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Aerial Yoga_courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club
Aerial yoga classes are offered at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club in Dana Point. | Photo by Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club

Fitness experts shake things up with new approaches to keep clients moving—and healthy—through the pandemic.

By Ashley Breeding

 

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Laguna Beach businesses continue to reinvent the way residents dine out, shop and connect—after all, the key to survival is adaptability (and, in this case, maybe a booster shot). Local gyms are no different; to keep their doors open and clients enthused, fitness experts are changing up their routines, creating fresh environments and innovative workouts. Here are a few of the latest fitness trends offered at local studios.

 

Get Into the Swing

The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club’s elegant spa offers not only relaxing treatments but also fitness classes including a fun and unique option: aerial yoga, a swift, full-body workout done in silk hammocks.

“We focus on muscle strength, flexibility and core,” explains Avigale LaGrass, director of spa and wellness at the resort. “The workout allows you to move freely and supports your body weight using gravity, differentiating aerial yoga from traditional yoga.”

In addition to improving flexibility and balance, aerial fitness—a combination of yoga positions, dance and stretching—also releases muscle tension in the neck, hips and spine. “And it enhances deep breathing techniques, which is super important right now to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system,” LaGrass adds.

Offering the aerial class three times a week, the resort accommodates up to nine clients, making it a more “intimate experience,” LaGrass points out. “This also means the instructor is able to better focus on each person to ensure they are performing the movement correctly and getting the very best out of their workout.”

If feeling strong and limber afterward isn’t enough of a perk, resort members also receive a full wellness experience with access to the sauna, lap pool and whirlpool in the spa and fitness center area, which can be enjoyed before or after their yoga class.

 

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A spin class in the outdoor tent at Art of Fitness | Photo by Ashley Littlefield

A Breath of Fresh Air

At local gym Art of Fitness, it’s not the pandemic kicking butt—it’s owners Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha. When the city wouldn’t get behind their idea for beach bootcamps that were intended to keep clients safe and socially distanced, the creative duo still found a way to take their business outside. “We put up a 1,000-square-foot tent out back. … Then we brought classes back inside … then we put the tent back up again,” jokes Keegan, noting legitimate concerns over the latest Omicron variant.

“Our main goal is to keep everyone feeling comfortable and coming back,” she says, pointing out that physical fitness also helps boost immunity and overall health. “Sure, you can do classes and free weights at home, but it’s a different motivation. It’s important to us that our clients continue to have a place to come and be more motivated. So it’s been a matter of finding ways they can do that safely.”

In addition to infusing fresh air into workouts and giving clients more physical space between them, Rocha and Keegan have shortened hourlong classes to between 30 and 45 minutes, often combining workouts—like spin with pump or abs—to deliver the same results. Specialties, like aerial yoga, that were put on hold for a time will soon be coming back to the indoor area. The gym also took this time to invest in all new spin bikes for the indoor studio since the old bikes were moved outside. Keegan notes that prefilmed online classes are still offered as well for those who are more comfortable working out at home.

The owners have also updated the juice bar menu to include immune-boosting ingredients like ginger, turmeric and vitamin C. “We want to keep people’s immune systems super strong,” Keegan adds. “If they do get sick, it’s their best defense for getting better quickly.”

 

To the ‘Core’

The Well personal fitness studio has been focusing more and more on functional aging, says owner Brian Wisely. That translates to what’s called “reactive training.” “The goal is to achieve functional ability and maintain it as we age. Training for functional aging transforms one’s understanding of the brain, its relationship to exercise and how to leverage exercise programs to slow physical and cognitive decline,” Wisely explains, pointing to a new piece of equipment called the Core-Tex Reactive Trainer. As far as Wisely knows, The Well is the only gym in Laguna Beach that has one.

