Hybrid workouts mash up aerobic and strength training in new challenge

Aaron Small jumps to kick the boxing bag in a class at Krav Maga in Los Angeles.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

There was cardio, and there was strength. In the gym, the two have long been separate entities, in separate sections, often with separate audiences. If you wanted both, you hit the weights first and then jumped into an aerobics or spinning class, or vice versa. But that’s changing.



Hybrid workouts: In the June 21 Saturday section, an article about classes that combine forms of exercise referred to the co-founder of Exhale Gym in Santa Monica as Elisabeth Papp. Her name is Elisabeth Halfpapp.


Meet the hybrids — classes that hit you with a bunch of activities that you aren’t used to seeing together: running, rowing, kettle bells, sandbags, dumbbells, calisthenics, stretching, yoga, a ballet barre and more. Hybrid workouts throw aerobic and strength workouts in a blender, turn up the speed to purée and dare you to keep up. Classes such as ShockWave, which combines rowing and weights, or Orangetheory, which combines running and rowing with strength and stretching, are thriving.


“That’s because everyone wants to get as much as possible out of an hour nowadays,” says Elisabeth Papp, who added an aerobic function to her long-standing New York Core Fusion Barre and expanded nationwide in the last couple of years. “Mixing it up is effective and fast.”

Ultimately, people pay a gym to push them out of their comfort zone. These hybrid classes seem to do a good job at that.


The mix: Rowing and strength exercises

The routine: Row for 90 seconds. Pump weights for 90 seconds. Slam sandbags to the floor for 90 seconds. Do medicine-ball sit-ups for 90 seconds. Then hit the rower again, do prone exercise-ball dumbbell flies, Bosu-ball jump squats, push-ups and lunges, all for 90 seconds each. Then do the whole set two more times.

ShockWave is frantic, exhausting and exhilarating, a frenzied nonstop rush through eight workout stations. It uses interval training to jack your pulse through the roof with the rowing (done as twice-per-set races) and delivers a good strength-training pump. The best part is how fast it’s done; urgently racing from station to station, you lose track of time. When it was over, 60 minutes seemed to have gone by in 10.

The feedback: First-timers I talked to after my class at the Irvine Equinox were impressed. “The music, the energy, the cardio, the full-body workout — it was very motivating,” said Person Garcia, 46, a salesman from Costa Mesa who lifts weights and runs twice a week. “Because of this class, I’m going to join this club.”

“Rowing can be intimidating in large doses because it’s a new movement pattern, so we made it more palatable by breaking it up into small pieces and mixing it up with the other stuff,” says ShockWave co-creator Josh Crosby, a former U.S. national team rower. “The combination of the interval training with strength stations keeps it exciting and works everything on your body. Nobody jumps on a Spin bike after this.”

He was right. I’d planned to go for a swim after ShockWave. I got as far as the hot tub.


Orangetheory Fitness

The mix: Running, rowing, weights, suspension straps, stretching

The routine: It’s one thing for a trainer to push you to go faster, harder. It’s another to see your effort measured and displayed in vivid colors on a big video screen up on the wall, where everyone else can see if you’re dogging it or not. That’s the hook at Orangetheory, a franchised gym that outfits you with a networked heart-rate monitor before you start. An instructor pushes you to run and row faster to get your heart rate into the “orange” — a challenging “interval-training” zone that represents 82% to 91% of your maximum heart rate. If you go too slowly, the color of your rectangle on the big screen is green or blue; push too hard and your color changes to red, meaning it’s an all-out effort you can’t sustain for more than 30 seconds. The goal is to stay in the orange as long as possible, ultimately accumulating 12 to 20 minutes there by workout’s end.

The orange zone not only burns more calories than a more normal pace, it also keeps burning fat long after you’re done by jacking up your metabolism and post-exercise oxygen consumption. More important, the psychological reward of seeing your name in orange up on the screen keeps you pushing hard. Tellingly, nobody left the room when the workout was done until we all got our “orange” scores and saw how we ranked.

The feedback: “Woo-hoo!” screamed Christina Nunez, a 28-year-old technology recruiter from Newport Beach, when she saw that she’d been in the orange zone for 15 minutes. A lifelong non-exerciser until last year, she’d been doing some Spin and Zumba classes until she heard rave reviews of Orangetheory in October from a friend and signed up. “I’m not a runner or a rower, and I get bored easily, but I won’t miss a class of this; unlike with the other stuff, I want to do this,” she said. “I love the action, and the muscle definition, which I’ve never had before. This has turned me on to fitness.” In a big way: She’s now training for her first 5K run.


Core Fusion Barre & Cardio

The mix: Yoga, plank running, barre squats and pliés, and stretching

The routine: Among 20 perfectly coiffed women on yoga mats at the Exhale gym in Santa Monica, one sweaty, stinky, bumbling male stood out. But my self-consciousness, and my chauvinist assumption that this would be an easy workout, quickly evaporated as the sun salutations, warrior poses and downward-facing dogs of yoga were mixed up with something I’d never heard of: plank runs. In a plank run, you assume the top position of a push-up and literally sprint in place, pumping your knees alternately into your chin for 30, 45, 60 seconds or more. This rockets your heart rate and transforms a tranquil yoga session into a heaving, throbbing interval training session.

But that’s only the half of it. After 30 minutes came the ballet barre and strength work: the plyometric squats and pliés of the barre method, exercises honed over the last couple of decades by Exhale co-founder Elisabeth Papp.

The feedback: “We warm you up, strengthen posture and alignment with yoga, heat you up with cardio, then go to strength, because now you can really get deep into the positions,” the New York-based Papp told me when it was over. True; my thighs and glutes were toast due to holding a variety of single-leg bar positions for a minute or two each. Her challenging stretching-strength-cardio all-body workout concludes with a focus on the center, a final 15 minutes of ab work and stretching.

Information: Three L.A. area locations: Santa Monica, Hollywood and Venice

KM Bag

The mix: Boxing and kicking a heavy bag, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, sprawls, running and stretching

The routine: Hybrid workouts are red-hot today, but they’re not all new. KM Bag, spun off 15 years ago as the fitness workout of namesake Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art, may have kicked off the blended-workout trend. Like ShockWave, it has you move to stations positioned around a main attraction. But in this case, instead of a rowing machine, you pound heavy boxing bags. And ultimately they pound you.

Jump rope. Push-up. Squat. Sit-up. Down dog. Shadow boxing. Running. Wrestling sprawls. That’s just the 10-minute KM warmup, and I was already gasping for breath. After that, we donned the gloves and began hammering the bag with increasingly complex combinations of punches. Left-right. Left-right-hook. Left-right-hook-kick. Soon, lithe 5-foot-1 women and hulking 6-foot-5 men alike were pounding the heavy bag with six- and seven-punch combinations that would have seemed incomprehensible minutes before. While your partners take their turn, there’s no rest: You do push-ups, squats, sit-ups and run around the room. The workout climaxes in an epic three-station battle that pits you against the heavy bag, a prone ground-and-pound dummy and bicycle sit-ups. I was dazzled by my newfound pugilistic expertise — when I could breathe.

The feedback: The satisfaction I felt over building a skill is by design. “Even if you just want to get in shape, you still want to learn something — like how to punch and how to kick,” Michael Margolin, co-founder of Krav Maga, told me. You also will learn that punching and kicking are a couple of the most exhausting and heart-rate raising fitness activities you can do. By the end, I was so spent, drenched and wasted that I literally could not hold my hands up to my chin anymore. Ever wonder why boxers have such great bodies?