An aerobics and strength-training program you can get through in 30 minutes? Music to the ears of overscheduled types like myself. But is it a real workout?
One Saturday morning I went through the paces at the Bethesda location of Curves, a national chain of all-female gyms. After handing me a health questionaire, a trainer took me round the circuit of 12 hydraulic machines and recovery stations. Because hydraulic fluid provides the resistance there are no weights to adjust. You simply stand or sit on the machine and work arms, legs, or torso by pushing or pulling for 30 seconds until a taped female voice tells you to change stations. Between machines, it's onto a wooden "recovery" square where you jog, jump, dance, basically do anything to keep up your heartrate.
Periodically, there's a pulse count to make sure you're working at the appropriate aerobic level. Mine was a little lower than it should be, but I was told that was because I was still learning how to use the machines.
I liked the low-pressure environment--women ranged from their thirties to the senior in ballet slippers who had to be pushing 80. And there was enough muscle burn at the end to suggest I was reaping some benefit. As you get more adept with the machines, the idea is to do more repetitions in 30 seconds, hence a harder workout.
For area locations, see www.curvesinternational.com. It costs $149 to join, but Curves often reduces or waives the membership fee during specials. Monthly dues are $29 to $39, depending on your contract.
Gyrotonic may sound like a New Age cocktail. It's actually the latest core-conditioning craze. Developed in the 1980s by a Romanian dancer, the regimen combines elements of ballet, yoga, tai chi, and swimming to create a total-body workout. Exercises are done on the Gyrotonic Expansion System, something reminiscent of a medieval rack. But it's anything but torture.
That's thanks to a series of wavelike movements with names like the frog, the dolphin, and the laughing Buddha. A smooth weight-and-pulley system helps tone muscles, improve posture and coordination, and increase range of motion. The exercises can boost performance and prevent injury in everything from golf to go-go dancing. Those who've tried Pilates will find the movement of Gyrotonic a bit more fluid.
After six sessions at Studio Infinity in DC's Glover Park, I'm already walking taller and buttoning my "skinny" jeans. The studio's instructors have helped me target a problem area, a chronically stiff hip flexor.
"Most of us compensate for our weaknesses, which causes tension in other areas of the body," says Studio Infinity operations manager Rebeccah Sensenbrenner. "Gyrotonic corrects imbalances."
Depending on how much you push yourself, sweating and shaking may ensue. You may feel sore the next day. Most Gyrotonic sessions are one-on-one, but some people mix in less-expensive group sessions on mats.
Stress reduction is another benefit, due to movements that engage the brain as well as the body. Some people take it as treatment for depression. So far, I haven't thought about work or my ex-boyfriend during a single session. Om.
Studio Infinity, 2200 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-0663, studioinfinitydc.com. The area's largest offering of Gyrotonic. Master trainer and former Washington Ballet principal Alesia Fowler has 15 years' experience. The oasis also has spa treatments, including Dr. Hauschka facials. One-on-one sessions, $75. Group sessions, $35.
Body College, 4708 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-237-0080; and 9800 Falls Rd., Potomac, 202-237-0080. A no-frills spot with one Gyrotonic system and Pilates reformers. $75, or $700 for ten sessions.
Genesis Bodyworks, Bethesda; 301-908-7050; genesisbodyworks.com. A light-filled studio with a garden view in instructor Laura Edmiston's home. $65, or $480 for eight sessions.
Orchid Pagoda, 8626 Lee Hwy., Fairfax; 703-207-9120; orchidpagoda.com. An Asian-inspired facility with a small Gyrotonic studio and a larger area for Pilates and yoga. $75 a session or $700 for ten. Ask about reduced rates with apprentice instructors.