in lingerie or learning how to please their man. While these classes may be stripper-inspired -- or, in some cases, stripper-choreographed -- women leave their clothes on while performing routines designed to make them feel comfortable shaking what their mommas gave them. The name of the game is empowerment, not exploitation. These classes not only give women more self-confidence in the bedroom, they also give women a pretty good workout -- advanced moves on a pole require upper body strength like you wouldn't believe.
Before you can run away to join the circus, you need to be in good enough shape to, well, run. But these days, you don't have to put up with smelly elephants or creepy clowns to get a taste of circus life. Instead, you need only head as far as the local gym to get a circus-inspired workout, complete with calliope music.
While many gyms offer classes that include a mix of tumbling, juggling and trapeze work, there's only one workout that's been endorsed by Cirque du Soleil, and that's Jukari Fit to Fly, which was developed in conjunction with Reebok and is offered at Equinox. Jukari Fit to Fly features circus equipment that's been modified so that it's easier and safer for us mere mortals to use. Not only can you indulge your childhood fantasy of flying with ease like the daring young man -- or woman -- on the flying trapeze, you'll get to tone your upper body and your core abdominal muscles.
Many people need a few adult beverages before they're ready to go on stage and belt out a karaoke number, but that kind of liquid courage is frowned upon before a workout. With nothing more than water or a power drink in their systems, some people head to spinning, or cycling, classes ready to exercise their vocal cords as well as the rest of their bodies. Right there, attached to the bike, is a television screen featuring the words of karaoke standards.
Cardio workouts combined with karaoke aren't that much of a stretch; after all, step aerobics and spinning instructors count on upbeat music to keep their students going. To ensure that participants focus on the workout and not on winning the gym class version of "American Idol," some instructors will only open certain songs up for audience participation. In the meantime, instructors may take a turn at the mike themselves.
And if pop standards aren't your thing, keep an eye on other classes. From spinning classes set to gospel music to dance workouts that simulate a Broadway musical rehearsal, more and more types of music are making their way to the gym [source: Villarosa].
If podiatrists had their way, women would probably never wear high heels, as this fashionable footwear can lead to a host of health problems, including ankle sprains, bunions, hammertoes and joint pain. But some podiatrists seem to have realized that even with well-intentioned warnings, women will saunter through the streets in their stilettos anyway. If you're determined to wear heels, then at least you can learn how to wear them right in a high heel workout class.
In these classes, sometimes led by podiatrists or professional dancers, women perform a series of lunges and squats to strengthen their lower body. Then, they kick off the sneakers and strap on the heels for instruction on how to get runway-ready. When women wear heels, their center of gravity shifts to the front; in these classes, women learn how to fix their posture so that they don't do damage to the feet or lower back (bonus: standing up straighter makes you look thinner). Additionally, women strengthen their lower leg and foot muscles so that there's less pain and strain after a long day on their feet.
If a workout on stilettos sounds a little too girly for you, then our next weird workout may be just want the doctor ordered -- Dr. Dre, that is.
We're often reminded by personal trainers and fitness magazines that we don't need to go to the gym to exercise. Instead, it's possible to squeeze in a workout anywhere, from jumping rope in a hotel room to climbing flights of stairs in our office. Perhaps the purest example of exercising wherever you are, with whatever you have is the workout demonstrated in "Thug Workout: Fitness From the Streets." Produced by the Ruff Ryders, a hip-hop collective, this workout shows you how to transform playground equipment, picnic tables, street signs and scaffolding into your own private gym. No matter what the urban landscape gives you to work with, you can work out. Playground equipment and construction scaffolding are ideal for pull-ups, while a picnic table is a good spot for tricep dips. Those spare tires aren't just abandoned garbage -- they provide resistance for shoulder presses. The hip-hop music and gritty language in the video may not be for everyone, but once you take a tip from the thugs and start looking around, you'll probably find good workout equipment all around you.
Speaking of finding good workout equipment, you may already have the tools for the next weird workout in your garage. Find out what childhood toy can be brought back as a tummy toner.
In 2008, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres got big laughs when she attempted to do her show while sitting in a Hula Chair. The makers of the Hula Chair promise to chisel your abs and shrink your waist by spinning you around like a hula girl dashboard ornament. An exercise professor told ABC News that a person would burn more calories by working while standing [source: Cox].
