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Not Your Average Day at the Gym

Call them the ‘avant-garde’ of fitness. In troubling times like these, movements that allow a person to enter a new reality such as flying high in the sky, channeling stressors into thrill-seeking activities, or playing at the beach, are all gaining popularity.

23-Feet Above Ground— Now “Hep”

Kelly Ripa, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Al Roker have all done it; and so can you.

Imagine yourself flying on a trapeze 23 feet above the ground of New York, overlooking both Wall Street and the Hudson River.

Sarah Callan, media coordinator for the Trapeze School New York, which runs an indoor and outdoor facility, said the motto of the school is to worry less about the fear and more about the addiction of flying.

 Since the trapeze school opened in 2002, it has attracted housewives, students, older folks, youngsters, and fit and very unfit people. The youngest trapeze flyer as of July 29 was 5 years old; the oldest 83.

“We get a lot of people who don’t know what to expect and end up surprising themselves,” Callan said.

Emily Loeb loved her first flight so much, that she started working for the school, knowing she could fly regularly.

“As soon as I jumped off the board, I wanted to do it again,” recalled Loeb, a 24-year old actress, who is the administrative assistant at the trapeze school.

Loeb never exercised much, and thus, lacked the upper-body strength to do a lot of tricks on the trapeze. Since she started flying regularly, her upper-body strength and flexibility increased significantly.

Like all novices, Loeb practiced flying on the ground before making the vertical climb to the platform.

For safety reasons, the school’s instructors meet every student on the high platform. Every new flier is secured to safety lines and a harness, asked to follow instructions, and is then guided into the safety net below.

It took a while, but Loeb has gained the confidence to fly without a rope, do flips and swing toward a catcher.

A 10-person class is two hours long and costs about $50 to $70 per person. Intensive 10-week long flying workshops culminate with a show, complete with costume and music, created by the students.

The school also offers classes in aerial silks, which are two long pieces of soft fabric hanging from a single point and hammock, and classes with fabric or rope trapeze hung from a single point.

Aerial silk and rope classes tend to attract more people with a dancing or gymnastics background.

“It’s not as fast-paced and more of a performance art form (compared to flying trapeze),” Callan said. But she’s quick to add that anyone is welcome to try classes.

The concept has taken off. The school’s president and co-founder Jonathon Conant already opened up trapeze schools in the cities of Santa Monica, Boston and Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit

Jumping Walls, Leaping Obstacles, Because You Can

In the James Bond movie Casino Royale, terrorist Mollaka, played by Goudeloupean-born Sébastien Foucan, looks breathtakingly agile, as he climbs to the top of crane, then jumps to the roof below him with catlike precision and speed. Tailed by Bond, the extremely physically fit Mollaka escapes by vaulting walls, jumping down an elevator shaft, and doing other seemingly super human stunts.

So it comes to no surprise that Foucan isn’t merely a French actor. He is also the founder of a physical discipline increasingly popularized by the movies, commercials and the media: Parkour.

Parkour, which started in France in the 1980s, is a discipline that combines physical aspects of gymnastics and the mental discipline taught in martial arts.

Mark Toorock, who runs American Parkour, a community of roughly 43,000 members, has been credited for bringing the sport to the United States.

But other hard-core-practitioners also hope to draw more attention to parkour. Among them is 22-year old Ryan Ford, a member of American Parkour and owner of APEX Movement Gym in downtown Denver.

Practiced by mostly young males, who have been inspired by action-packed YouTube videos and are often self-taught, parkour training remains in its infancy. It lacks a nationally recognized instructor certification program. Ford, who is also self-taught, said he wants to work with American Parkour to create a formal teacher curriculum.

In the meantime, Ford teaches classes to beginners, intermediate and advanced parkour practitioners, also called traceurs, for men, traceuses for females.

In APEX Movement’s 10-week fundamental classes (cost is $150), novices will progress from gaining benchmark fitness, such as learning how to roll during a landing and walking on all fours and learning basic gymnastics skills, such as doing cartwheels and handstands, to jumping and balancing skills, or grappling on to a hanging wall.

