Push-ups and squats in an airless, unforgivingly bright room? Huffing and puffing and sweating next to 25 strangers? The fitness classes of yesterday, maybe. But those are practically archaic by now. Hello, slithering, gravity-defying routines, party music, and flashing lights. Some classes are hybrids of old and new exercises; others are high-intensity variations on the norm. All will boost your fitness. U.S. News highlights some of the most out-of-the-box options:
Aerial dance. Always envied Cirque du Soleil performers? Stop at Heliummm Aerial Dance and Entertainment in New York. You'll learn the tricks of aerial dance, while giving your arms and abs a workout. The bulk of your time will be spent hanging from and climbing up silky fabric that dangles from the ceiling. "It translates into other areas of your life, too," says event producer and performer Heather Hammond. "Once you've overcome the fear of hanging upside down, you feel like a million bucks. You've just done something death-defying. It's a physical, mental, and emotional challenge." And there are no age constraints: Heliummm clients range from age 7 to 72.
Burlesque dancing. You'll learn the art of the slow tease by shimmying your shoulders and wiggling your hips. At some schools, you'll also learn how to walk in heels to optimize your appearance, how to improve your posture, and how to lure others via eye contact. Other moves you'll master: bumps, grinds, and chair dancing. Classes aren't for the shy or delicate, though, instructors say: You'll be working hard and getting on your hands and knees.
Trivia training. Boot camp meets Jeopardy. Be prepared to stretch your mind and your body. This type of class is based on research suggesting that working out increases blood flow to the brain region that controls memory; using your memory while exercising, the thinking goes, could improve brain function. During a typical class, participants are divided into teams, and whichever group answers a question correctly chooses the next exercise. In a lightning round, the instructor reads statements—if they're true, prepare to run. False, drop to the ground and do push-ups or squats.
Piloxing. It's a heart-pumping, body-toning, unlikely combination: pilates and boxing. Participants can wear athletic shoes or go barefoot, and some opt for half-pound weighted fingerless gloves to enhance the upper body workout. Expect to punch, jab, and execute quick footwork, while switching it up with balance poses, balletic plie squats, and other graceful dance moves.
AntiGravity yoga. Take your workout to the next level. Participants perform the poses of traditional yoga while hanging in a large silk hammock raised off the ground. The weightless routine helps strengthen the core, while relieving aching joints and stretching tight muscles. These classes are available nationwide; see a listing at antigravityyoga.com.
Party ride. It's 9 p.m. on a Friday night. Throw on your sneakers and head to the "healthy nightclub," says Julie Rice, co-founder and co-CEO of SoulCycle, a chain of indoor cycling studios in New York. The 45-minute "party ride" class merges the intensity of a full-body workout with dim lighting, glow sticks, and pulsing pop music—Lady Gaga, for example, or Rihanna. Riders also use hand weights to tone their cores and upper bodies. "It's a super-invigorating, high-energy cardio party," Rice says. "We have a disco ball and a bouncer at the front door. It's awesome."
Kangoo Jumps. Strap on these low-impact rebound sports shoes—rollerblade-like boots with springs instead of wheels—and head to the gym. During class, you'll bounce, jump, skip, and run, mimicking a kangaroo while doing leg lifts and dance moves choreographed to energetic tunes. Kangoo Jumps were designed by a Swiss engineer whose aging knees interfered with his ability to run, and they're claimed to reduce the impact on joints by up to 80 percent. The shoes typically cost between $169 and $279.
Hoop-ercise. Thought hula-hooping was for the kids? Wrong. Participants use weighted, adult-size hula hoops—and say that it's not just fun, but it works. An hour of intense hooping can burn as many calories as an hour on the treadmill, and classes are typically set to fun tunes. Some hooping moves stimulate the entire core; others target the back and thighs, or tone the biceps and triceps.