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Looking to Get Into Shape and Have Fun? What a Concept

Exercise: You don't have to go to an aerobics class or run like crazy. You might try hiking with your dog or snowshoeing.


So this is the year you will exercise regularly--or stick with exercise after all those doomed start-up efforts of yore.

But now that you've moved on to figuring out what your workout will include, everything's got that been-there, done-that ring.

So, searching Southern California, we found some out-of-the-ordinary activities that might lead you down the path of fitness--forever.

California Canine Hikers: "He's my personal trainer," says Lana Corbett of Downey, pointing to her 4-year-old standard poodle, Ziggy. Along with 14 other dog owners, Corbett had brought her pooch to Dana Point Harbor on an overcast Sunday afternoon for another outing of the California Canine Hikers. This three-mile trek wound along the water's edge, yachts and ocean forming the backdrop, interrupted only by two rest stops and the sound of dogs slurp-slurp-slurping from water containers.

The club is about 350 members strong, says Dave Musikoff, editor of the group's newsletter. Three to six hikes a month are usually scheduled, most in Los Angeles County but some in Orange County. Griffith Park and the San Gabriel Mountains are favorite L.A. sites.

It's a chance for exercise and quality time with the pooch. But Musikoff warns that it's not a stroll in the park. Dogs must be on leashes. Owners should bring water, a container and the means to clean up after their dogs. Participants--both people and dogs--should be reasonably fit hikers, and dogs should have received eight or 10 weeks of novice obedience training. ("We don't ask to see graduation papers or anything," Musikoff says.)

Few snarls erupt along the trail, says John Maclean, who led the Dana Point Harbor hike accompanied by his 6-year-old husky, Bandit. At the start, there's the expected sniffing, posturing and stares. "But then they all develop their own pack mentality," Maclean says.

The exercise benefits aren't confined to the two-legged participants. Vicky Mann of Mission Viejo, accompanied by her black Newfoundland, Vegas, was proud of her dog's hiking accomplishments. "She's lost 10 pounds doing it," she says.

Prospective members may send a self-addressed stamped envelope for information about membership to Musikoff, 2154 Woodlyn Road, Pasadena, CA 91104.

Indoor Rowing: If you missed the indoor cycling craze, not to worry. Join an indoor rowing class and, some exercise enthusiasts predict, you'll be riding the next wave of fitness chic.

Rowing classes vary, but the basic concept is the same. With classmates, you sit on a rowing machine seat and "row" by pulling a handle attached to a wheel and chain while your body goes up and back. The leader provides instruction and motivation and may lead the class in races or show visuals on overhead televisions of competitions or rowers in real boats. Some classrooms are designed to look like lakes. Classes run a half-hour, 45 minutes or longer. Besides cardiovascular conditioning, the activity works most major muscle groups.

The appeal?

Any level of fitness can be accommodated, says Jan Mazgajski, a 1972 Olympic rower for Poland and now head coach for the men's and women's crew teams at Loyola Marymount University. By adjusting the intensity of the rowing motion, anyone can work at their own pace, he says. "Rowing is a typical team sport," he says. "It teaches you discipline. It's a good cross-training activity for basketball and volleyball."

"The group is motivating," says Karen Zinder, owner of By Land or Lake in Saugus, a facility devoted to indoor rowing and cycling. If you ride a rower on your own, you may get tired and walk away long before you planned, she points out. "But you aren't going to give up with a group around you."

While some clubs offer the class to members only, others sell packages. A single rowing class at By Land or Lake is $10; packages are less per class. (805) 253-3730.)

exerHoops: Since 1975, when Mat Plendl was the national Hula-Hoop champion, people have nagged him to create a workout with the hoop.

Now, he's got the exerHoop, which looks a lot like yesteryear's Hula-Hoop but is covered with a soft foam. He has developed a sculpting program with the hoop with exercise instructor Vita Lucia.

It's being used in basic step classes at some health clubs to incorporate upper-body toning and introduce variety. (There's also a home instructional video version with hoop and a workout, for $47.90. To order by phone, call [888] 397-4667.)

Getting the video before heading off to a class with exerHoop instruction might put you ahead of the learning curve, since the hoop's spawning a language all its own. "Drive the bus" involves holding the hoop out in front of you. "Honk the horn" uses the hoop to do a chest press. The hoop, which can provide up to 12 pounds of resistance, can also help trim abs and inner thighs, Plendl says.

Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing costs a fraction of downhill skiing--and provides good exercise with great scenery.

Wait, there's more.

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