Ford stresses he adjusts the progression according to each student’s fitness level and ability. After week six, students learn to hang and jump off walls, and perform other tricks they will need to repeat to master.

Intermediate and advanced practitioners learn more difficult tricks and creative ways to overcome obstacles. Many include acrobatic movements, that just by watching, can jolt one’s adrenaline level.

Ford, who has been practicing parkour since age 16, said he learned most of his skills by watching parkour videos. Though he’s never broken bones, he has sprained his ankle and shoulder and suffered bruises and cuts. He cautions non-practitioners to leave tricks seen in “extreme parkour” videos or in the movies to the experts. Imitating highly advanced tricks can lead to serious injury.

Though no deaths have been reported from parkour practitioners, reports show that the injury rate is about equal to that of skateboarding or motocross accidents. For more info on parkour, go online to,,,

Jump Like a Punk

If you enjoy jumping rope, but are looking for a little something extra, Punk Rope could be your answer.

What is Punk Rope?

Punk Rope founder and president Tim Haft describes this group exercise class as a playful mash-up of recess and boot camp. It blends creative calisthenics, group drills, relay races, core training and, of course, jumping rope.

A 55-minute Punk Rope class could look something like this: jumping rope for 2-3 minutes to get your heart rate up, followed by pushups, jumping rope again, running a relay, and more jumping rope.

See a trend? All workouts are designed to rotate between jumping rope and other activities.

To make it even more fun, Haft, who teaches at the Jewish Community Center in New York City, creates themes for his classes.

At his recent “Punk Rope Goes to the Beach” class, for instance, students pretended to partake in a “surfing relay race” by running midway to the studio and then back to the starting point, practiced balance by pretending to tap their feet into the ocean and simulating hopping and turning on surfboards, among other beach-related exercises.

Punk Rope classes have leaped into 15 states nationwide. It’s been embraced by school teachers trying to get kids moving, fitness instructors teaching to a wide demographic at health clubs, YMCAs, JCCs, in local parks or elsewhere outdoors, and even parents, making exercise a fun family affair.

Haft, who is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer, spends a lot of his time traveling to teach Punk Rope workshops. Aspiring Punk Rope instructors earn 0.7 ACE continuing education credits after successfully completing Haft’s Punk Rope Instructor workshop. For details on classes and workshops in your area, visit

Throw Me a Bone— Fast

This one isn’t for dogs, though many dogs love it! Catching frisbees, that is.

The game of Ultimate frisbee, however, is serious.

Played by two-seven squads with a high-tech plastic disc on a field similar to football, Ultimate frisbee combines non-stop movement with the athletic endurance of soccer and aerial passing skills of football.

A sport known better for past-time activity on university campuses or in local parks, serious Ultimate Frisbee practitioners are still fighting to gain recognition on the world stage.

Did you know, for instance, that the U.S. team won gold at the Ultimate Frisbee World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan this year?  

Yes, America rules in playing this fast-paced game, and no one is happier to report its successes than its governing body, the Ultimate Players Association.

Still a young sport, Ultimate Frisbee is increasingly gaining traction among Americans. The Ultimate Players Association reported a 168 percent increase in membership since 2003, or 30,000 total members. More women are entering the male-dominated sport, too. From 2003 to 2008, membership of women has nearly doubled; 10,000 members of the association are now female. Though Ultimate Frisbee started in Maplewood, N.J. in 1968, its biggest enthusiasts can be found in California and the Pacific Northwest.

While this list of up-and-coming fitness activities is hardly complete, it seeks to provide some alternatives to the better-known sports and workouts that inspire more people to live more active and healthier lives.

The American Council on Exercise does not endorse or accept liability for these exercise programs or the content of the videos featured in this article, but seeks to merely inform readers of new exercise concepts gaining popularity. The parkour video shows very advanced tricks and moves that are NOT intended to be practiced or imitated by the reader, as without proper training and experience, this could cause serious bodily injury. As always, we recommend consulting your physician before you begin any exercise program.

If you’re engaged in a fun, unique fitness activity or class that is gaining traction in your community, tell us why you believe it deserves attention. Click “Rate this Article” below and leave your comments so others can learn about it.

Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at