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The Greatest Workout on Earth

Joining the Act continued...

We moved on to stretching and warm-ups, and then Lisa demonstrated how to do a headstand, making a triangle of our two hands and head and then lifting ourselves into the "frog" position, upside down, knees resting on elbows. If you think it's a little hard to picture, it's also a little hard to do if you are, say, a few decades out of practice.

Teetering in the frog position, we all attempted to stretch our feet and lower bodies straight up toward the ceiling. Some of us made it, some of us didn't. Those who did went on to handstands.

The two teachers popped about like little springs, cheerfully encouraging us to defy gravity. They made everything look easy, of course, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

The Allure of the Big Top

And for many people, that spirit is the reason they've come to Circus Sports: for a bit of adventure. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), if you're in the fitness doldrums and tweaking your routine isn't enough, try taking a bigger leap. "Everyone in the fitness industry is looking for ways to make the experience fun," says Dixie Stanforth, MS, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas at Austin and an ACE spokeswoman. "More and more of the things you did on the playground 20 years ago are being incorporated into classes -- kicking your legs, jumping, real-life movements."

As for circus-oriented routines, says Stanforth, "The specific benefits are muscular strength, endurance, power, balance, and coordination. Depending on the level of the workout, there's also cardiovascular fitness."

The hour-long class is hard work -- I felt muscles I hadn't used in years -- but it's also low key, noncompetitive, and fun. The instructors, who are real circus performers themselves, are very careful to keep you from hurting yourself.

Taking to the Trapeze

Following our frog poses, we did somersaults on the padded surfaces, and then cartwheels. Everybody clapped and cheered, even when we fell backward on our butts or went flying sideways and crumpled on the mats. Some of us in the class seemed like naturals. Some of us, well, didn't.

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