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A dying breed

1 984. It was the year of Boy George, big hair and parachute pants. It was also the year Montrealer Lindy Langhame taught her first aerobics class.

Fast forward to 2007, and Langhame, 58, has decided to retire. After more than two decades of grapevines and knee lifts, Langhame called it quits last month. During her years of teaching, Langhame has seen the fitness scene evolve from dance exercise classes in church basements to equipment-laden workouts in high-tech gyms. To remind us just how far fitness has progressed, here’s a trip down memory lane to share the good, the bad and the ugly of the past two decades: The early years Group exercise classes took a new twist in the late 1970s with the introduction of dance aerobics. The format was simple: A class full of energetic participants followed the lead of an equally energetic instructor, who combined dance and athletic moves to create a whole new way to get in shape.

The trend hit its stride after Jane Fonda’s Workout videos in 1982 showed us how it was done. Gyms opened all over the country to accommodate the large number of fitness enthusiasts eager to sweat to the latest dance beat. Langhame remembers bare feet being the norm in the early years, but, when aerobics started looking less like dance and more like exercise, shoes became part of the uniform. In fact, aerobics sparked a whole new line of footwear designed specifically for group exercise classes.

The crowd was young (in their twenties and early thirties) and primarily female, Langhame recalls. Music was the focal point of the workout, and instructors spent hours compiling the right soundtrack to showcase their choreography. The process was lengthy (instructors bought records of hit songs and dubbed them on to a cassette tape), but, Langhame says, the right kind of music infuses the class and the instructor with energy.

In its infancy, aerobic dance classes needed little more than good music and fun choreography. Very little, if any, fitness equipment was used until the debut of step aerobics in the late 1980s. Today Langhame says aerobics have become safer and more enjoyable. High-impact aerobics has softened over the years into a less frenetic and bone-jarring form of exercise. But it has also become less popular, with more people choosing yoga and Pilates over exercising to the beat of music.

According to Langhame, today’s group exercise classes still attract mostly women, but they are an older crowd (30 and up). The array of available classes reflects the ageing gym population, with more choices that blend both mind and body such as Pilates and yoga. And for those still wanting a high-intensity workout, core training, boot camp and spin are just some of a long list of options from which fitness fanatics can choose.

How does the younger crowd get in shape? Women in their twenties prefer working out solo on cardio machines or in the weight room while listening to self-selected tunes on their iPods.

Instructors who teach group exercise classes no longer need to create their own soundtracks. Instead, they buy pre-packaged fitness music compilations on CD or compile their own play-lists on MP3 players. Langhame acknowledges that music is easier to come by nowadays, but she laments its repetitive beat. She also says that today’s music doesn’t offer the same energy and motivation as was found in the days of the Pointer Sisters and the Bee Gees.

As for equipment, gone are the days when a pair of dumbbells was enough to keep everyone happy. Today’s participants rarely work out without a stash of equipment close by, including exercise balls, weighted balls, steps, resistance tubing and light weights. The best and worst fads There has been no shortage of fitness fads over the years, some of which have stuck and some of which lasted about as long as a summer tan. What was the worst fitness fad of the last two decades?

"Tae Bo," Langhame says without hesitation. The cardio-boxing exercise was made popular by Billy Blanks in the late 1990s. Langhame says she questions the safety of trying to teach complex, high-energy kicking and punching moves in a group setting. She also notes the increase in shoulder, elbow, hip and knee injuries that accompanied Tae Bo’s popularity.

And the best fad? "The original aerobics," Langhame says.

Hard to argue with that. In its heyday, aerobics spawned not only a boom in gym memberships but also in fashion (who can forget neon Lycra body suits and legwarmers), workout videos and television shows (remember 20-Minute Workout?).
And while one can say that yoga has had a similar effect in the past decade, aerobic exercise created gym culture as we now know it.

But its heyday is over. Langhame is retiring at about the same time as old-school aerobics classes are disappearing off of gym schedules. According to the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, aerobics are now offered in fewer than half of the gyms in the United States. And while most of us are ready to say goodbye to Richard Simmons and his short shorts, veteran instructors such as Langhame and the history they represent will be missed. – A corrected and complete schedule for the Get Ready to Run training program is available online atwww.canada.com/ nationalpost under the Current Features heading.

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