Fitness fun and flubs

It is not easy to find a fitness routine and stick with it. But when you do, it makes stepping outside your comfort zone a little intimidating. Below is my account of exploring several types of new classes, in my effort to find a more engaging, exciting, fun way to stay fit. Anything has to be better than the treadmill, right?

Tornado Days at an Orangetheory

Earlier this year, I finally signed up for a class at Orangetheory Fitness, a popular nationwide chain with celebrity spokespeople like Olympian Lolo Jones and Baltimore Ravens player Justin Tucker. Group training has been a growing fitness trend in recent years, but I have always been skeptical because I do not particularly enjoy working out with strangers, and these classes are fairly crowded. However, Orangetheory's promise that its one-hour workout will keep me burning calories for the next 36 hours was all that I needed.

I have a love-hate relationship with Orangetheory. I hate it while I am there, but I am always happy when I convince myself to go because I know I am getting a great workout.

During the usual Orangetheory workout, every participant wears a heart monitor that connects to a big-screen TV displaying individual stats. The workout is interval-based, so you shift from running, rowing and weight-lifting exercises during a typical 60-minute class. The goal of the workout is to reach 84 percent of your maximum heart rate for a combined 12 minutes of class. When this happens, something called EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, occurs. (This is where the theory comes in.)

In the studio, coaches often refer to this as afterburn, which they claim is what causes you to continue burning calories for up to 36 hours after class. An added value is the “splat points” that are based on your elevated heart rate during a workout. Orangetheory says that if you earn 12 splat points, you achieve the afterburn effect.

For months, I have been desperately avoiding tornado day at Orangetheory. The usual running, rowing and weight-lifting exercises are all still incorporated. But everything is at a much faster pace than a typical session. Tornado day includes nine rounds of 60-second bursts at each station. I have seriously never been so tired.

Some studios have tornado days without warning. I'm not entirely sure why, but in my opinion, it's because they know people like me will see it, keep drinking wine and stay at home with their cat instead of coming to class.

My studio apparently is one of those that likes surprises because I didn't find out about tornado day until I heard people whispering about it in the hallway before class. I immediately felt terror, but it would be too obvious if I were to leave at this point. While tornado day is extremely fast-paced, the coaches help you adjust quickly, and being in a group makes it more fun. That is, if you think exercise is fun.

One tip: I wish I had understood splat points sooner. But don't beat yourself up if you don't earn as many splat points as you think you should. If you are in decent cardio shape, your resting heart rate is typically lower so it is more difficult to reach higher zones. (Or maybe that's just something that makes me feel better about myself.)

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Yoga with a View

My experience with aerial yoga is one I might never repeat. This has nothing to do with the studio where I took the class. It is a lovely space and the instructor was incredibly patient, especially with those of us who were new.

If you have motion sickness, aerial yoga may not be for you. The studio even tells you that, but I really wanted to try. And, honestly, I enjoyed everything about class until the upside-down part.

When you walk into the studio, there are large pieces of tightly secured fabric hanging from the rafters. At the beginning of class, we started in Shavasana (the corpse pose) in our hammocks.

It doesn't look like that much fabric, but you can actually lay down and can be totally covered with it. Next, we practiced variations of different stretches using the fabric for support and trusting it to support our full weight so we could let go and “fly,” as we were told. (I like to think I was flying, but I was maybe two feet off the ground the entire time.) I truly enjoyed this part of class and would do this again.

Then it got more challenging. We placed the fabric near our tailbones and reached up, grabbing the rest of the fabric above us. At some point, I had an “oh-my-God” moment, realizing I was upside down. The next 10 minutes are a blur; I just remember trying to talk myself out of vomiting and totally giving up this idea. It was quite the predicament. I couldn't wait to get back into the safety of my hammock. We finally flipped back to an upright position to end class, and I have never been happier.

On a positive note, it was really beautiful watching other people be very vulnerable as they experimented with different movements. I was envious.

Aerial yoga is not for me, but I appreciated the experience, especially when a teacher gave me a ginger candy to settle my stomach. A woman next to me reminded me to drink a lot of water after class, which I'm sure helped my head feel normal again. Aerial yoga is a beautiful expression of movement. I just learned that I like my feet planted firmly on the ground. But I will never regret trying.

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Melting Away at the Barre

I signed up for a barre class with a twist at Melt—not the grilled cheese restaurant, but an uptown Westerville studio called Melt Hot Fitness.

I have only been to two barre classes in the past, and one was particularly embarrassing. A barre, for those who might not ever have endured dance lessons, is a horizontal bar that one holds onto for stretching or other exercise. My experience involved a resistance band and my face. We were supposed to hook the band on our foot and pull for a deep stretch, but all I got was a huge red mark and a bruised ego when the band flew out of my hand and walloped me.

