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Fitness & Exercise

No More Hamster Wheel

Group classes are adding excitement to cardio machines
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Look up "treadmill" in Roget's Thesaurus and you'll find a predictable list of terms: drudgery, tedium, and monotony. So it's surprising that classes using treadmills are the latest fitness rage. Classes featuring stairclimbers, rowers, and other cardiovascular machines are also part of the trend, which has generated unprecedented enthusiasm for equipment long considered to be solitary and mind numbing.

Nobody's Left in the Dust

"People get really bored on machines, but group classes make the time fly by and you get a more intense workout," says San Jose, Calif., walking expert Therese Iknoian, co-developer of Trekking, a group exercise program promoted by the treadmill manufacturer Star Track. "You get the benefit of group energy and an instructor who will challenge you, but at the same time, there are no complicated dance steps to learn." That's why, instructors say, the classes seem to be drawing participants who shy away from step aerobics and other choreographed forms of exercise.

The latest fitness machine classes are an offshoot of the wildly popular indoor cycling classes, which are typically set to high-energy music and involve both slow-paced and high-intensity intervals. One key benefit, instructors and students say, is that beginners don't feel intimidated. Exercisers of all fitness levels can work out together, in a spirit of camaraderie; a top-notch marathoner or rower can't race away from the pack.

Many participants say they work out longer and harder during a group class than they would using the same machine on their own. "Before these classes, I'd get bored after about 20 minutes on the treadmill and quit," says Todd Quartararo, spokesperson for The Sports Club, located in Irvine, Calif., which offers both treadmill and stairclimber classes. "But now I don't want to be the one who quits in the middle of the class."

Unlike traditional aerobics classes, most of the new indoor machine classes are taught in a club's main cardiovascular room, with the machines grouped in rows or a semicircle. Participants typically listen to the music and instructions via headsets so that the classes don't disturb the rest of the gym's members.

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