Pole dancing, water aerobics and other alt fitness classes help break the gym barriers

Words and Video by Sarah Beth Coleman

When you think about working out, you may think of free weights and gym machines or even the late night commercials for the P90X workout. Several Iowa fitness centers are looking to break that gym barrier and make alternative fitness workouts more accessible and exciting.

Alternative fitness doesn’t begin and end with dance-based classes like Zumba and ballet-based barre. Yoga, cycling, kickboxing, Pilates, senior water aerobic classes and the pole fitness class, are considered alternative fitness. The experiences includes a focus on a specific activity in a fun, social atmosphere.

Historically, Jazzercise became a wildly popular alternative exercise class in 1969, partially because of the heart-pumping playlists and coordinated dance moves, but also because of the sense of community it created. And while you might think group exercises like Jazzercise are a clichéd ‘70s and ‘80s activity, workout enthusiasts are constantly looking for alternative fitness options.

The Anytime Fitness location in Beaverdale, Iowa, has a variety of options for their gym members. Members can choose to participate in boot camps, competitive weight loss challenges and Zumba.

Zumba doesn’t stray too far from the workout genre of Jazzercise — it’s a dance-based fitness class, specifically using modern music, rhythmic aids like drumsticks, and visual aids to track motion like belly dancer coin skirts. The classes vary by instructor, and can range from the original Zumba to Zumba step programs and kids’ classes. Anytime Fitness’ Zumba class has regular attendance from both women and men, is offered on a weekly basis and is the reason some individuals registered for the gym.

“Zumba creates this really fun, happy, cool and relaxed atmosphere where there is no pressure on if you know the moves or not,” said Kennedy Wrice, one of the trainers at Anytime Fitness in Beaverdale. “You’re just here to have fun and get a workout in.”

Two specific workouts are not only considered alternative fitness, but are also taboo. The aerial fitness and pole fitness classes often raise eyebrows, as they do not seem like an organic extension of the fitness workouts most people know and attend.

Jen Bramble, owner of Club B-FIT in West Des Moines, Iowa, said aerial fitness is “like yoga in the air, but with so much more focus on every small movement your body makes.” Bramble started Club B-FIT in 2005 and specializes in personal training, pole and aerial fitness, yoga, and dance. “I’ve always been a performer, I’ve always been a dancer and it just felt like a really good match for me”

In 2007, Bramble went to Florida for several days to learn the educational instruction for pole fitness, and immediately brought it back to the Midwest. She remains one of the few licensed pole fitness teachers in the Midwest. “The expectations of pole are quite extreme, you don’t get to fly and flip right away because those require a very strong fundamental body awareness, and if you don’t have that you’re just putting your body at risk.”

Several members of the Urban Plains staff visited Bramble for her to teach us some moves.

Warren D. Franke, Ph.D., a professor and associate chair in Iowa State University’s Department of Kinesiology, explained that while typical exercise classes may be fun and exciting, classes like senior water aerobics and Zumba are only beneficial in the context of continued health management.

“If you’re only taking the class, that might not be enough as it isn’t comprehensive exercise that can maintain or grow strength and balance,” Franke said.

Franke said class-based exercise groups have psychological benefits as well. “For some, the class is the most significant interaction they have that day,” he said.

Franke added when it comes to individuals with disabilities, it depends on whether the alternative fitness would be a positive experience. “If it’s not medically inappropriate and they want to do it, then there is no reason why they shouldn’t partake in classes,” Franke said.

Whether you’re looking to incorporate a new cardio routine or to simply find a class to blow off steam, alternative fitness may be the trend, or even solution, for you.