My nerves were calmed when I entered the studio and the instructor guided me to the room. Everything I would need for class was provided and set up already, which relieved some of the pressure of being new to this class and studio.

This experience was definitely better than my previous barre classes. The techniques I remembered from my other experiences were similar in my class at Melt, with one exception: The room was heated to nearly 100 degrees.

If I am being totally honest, this was one of the more difficult classes I have ever taken. There were times when I looked around the room, hoping to lock eyes with someone who could understand my misery. The heat was almost unbearable for me, probably because I didn't drink enough water that day in preparation. And the outside temperatures had reached 85 on that particular September day. I'm sure that didn't help.

A few tips if you want to try hot barre: Drink a ton of water the day of class, and maybe try a class in a more temperate room before diving into heated barre if this type of exercise is new to you. Barre includes a lot of small movements, surprising you with muscle soreness on the next day, so be prepared. Despite this class being very difficult, sometimes you just need to sweat it out.

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Glow-in-the-Dark Spinning

My typical spin-class routine is to pick a back row bike so no one can see exactly how much I sweat. To my advantage, during glow-in-the-dark spinning, the room is always dark, except for disco lights, so no one can really see anyone else. People seem to be more worried about mastering the routine and breathing. So in this class they really didn't care about my sweat.

A confession: I have been taking indoor cycling (also known as spinning) classes at Cycle614 in Grandview for almost three years. I reluctantly signed up for my first class a few years ago after a knee injury temporarily prevented me from daily jogging. My physical therapist told me I needed a low impact workout and suggested cycling. While spinning is low impact on your joints, muscles, and bones, it is still an intense, full-body workout. I have been to countless classes and am always surprised by how challenged I am, thinking I should have adjusted to the intensity levels at this point.

You should know that I am a creature of habit. I don't like introducing new things into my workouts, so I was hesitant to sign up for a specialty ride at the studio. I chose the glow-in-the-dark ride because painting my body sounded fun. I arrived at the studio 45 minutes before class to find painting tables set up in the parking lot.

When I checked in, I was given a T-shirt and a goody bag, which was a nice perk since this class is slightly more expensive than a regular session. The parking lot party was fun—it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting when we were done painting our T-shirts. A few of us decided to paint our faces, arms and legs, too.

Inside the ride room, I challenged myself to move out of my usual back row seat to the front row so I could see myself glowing in the mirror. I think the social activity of painting ourselves and our shirts added more motivation and energy to this workout, because the excitement in class was evident. I learned that it can be advantageous and less intimidating to try something a little different in a familiar place.

The best part was realizing all of my sweat was hot pink and orange at the end of class.

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Paddleboard Yoga

I couldn't wait to tell everyone that I had walked on water. With that, I signed up for a paddleboard yoga class with Aqua Flow Fit, a local company that offers stand-up paddleboard—known as SUP—yoga classes throughout Central Ohio.

You should know that two of the top things that make me nervous are water and yoga. My biggest fear is drowning. And, I am entirely too self-conscious to ever find my Zen during yoga.

Still, I came to class prepared with sunscreen and an extra change of clothes, because I was convinced I would be swimming in the Scioto. It was a beautiful fall day. The temperature was warm, so I figured at least I wouldn't freeze if I lost my balance and went for an unexpected swim.

The instructor was great. She walked us through setup and gave us a quick Paddleboarding 101 class, which I desperately needed. A very nice man—I forget his name because my anxiety had taken hold at this point—assigned me a paddleboard and pushed me into the water.

Immediately, I spotted the overachievers, as they immediately stood up and started paddling, without balance issues. I remained firmly seated, trying desperately not to crash into others around me. I tried to make friends with another newbie who pretended to also struggle, but it quickly became clear she was more advanced than she let on.

Typically, when you take a SUP yoga class, you are anchored in the water.

It was my lucky day: We weren't able to find a spot safe enough for everyone to drop anchor, so we did floating paddleboard yoga.

In my defense, had I been on land, I would have looked much less awkward. The flows—or sequential movements—were not difficult, minus the part about not falling in the water. The first half of class was spent trying to establish balance because I don't really have any, even in a normal situation. I finally started doing what I now call halfway yoga, once I was fairly certain I wouldn't take a nosedive off the board. I would do half of a flow and then go immediately into child's pose, a restful yoga movement in which your knees are gathered underneath you, your belly lays on your knees and thighs and you are face-down on the paddleboard.

For me, the best part of class was the end. That's when we did Shavasana, also known as corpse pose. A lot of yoga classes end this way, and it is always my favorite part. We laid on our backs, arms outstretched and eyes closed, and floated, ensured by our teacher she would keep us from drifting too far. Fifteen minutes of this made the rest of the struggle totally worth it.

This is a serious workout. My thighs were burning for three days after class.

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Taylor Swope is a freelance writer based in Columbus.