5 Unusual Group Fitness Classes

Not that long ago, yoga, Pilates and spinning were new at most gyms, but now they've become staples at most clubs. To keep people coming in the door and returning again and again, health clubs are continually looking for the next big thing to add variety and innovation to their group fitness classes.

These days, some of the latest exercise trends are ethnic-style dance classes -- from belly dancing to Bollywood, muscle conditioning workouts that produce quick results in terms of strength -- as well as boot camp style athletic formats.

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"Mind-body classes like yoga are ... popular because people don't often have time in their busy lives to relax or have a spiritual experience," said Tavia Patusky at Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women, which runs seven clubs in and around Boston.

Some of the new, more unusual fitness classes now offered at Healthworks or at other fitness centers around the country include punk rope (jumping rope to punk rock tunes), cardio strip-tease, which tastefully mimics lap or pole dancing, circus-influenced exercise and hula hoop classes.

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Whatever your preferences, the reason many gym-goers gravitate to group classes, according to Patusky, is they create an environment where people come together for a common goal.

Group classes are also offered at scheduled times, the instructors helps to motivate you, and they're social, which provides a built-in positive support system.

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Here are five new routines gaining traction at health clubs around the country.

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Zumba

It's hard to keep your body from moving when Latin rhythms fill the room, and that's just one of the reasons Zumba has become such a popular exercise. This dance-based fitness class set to Latin beats is influenced by salsa, merengue, flamenco and other international dance styles, with some hip-hop and freestyle mixed in.

Zumba and Other Fitness Classes

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Developed in Miami in 2001, Zumba was named for a slang Colombian expression meaning to move fast or buzz like a bee. And in class, your whole body moves. Generally, you start by moving your legs, then you add a change, such as moving your arms or changing direction, so you go side to side or forward and backward. But it's one change at a time, making it simpler and easier to follow for those who feel like they have two left feet.

According to Patusky, "Zumba feels like a dance party. It's a joyful experience, and you leave feeling good and knowing that you burned calories." Zumba is a great activity for children and adults alike.

Smart Bells

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Designed as a more "intelligent" fitness tool than a dumbbell, SmartBellshave a circular shape with two oval cutouts for handles. These colorful metal weights resemble an oval steering wheel and are used for strength training. They range from 1½ pounds up to 12 pounds and more, but group classes tend to use 5- or 6-pounders.

Watch a Smart Bells Class in Action

Unlike dumbbells, which are primarily used for linear -- up and down or side to side -- movements, SmartBells have a unique shape that also lets them be used for more arcing or curving patterns. You hold on to one with both hands gripping the outer or inner handles, which allows for more swinging movements.

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