But while the Hula Chair may be an overhyped punch line, that doesn't mean that you should abandon those sweet hula moves. Hooping, or working out with a hula hoop, is showing up in more and more gyms as a way to break a sweat, burn calories and tone the tummy. According on one hoop instructor, using a hula hoop for 30 continuous minutes is the equivalent of 500 sit-ups [source: Gora]. And you needn't dismiss this workout if you had problems with the hoop as a kid; child-sized hoops are often too small and light to properly control, but if you're working with a hoop made for an adult, hooping is a skill that can be mastered with a little time.
Kris Kross will make you jump, jump, while the Pointer Sisters expect you to jump for their love. When all else fails, according to Van Halen, you might as well jump. So why don't you start jumping as part of your workouts? Or more specifically, try hopping and bouncing.
Many aerobic exercises, like running, can be hard on the knees. If you hop on a pogo stick, though, you'll experience 34 percent less jolt while still getting a good aerobic workout [source: Carey, Fraser]. Another no-impact bouncing exercise is rebounding, which is performed on a trampoline. While just jumping as mindlessly as a kid does is pretty good exercise, rebounding ups the ante by using very concentrated, purposeful movements that force you to engage your core abdominal muscles. You can work your upper body by working with hand weights or a medicine ball.
Rebounding is not about just jumping as high as you can go; if it's flying through the air you're after, you'll need to check out the next workout.
Music and exercise go hand in hand, but the type of music you're likely to hear at the gym is mostly radio-friendly, poppy dance hits. Rarely do you hear the strains of the Sex Pistols or the Stooges -- rarely, that is, unless you're into punk aerobics.
Can you really be punk if you do aerobics? Of course; everyone needs to exercise, but this workout helps people break out of the "fascist fitness regime," as co-founder Maura Jasper put it to the New York Times [source: Kilgannon]. Rather than working out in a fluorescent-lit gym, these punks exercise in the same clubs where they see shows at night, complete with the odor of beer and cigarettes. If you want to show off the latest in workout fashion, this is not the workout for you -- you're more likely to see torn fishnets and army jackets.
But just because these folks are counterculture doesn't mean they're opposed to getting a good workout. An hour-long class of vigorous aerobics set to punk's greatest hits may also include a moshing session and weightlifting with spray-painted bricks. Looking for more punk workouts? There's also punk rock yoga, in which you're more likely to say "oi!" than "om," and punk rope, which involves jumping rope and aerobic conditioning.
Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice, but you wouldn't know it from most yoga classes taught at the gym. What was once a way to prepare the body for hours of meditation has now become a way to tone the abs, get a tight bum and define the shoulders. And now, not even an aerobicized form of yoga is exercise enough -- witness the proliferation of zany yoga classes fused with something else, such as pilates, boxing, spinning or running. One has to wonder, is yoga kickboxing or disco yoga the pathway to Zen?
One weird form of yoga gaining headlines is AntiGravity Yoga, offered at Crunch. In this yoga class, yogis and yoginis practice inverted poses with the help of a fabric hammock hung from the ceiling. While being ensconced within a hammock may help you to achieve greater flexibility and deeper stretches, beware of the side effects -- in a New York Times profile, one participant complained of the "yoga stench" that permeated the hammocks [source: Lee].
If you don't mind your yoga on the alternative side, then you might be up for the type of yoga discussed on the next page.
Most dogs get their exercise by chasing chew toys in the backyard or on regular walks with their owners. But if you want your dog to get a little more cardio, then you can buy a dog treadmill or send the pooch off to doggy bootcamp. You may find yourself getting a workout as well; at Thank Dog! Bootcamp in Los Angeles, owners have to do 10 push-ups if their dogs don't sit on command [source: Heckscher].
If your dog is more mellow, then you both may enjoy doga, which is yoga for dogs. Both human and dog have work to do: In some poses, dogs help their humans get a deeper stretch, while at other times, humans hold their dogs' limbs to support them in certain positions. Classes also include massages for the dogs that are meant to improve their digestion, and the humans get a burst of the happy hormones that come from de-stressing with your pet.
Plus, your dog can give you a leg up in yoga classes. If you haven't mastered the downward-facing dog or the upward-facing dog position, who better to help you out than your four-legged friend? No word on whether cobras, eagles or dolphins (other animals that have inspired yogic poses) will eventually have yoga classes of their own.
HowStuffWorks finds out how to do a perfect pushup and some of the pushup variations.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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