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Extra-ordinary Workouts

Quit the Usual Routine and Do Something Fun to Get Fit This Year

Why jog on the same treadmill when San Francisco offers some the most unusual -- and fun -- fitness classes? Check out these places and get ready to be sweaty, sore, and fit, in that order.

Learn as you spin
If you’re like most people, you never have enough free time to do all the things you’ve always wanted to. If two of those things are learning a foreign language and getting fit, Connect 18’s got what you need. A few years back, John Ford was a student at UC Santa Barbara. He liked to watch Spanish TV while working out because it allowed him to pick up some Spanish. He realized that it was easier for him to learn when on the treadmill. Later, as an MBA student at the University of San Francisco, he worked on a business plan for a class assignment. His plan was to start a gym where people learned as they got fit. In the summer of 2006, Connect 18 -- the name refers to the distance in inches between your brain and your heart -- was born.

The spinning classes offer different topics such as a tour of Mexico and a Spanish lesson, a tour of Northern California’s Wine Country during which you learn about wine varietals, and a “Resurrection ride” in which you focus on images, shapes, and sounds. “We’re working on a tour of the French islands in the Caribbean next,” Ford explains.

Focusing on the videos makes the exercising seem easier. A novice indoor cycling student, I tried their free demo class, which lasted 45 minutes. I was surprised how quickly time went by but certainly felt sore the following day.

During the class, students are asked questions on video and encouraged to interact with the person cycling next to them. They are also asked to practice their newly acquired vocabulary with their spinning neighbor to review -- without ever stopping exercising.

“People come here to have fun, get fit and pick up some conversational skills,” Ford explains, “and because the classes are made into series, it gives students an incentive to keep coming back and exercising." he adds.

Connect 18 offers a drop-in rate of $20. Students can also choose to get a package: a six-session package (45 day expiration) is $90; a twelve-session package (90 day expiration) is $145 and a twenty-four-session package (180 day expiration) is $240.

Circus Arts at Acrosports
If you’ve ever dreamt of being in a circus check out Acrosports. Although you may not get the hang of the trapeze and rope in the first class, or look very gracious trying it, you’ll definitely develop upper body strength and get a great workout.

"Kids are usually really good at this, they'll tell me 'oh yeah I did this on the monkey bars the other day.' Most of them don't realize the danger of hanging from 30 feet and will jump," Alex Craig, one of the teachers of the aerial arts classes, explains.

The 90-minute class starts with 100 jumps and a minute of jogging in place to get your heart rate up followed by a series of stretches where the teacher pushes on your back and pulls your arms to get your body to stretch out more. Unlike classes at the gym where you’re told to do this and that at a fast pace, students here are free to work on things that they like and want to develop.

Aerial work starts with climbing up a rope. For those who were good at this in gym class in school, this may be an easy task, but those who aren’t able to pull their own weight, like yours truly, will definitely feel the burn in their biceps and hands. The trapeze and the tissue, two stretchy pieces of fabric that can be used as a rope, are the next steps. Craig usually has beginners try holding onto the trapeze for ten seconds, then doing small pull-ups. As you get more comfortable, you’ll be able to get your legs up on the trapeze and hang head down.

To register, students pay a $30 annual registration/insurance fee. Prices per session vary depending on how many hours you wish to do each week. If a student only attends one 90-minute class a week, the fee is $176.00 for a 10-week session.

Yoga in a sauna
The recent cold weather spell may have some of you dreaming of hot climates. Thanks to Funky Door Bikram Yoga, you don’t have to go far. With three studios in town, you can strike a yoga pose -- you’ll actually do 26 of them in a 90-minute class -- in a room heated to 105°F. Named after Bikram Choudhury, a yoga teacher from India, Bikram Yoga was introduced in the United States in 1971.

Enduring the heat may be the biggest challenge for first-timers and although it’s tempting to walk out of the room to get some fresh air, instructors recommend staying in and getting a drink of water or simply staying put for a few seconds.

As your body adjusts to the temperature, you’ll find that your body becomes more flexible which means that those of you who never managed to keep a “tree pose” may be able to in this class.

Be warned that the Upper Haight location gets crowded on Saturday afternoons and that you shouldn’t eat too much before going to class. Drop-in classes are $16 and Funky Door offers first-time students an unlimited one-month pass for $29.