High-flying fitness programs take workouts to new heights

By Emily Petsko
Point Park News Service

In what resembles a circus training camp, several spandex-clad women swing through the air on trapeze, leaping at every encouraging, “Up, up!” from the instructor. At Fullbody Fitness Club in Brentwood, Pa., the “Fit to Fly” exercise class has its participants soaring to new heights.

Darieth Chisolm, owner of the Fullbody Fitness Club in Brentwood, works out. Photo by Heidi Murrin, Tribune-Review.

“You get the sensation of flying and that’s the fun part about it,” said Fullbody owner and WPXI Channel 11 news anchor Darieth Chisolm.

Like many fitness center owners across the nation, Chisolm recognizes that group classes should be fun and unique. In order to keep participants coming back, that often means pushing the envelope for better, bolder classes.

When Chisolm learned about the JUKARI Fit to Fly and Fit to Flex classes, the creative result of a partnership between Reebok and Cirque du Soleil, it immediately piqued her interest. She knew she wanted “to put this all together under one roof” in Pittsburgh, so she hired instructors to teach these high-energy classes when Fullbody opened in September.

Fit to Fly incorporates both cardio, with moves like the Cha Cha, and strength building, such as pull-ups on the fly set – a trapeze-like apparatus – for an extra arm workout. With Fit to Flex, participants use a stretching band to achieve a full body sculpting workout.

Fullbody members can also get wrapped up in silk dance or Patvan yoga, where they might practice scaling up a colorful strand of silk, or hang upside down – suspended in midair – with a move called the butterfly.

Most of the participants taking these classes are beginners, but since there is a performance element to these aerial classes, Chisolm hopes some students will transform their fitness routine into an acrobatic career.

“I’m totally excited about it,” Chisolm said. “I dream of the day when we’ll look at someone and say, whether it’s on the Olympics or on Cirque du Soleil, that they started at Fullbody.”

Instructor Erin Carey performs several moves on a lyra at the Fullbody Fitness Club in Brentwood. Photo by Heidi Murrin, Tribune-Review.

While other studios may not be going airborne just yet, many are offering innovative classes to lure in members. Wexford-based studio You Rock Fitness has started offering “piloxing,” a hybrid between Pilates and boxing, which kicks Jazzercise classes to the curb.

“It’s different, and they really like that,” said Amy Moreland, You Rock Fitness owner and piloxing instructor. “You go from a high intensity, down to a lower intensity, so you’re punching, you’re kicking, then you slow it down and focus on the toning of legs and arms. You get a break, and then you come back for more.”

Piloxing incorporates signature toning Pilates moves and combines it with the fat-burning kicks and punches boxing is known for, all while participants wear weighted gloves for an additional arm workout.

Moreland, 34, of Wexford, is just one fitness instructor who has been captivated by celebrity trainer Viveca Jensen’s fast-paced workout program. Along with celebrity clients like Haylie and Hilary Duff, piloxing is quickly spreading to fitness studios worldwide.

She said the class was so popular that she decided to drop her toning and Pilates classes because piloxing encompasses “the best of both worlds.”

“I’ve had requests now to add it more and replace some of my other classes,” she said.

With constant pressure to supply cutting-edge fitness classes, Moreland is always looking for the next big thing. One of the programs she plans to introduce to her studio next month ­– for the first time in Pittsburgh – is RIPPED, which stands for resistance, intervals, power, plyometrics, endurance and diet.

Alex Isaly, 40, who is originally from Cranberry, co-founded RIPPED in July 2008 with Terry Shorter, from Claremont, Calif. With the mantra “one stop body shock,” Isaly said RIPPED is an “overall wellness program,” which sets it apart from other workouts.

The 50-minute workout is broken up into five segments, each lasting six to nine minutes, and combines major elements from different workouts into one, muscle-building, calorie-burning program.

Resistance movements are done with a set of dumbbells to work the smaller muscle groups, like the biceps and triceps, and interval movements get the heart pumping with high intensity cardio.

From there, the power portion focuses on bigger muscle groups like the chest and glutes, and then agility movements inspired by sports training are incorporated into the plyometrics component.

To wrap up the workout, mixed martial arts moves like kicking and boxing help strengthen endurance.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s choreographed to music, but it’s simple choreography,” Isaly said.

Instructor Pam Kamensky (left) and Diane Sippel (white top) work out at the Fullbody Fitness Club in Brentwood. Photo by Heidi Murrin, Tribune-Review.

Participants are encouraged to do the RIPPED workout two to three times per week, and they will burn between 750 and 1,000 calories each session. While many workout programs are geared toward fitness gurus, Isaly and Shorter designed RIPPED to be open to all levels of experience, from beginners to bodybuilders.

“We’ve developed a program that anybody from any fitness level to any age can do,” Isaly said, adding that modified version of movements are offered to cater to the needs of each individual.

The last component of the “fitness formula” is diet, where tips are offered on the website to help stabilize blood sugar and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Since training began for RIPPED instructors in January 2010, over 3,000 instructors have received certification in 48 states, in more than 1,000 clubs across the country, as well as in Mexico, Canada and Germany.

“The fitness community has really embraced the program, and we’re very humbled by how quickly it’s taken a strong interest,” Isaly said.

Whether it’s for the blend of cardio and toning in piloxing, the calorie-burning formula of RIPPED or the trapeze thrills of Fit to Fly, everyone is looking for one simple, essential component in a fitness class: enjoyment.

“They just come with a desire to get into shape or do something fun, or maybe they’re bored with their current workout,” Chisolm said. “They want something entirely different.”