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Fusion fitness classes pump up fun, deliver results

Tricia Ketchey exercises four to six times a week but hates the monotony of lifting weights or jogging on a treadmill.

Instead, the Tampa woman likes nontraditional routines that flex her muscles and her mind. Swing yoga, Xtend Barre, CrossFit and TRX classes — she has experimented with them all.

"I don't like to get into a rut. I try to mix it up,'' she said. "I feel like exercise is a time when you can have fun and do something different.''

Ketchey, 29, is among a growing number of fitness fans who have abandoned the Universal weight circuit and elliptical machine for workout classes that combine cardio, stretching and strengthening in a single session.

Call them fusion, combo or hybrid classes, the best mashups increase your heart rate and target core strength, balance, agility and endurance. They challenge muscles in different ways and fend off boredom. The small group setting appeals to exercisers seeking sweaty camaraderie.

Combo workouts have been around for a while in the form of Jazzercise, Body Pump and other routines but have proliferated in recent years. Catchy names like Piloxing (Pilates and boxing) and kayoga (kayaking and yoga) often get people through the door. The workout keeps them coming back.

'The whole package'

Francine Messano started swing yoga classes at Yoga Downtown Tampa in May. Students use Cirque du Soleil-inspired swings to get into yoga poses enhanced by gravity and their own weight.

A former architect, Messano, 50, discovered that swing yoga — also known as flying yoga — did wonders for her neck problems while adding excitement and difficulty to regular yoga workouts.

"You're challenging your brain, body and comfort level,'' she said. "You're taking your body to a higher level of fitness in a shorter amount of time.''

First-timers can't always get into the pretzel poses, but Messano says most students get the gist after a few classes. Still, even the fittest find it challenging.

At South Tampa Pilates, Xtend Barre workouts combine Pilates and simple ballet moves to tone legs, buttocks and core muscles and improve balance and coordination. Students do squats, plies and leg lifts while holding onto a ballet barre for balance. Instructor Natalie Mandeville, 38, incorporates stretch bands, balls and straps to increase the resistance and ends each session with abdominal work on a mat.

Tracey Bayer, a South Tampa mother of two, was working with a trainer several times a week until she discovered Xtend Barre more than a year ago. She hated going to the gym and found jogging boring but wanted to stay in shape. A few barre classes and she was hooked. And sore.

"After my first class I literally went out to my car and cried. I called my husband and said, 'I can't do this,' '' she said. "I thought I couldn't drive home because my legs were shaking so bad.''

Fusion classes appeal to people with busy schedules who want fast, effective workouts that force muscles outside their comfort zone. They also accommodate varying fitness levels, from beginners experimenting with workouts to athletes diversifying their training.

"People like to have their life. They don't like to spend two hours in a gym,'' said Eric Stratman, owner of the Next Level Training Center, which offers CrossFit strength and conditioning classes in Tampa and Westchase. "We do an hour-and-a-half workout in 15 minutes.''

CrossFit workouts jolt bodies into shape using medicine balls, barbells, ropes and tires mixed with rounds of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and squats. One day a class might pound tractor tires with sledgehammers. The next day they climb ropes.

"When you come into the gym, you never know what you're going to do,'' he said. "There's an excitement. Peers push each other.''

Melanie Lewis, co-owner of the Fitness Club of Florida in Palm Harbor, said her Piloxing class, which combines Pilates, boxing and dance, can burn 400 to 900 calories an hour, depending on the intensity. Rather than take separate cardio and toning classes, people can get it all in one.

"It's fun and effective,'' said Lewis, 25, whose students range from children to seniors. "You feel the burn and you get your heart up. It's the whole package.''

'No quick fix'

Trying combo workouts, like any new fitness routine, isn't without risk. Barbara Morris, a certified athletic trainer and assistant program director of USF Health's Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma Institute, cautioned against starting a rigorous program without consulting a physician, especially if you're out of shape or have health issues.

"I tell anybody that there's no quick fix. It's great when new things come out, but we need to have medical clearance when we start,'' she said.

Morris urged people to set fitness goals and modify workouts based on their ability. Classes should have adequate warmups and cool-downs, and participants should remember that just because they include cardio doesn't mean combo classes will be enough to achieve or maintain fitness goals.

Still, she applauds any new method that gets people moving and motivates them to continue.

"If it's enticing people to be active safely, then that's a good thing,'' she said. "But it has to be safe.''

Susan Thurston can be reached at or (813) 225-3110.


Here are a few examples of combo and alternative fitness classes available in the area. Check the websites for class schedules, pricing and contact information.

Aqua Zumba: Latin-inspired dance cardio and toning in a pool. Various Tampa Bay locations. For a list of sites, go to

CrossFit: Full-body strength and conditioning using medicine balls, pull-up bars, tractor tires and other equipment. The Next Level Training Center, 12720 Dupont Circle in Westchase, and 1221 W Cass St. in Tampa;

Kayakercising: Paddle a kayak to an island and do an hour of boot camp training. Or substitute the boot camp for a yoga class and you've got kayoga. Yoga Energy Studio, 1010 Central Ave., St. Petersburg;

Pole dancing: Strengthens, tones and builds confidence using a stripper pole. Classes for men offered at Kiss & Tale Pole Fitness Studio, 1000 Channelside Drive, Tampa;

Swing Yoga: Yoga and aerial arts. Uses a swing hung from the ceiling to increase flexibility and strength. Yoga Downtown Tampa, 206 E Cass St., Tampa;

Tampa CrossBoot: Boot camp and CrossFit. Workouts incorporate playground equipment, public parks and the natural terrain to build endurance, strength and flexibility. Ballast Point Park in Tampa and other locations.

TRX: Suspension training with portable TRX straps that leverage a person's body weight and gravity to develop strength, balance and flexibility. Powerhouse Gym, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa;

Xtend Barre: Pilates, ballet and dance. Uses a ballet barre for balance and straps, balls and bands to increase resistance. South Tampa Pilates, 718 S Village Circle at Hyde Park Village, Tampa;

Piloxing: Pilates and boxing. Students can wear half-pound black and pink Piloxing gloves to increase the difficulty. Fitness Club of Florida, 3273 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor;

Fusion fitness classes pump up fun, deliver results 09/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 3:33pm]
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