Wacky Workouts: Summer's Hottest Ways to Get Fit

"Shoot your guns. … Kick them out of Lara Croft's hands. … Now, give me an elbow to the head!"

No, this is not dialogue from the next installment of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" or the summer's latest action flick. It's from a class I attended while tracking the summer's most extreme workouts.

For 60 minutes, I punched my way through Crunch Fitness' Stunts class, grabbing a timid-looking first-timer around the neck in a faux chokehold while "pulling" her hair as she fake-jabbed me in the ribs.

Do I want to give this woman an elbow to the head? Not really. But everyone is watching -- and if this were the class's final week, a camera would be too. So I grit my teeth and attempt to look as svelte and menacing as Angelina Jolie. Though I may not have perfected her pout or punch, it was fun to pretend -- at least for an hour.

WHAT TO KNOW
  • From tapping your inner Elle Woods to getting in touch with your latent Joey Ramone, get the skinny on fun ways to break a sweat during your summer workout.

Since the transformation of strip aerobics from a bicoastal anomaly to a workout staple, themed workout classes have expanded beyond pole dancing into even more outlandish themes of aspiration. Forget strippers; be an action hero. Strut like Elle Woods or shake it like a Bollywood star -- all at your local gym -- at no extra charge.

"The reason you're seeing those out-of-the-box classes, I think people are always looking for a way to make the activity more engaging and stimulating," said Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. "One of the challenges that you face is that if the activity becomes somewhat boring," people stop exercising.

The trend in fitness these days is fantasy, according to Crunch spokeswoman Amy Strathern. "By day you're an investment banker, and at night you're an action movie hero."

'Bend and Snap'

Crunch is famous for its unusual classes, from Ex-Factor, which allows jilted lovers to tape photos of their exes on punching bags and pound away, to the now-ubiquitous strip aerobics. But the fantasy factor plays out especially well in the gym's dance classes, according to Strathern.

Isaac Arrieta, a regular at the Crunch class that incorporates dance moves from the new Broadway musical "Legally Blonde," couldn't agree more.

"[The class is] is so upbeat, so energetic. It's really fun," said Arrieta, a recent graduate of the American Music and Dramatic Academy and an aspiring musical theater actor himself. He's also seen the musical five times already. "The class is the embodiment of the show."

For regulars, such as 25-year-old Carrie Wasserman, a four-time show-goer, and her friend, Leah Sinrich, 26, who has seen the show twice, the class combines "the two things we love most: Broadway and dancing."

In the Crunch class, instructors Caroline Johansson, who holds a master of arts degree in dance and dance education, and Jenna Hide lead a class of mostly women through a choreographed routine from the musical, while exhorting the class to "be fierce" and use "Delta snaps," occasionally in a Valley Girl accent.

Shake Your Bollywood Booty, or Get Pumped With Punk and Latin Beats

But Crunch isn't the only gym pushing group exercise boundaries.

On the West Coast, Achinta McDaniel has latched on to the recent stateside popularity of India's Bollywood movies to launch her Bollywood bhangra Beats class at Swerve, which pioneered its own fitness trend a few years ago -- Yoga Booty Ballet.

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