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The Well owner Brian Wisely demonstrates the Core-Tex Reactive Trainer, which has many uses. | Photo by Ashley Littlefield

According to the equipment brand, the idea is to consider a person’s bones, joints, muscles and other soft tissue as the body’s hardware and the nervous system as the software, like in a computer. The hardware needs well-calibrated software to assess each situation and signal the program to operate. The more that hardware and software are exposed to different situations, the better the software becomes at solving problems, and the hardware also becomes more efficient at responding and dissipating stress throughout the body, avoiding overuse injuries.

Resembling a kids trampoline (a circular platform with a bar) but intended for grown-up athletes of all levels, the reactive training device with an unstable surface is said to build strength, endurance, balance, flexibility and sharp reaction time while challenging the muscles in new and different ways, adding to calorie burn and avoiding injury from repetition. The equipment’s adaptability allows for fresh workouts each time instead of the same routine over and over, helping the body to become more engaged both physically and mentally while exercising. 

For example, Wisely says, one of his 60-year-old clients, a golfer, uses the Core-Tex to perfect his swing. “While standing on it, he holds onto the handle and rotates his lower body 90 degrees while keeping his upper body steady. This is just one of a long list of exercises you can do on it, so you’re only limited by your creativity.”

 

If the Suit Fits

For those familiar with TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) or EMS (electro-muscle stimulation) therapy, the Super-Suit at Nuzuna Wellness Centers in Laguna Hills and Newport Beach is a promising option. Created to help you “exercise smarter, not longer,” according to its marketing slogan, the suit—resembling a spring wetsuit, but charged—features 20 pre-placed electrode pads that emit impulses to even the deepest muscle groups, increasing the body’s natural muscle contractions during a workout.

EMS Super-Suits
At Nuzuna Wellness Centers, the EMS Super-Suits utilize electrode pads that emit impulses to create deeper muscle contractions for a more intense workout.

These contractions, the suit creators say, act as a resistance that makes each exercise movement three times as efficient—just 20 minutes of this Super-Suit workout is equivalent to three hours of traditional exercise. Activating more muscle fibers boosts the function of red blood cells and metabolism, so you’ll continue to burn calories for up to 72 hours after you’ve hung up your gym towel.

In addition to strengthening muscles, the suit is said to also help correct muscle imbalance, dull pain signals and improve posture.

 

From the Ground Up

Spin and Pilates fanatics may remember Defy Gravity in nearby Corona del Mar, where co-owner and fitness expert Shannon Barbadian recently spun the intense workout combo into a new venture: Root Fitness. “I realized I was interested in helping people experience transformations from the ground up,” she says. She wanted Root to be more than just a gym, but a ritual. “It’s a place where, when clients walk out, they think, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I was capable of doing that, but I am.’ When you realize you can meet challenges that are physically hard, it opens you up to challenges of all kinds,” Barbadian explains. In other words, it can be life changing.

Root Fitness
Shannon Barbadian, owner of Root Fitness, shows how the Bodhi Suspension System works. | Photo by Sharon Stello

While the routine is efficient, the atmosphere is gentle. “We don’t have any mirrors,” Barbadian says. “I want clients to give themselves a break and feel good when they’re here. … Also not having mirrors connects you to your classmates during the workout, making you feel as if you are really part of a team, which I believe allows for a much better experience. ”

Alternating between a traditional reformer (with “bells and whistles” like resistance bands and power rings) and a hanging Bodhi Suspension System (think TRX, but with two ropes that create four suspension points, plus handles for both hands and feet), clients keep heart rate up, don’t grow bored and quickly find their weak spots.

“Most of us tend to rest on one leg or carry a baby in the same arm,” Barbadian explains. “So, the one we’re not using is significantly weaker. …With these four points of suspension, I can take you off the floor entirely, exposing that weakness. And, as you’re trying to balance, those weaker [muscles] start to show up and get stronger.” Ability to quickly move between upper and lower body makes it efficient, and “small wins” are gained every day, Barbadian says.

Aim for two or three days a week, depending on how quickly you want to feel results.

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