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Sorry, Ennui Is No Excuse Not to Sweat

Fitness: So, your routine's gotten routine? Try Krav Maga, Boathouse or Jungle Gym. They're different but not difficult.

April 06, 1998|LIZ BRODY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sprained your brain lately thinking up excuses to break a date with that 7 a.m. step aerobics class? After all, you know the routine so well, you could almost do the whole thing in your sleep (a righteous idea just about now, eh?).

"Boredom is one of the top reasons people drop out of their exercise programs," says Kathie Davis, executive director of Idea, the Health and Fitness Source, an association of fitness professionals.

With that in mind, we scoured this so-called fitness capital of the world for an alternative sweat, hunting for the exercise class that could do no less than skewer our attention spans like kebab. Here are three that met the criteria:

*

A Class You Won't Want to Bag: It's 8:45 p.m., and I'm standing between a heavy bag and 215 pounds of Silas Myers. He's a 29-year-old investment analyst, mostly muscle, and we're at the Krav Maga National Training Center in West L.A. waiting for K.O. Bag class to begin. Although many of the young urbanites--equal mix of men and women--are here to shape up for the gritty martial art of Krav Maga, the official fighting system of the Israeli armed forces, a good portion have come to combat a much more personal and domestic enemy: flab.

After a rousing warm-up, the class splits into two groups. The A group grabs surgical tubing and follows the center's fitness manager, Linda Shelton, in a series of squats, flies and special power-packing moves using the tubes for resistance. The Bs pop on boxing gloves for punching and kicking drills on the heavy bags with Michael Margolin, one of the owners and a third-degree black belt in Krav Maga. Every three minutes we switch groups.

"It's not about staring in the mirror to see if you have a six-pack, it's about using your workout to pack a punch," Shelton says. "Our motto is: Show up and participate. Your body will change."

It's true. There is no time for looky-looing or watching the clock. In fact, as I ricochet between tubing and bag banging, instructors flying in my face egging me on, I feel the princess in me rise up--not Jewish, but Xena! I stop worrying and become warrior, and swing with all my might. "There's something about hitting that bag that makes the tension go straight out of your body," points out Myers. "I've done other sports. This is an exceptional stress reliever."

* Krav Maga National Training Center, 11500 Olympic Blvd., West Los Angeles; (310) 966-1300. Cost: about $80 a month for unlimited classes (first class free). If you're running short on time, try K.O. Bag Lunch, a new noon class at which you can order lunch before class and pick up your grub on the way out.

*

Where the Wild Things Are: Am I in the wrong place? The high-ceilinged space in the 18th Street Arts Complex of Santa Monica looks more like a photographer's studio than one you would exercise in. And strange objects hang in the air, the most striking of which is a black rubber net called the Web.

A sense of adventure is a good companion to have if you're heading for Jungle Gym, which, on a rainy Thursday morning, is just beginning. Emilie Conrad-Da'oud tells her 16 students, who range from professional dancers to a quadriplegic, "Move between the dots, find the nuances."

Jungle Gym is the antithesis to almost any class you'd find in a regular gym. Conrad-Da'oud, a movement pioneer and educator, believes the mechanical repetition of most exercise--"the Industrial Revolution," she calls it--makes the body rigid. Not only that, it bonsais the mind.

"Patterned movement puts the brain to sleep," she says. "It's through creating a complexity of movement and texture that you allow the nervous system to expand beyond 'straight forward, up, down, carry water, fetch wood.' When you do, it has a tremendous effect on the brain."

Student Kristy Schaefle agrees.

"Along with my bodily reflexes, my mental reflexes are a lot quicker, so I can better deal with whatever is coming around the next corner," says the 40-year-old who, until recently, worked as a 911 operator. Maureen DeLandreville, 52, uses the classes as therapy after breaking her neck in a fall six years ago. "Through Emilie's work, I am creating new neural connections, new ways to get messages through," she says.

Naturally, no two Jungle Gym classes are alike, and today's is about improvising. At first I experiment with a folding metal chair, then on one of the slanted ExploreBoards specifically designed to drape your body on, over and around. The idea is to let our bodies unravel, elaborate and reinvent themselves, breaking the boundaries of habit, challenging the rules of gravity. When I finally climb up onto the Web, Conrad-Da'oud's latest creation, which is still in the prototype phase, I finally relax. Playing on the bouncy grid, I feel deliciously distorted, stretched in all directions like a newsprint photo on Silly Putty. I notice I'm sweating, but it doesn't concern me.

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