Offered at the Crunch Fitness chain of health clubs and by some private teachers, this new (and yet so old) form of movement is for women looking to lose inhibitions along with excess weight.
One of its proponents is actress, producer, and mother of two Sheila Kelley, author of a book called The S-Factor: Strip Workouts for Every Woman. Kelley, who says she despises working out, found out what a workout stripping could be while playing a stripper in the independent film Dancing at the Blue Iguana.
"This film took four months to shoot, and within a month and a half, my upper body had become incredibly strong and my abs were incredibly tight. I couldn't believe it." Her son was 4, and the pregnancy weight had finally melted off.
Then Kelley had a daughter and found herself once again with extra poundage. So she put a stripping pole in her husband's office and started doing a lot of movements with it, combining Pilates and yoga with the stripping moves. "This became my workout," she says.
During one of those sessions, she writes in her book, "I began moving and in that instant, something switched on in me. I was moving without a moment's forethought or self-consciousness. My body became like a river of sinew and muscle and raw energy. I allowed the music to curve and shape me with its wave."
Kelley says teaching her program was the furthest thing from her mind. Her friends became interested, though, when they saw how fast she bounced back from her pregnancy. "I started teaching four women, then their friends got into it," she recalls.
When all her students had become strangers, she started charging, and says she has now gotten more than 700 women runway-ready. "It took off like wildfire," she says. Kelley has since appeared on both The Oprah Winfrey Show and The View, and she even cajoled Barbara Walters into entwining herself on the pole.
Each session at Kelley's studio in Los Angeles is about two hours long. "You do sweat," she says. "I am not a physiologist, but your heart rate does go up. I teach people a whole routine and we practice it. This is a sensual, athletic endeavor."
Is she serious about those six-inch heels? "I do it barefoot," she says, "but encourage people to wear whatever makes them feel sexy. Some wear Doc Martens. You are discovering an erotic creature when you do this."
If they wish, participants may also bring a G-string, stripping shorts, a pushup bra, or short T-shirt to wear as a dress. For the record, some of her students do take it off (to G-string level), but others choose not to.
Lap Dancing Instead of Running Laps
Kelley is not the only one offering instruction for women who prefer lap dancing to running laps. Actress Carmen Electra has an "Aerobic Striptease" DVD out, and, for those who prefer a group setting, Crunch Fitness offers cardio striptease classes.
"I would characterize it as a low-intensity cardio workout," Rob Glick, group fitness director at Crunch Fitness in Mission Viejo, Calif., tells WebMD. "One of the missions of Crunch is to give people who are burned out on working out or who have not worked out in the past a fun and funny experience."
People come dressed for action at Crunch, although removal of a lot of clothing is not encouraged. "Some wear normal fitness clothes," Glick says. "Some wear layers so they can remove some. And some wear costumes and approach it in a 'themey,' campy way."
At Crunch, the pole-dancing class is a separate program.
"The women end up in a hip hop circle, dancing," Glick says. "They feel sexy and great."
Kelley says Crunch's program is nothing like her classes. "It's completely, completely different from what I do," she says. "It's more like a Laker Girl dance thing. Mine is really, really slow and sensual."
All Shapes and Sizes
Are all stripping students Demi Moores? "Oh, I have had women of every shape and size," Kelley says. "Even breast-cancer warriors who are absolutely ragged from battle. You can't believe the high everyone enjoys. Women have told me this has changed their lives, saved their marriages --or even showed them they were in the wrong marriage."
"This is not for hot young babes," she insists. "In fact, women with more size move unbelievably well. In fact, I tell the small women: "'Take up more space!" Expand!"
"When you do this you fall in love with yourself, no matter what size you are."
They may boost your self-esteem, but can stripping classes really bump up your fitness level? That depends on the class -- and on you.
Kelli Calabrese, MS, an exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, advises checking your heart rate during a class to see how hard you're working. To determine your so-called "maximum heart rate," subtract your age from 220. (If you're 40, for example, your maximum heart rate is 180.)
For a beginner, she tells WebMD, cardio benefits are achieved when you reach 55% of your maximum. This can be done in intense bursts, rather than over a sustained period.
"I would say cardio striptease is pretty good for endurance and cardiovascular," she says, "but I would wear a heart rate monitor for a session and see what it's doing for you. You probably need to supplement it -- and add strength training.
"If you have the courage, go for it," Calabrese says. "Hula and belly dancing are also fun. These are a fun piece of the pie but need to be supplemented."
As for those six-inch heels? "I would not," she says with a smile, "think of those for a workout."