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Heading indoors for your fall, winter workouts? Some fun options

As Chicago’s famous wind takes on a chilly bite for Fall, outdoor runners, Summerdance enthusiasts and sunrise yoga worshippers have plenty of indoor exercise options — thanks in part to Chicago entrepreneurs.

If you’re like most of us who’d rather avoid running sprints amid blustery winds or the snow, look for affordable alternatives at the local YMCA or community center. They host indoor activities ranging from weightlifting to water aerobics to recreational leagues for soccer, volleyball, basketball.

“Before someone tackles a new workout regimen, [he or she] might want to delve into their own personalities and figure out what’s cool and exciting enough to get them up and out the door when it’s dark outside,” said Dr. Chris Hogrefe, a clinical assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who specializes in sports and emergency medicine.

That’s especially important because people tend to store more fat and eat more carbohydrates as fall and winter chill sets in, Hogrefe said.

If fun is a motivator, the MaZi Dance Fitness Centre studios (http://mazidancefitness.com) — the name is a mixture of the two founding sisters’ first names — offer upbeat, energy-filled, music-driven classes with names like “Ballerina Bum Bootcamp” and “Zi -Cardio.” (New students pay $30 a week for unlimited classes, and get a free class when they “tag” the post and MaZi via social media.)

Ziba Lennox (left) and Marisol Sarabia (right), sisters and co-owners at MaZi Dance Fitness, stretch during the lunchtime class in the South Loop. | Sarah Matheson /For the Sun-Times

The sisters — Marisol Sarabia and Ziba Lennox — are former professional ballet dancers who couldn’t find classes featuring strength exercises derived from ballet technique plus easy-to-follow dance cardio.

“People who love these classes are a mix of people who have never danced but haven’t found the right workout, and former dancers, yet they all realize how great these exercises make them feel both mentally and physically,” said Lennox, of Evanston, who earned both undergraduate and MBA degrees in finance from the University of Rochester in New York.

Sarabia studied and danced with the San Francisco Ballet on full scholarship in her teens. The Streeterville resident is a civil engineer and works part-time for Leidos engineering consultancy while co-leading the MaZi exercise studios in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and the South Loop.

Jeanine Pekkarinen, 44, of Roscoe Village, tapped into the fun side of working out by going to MaZi classes such as “Ballerina Fight Club” and “Zi-Cardio.”

“You just have fun,” said Pekkarinen, an outreach manager for the American Dental Association who grew up performing in musical and community theaters in and around her native Waukegan. She likes supporting a local women-owned business and appreciates the instructors’ attention to members’ proper form. Pekkarinen worked with the teachers at MaZi to create a foxtrot for her and her husband’s wedding dance.

“It’s great music, great energy and a great workout — and it’s not difficult to follow along and take your first step,” Pekkarinen said. “It’s freedom. It’s relaxing. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of the Zi-Cardio class without a smile on my face.”

Besides the exercise studios, MaZi also holds fitness class twice a week at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago hospital.

Hannah Wolf, Air Foundation class instructor, teaches beginners how to use the hammock. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Shama Patel traded in her corporate law career in Chicago for a fitness entrepreneur’s dream of creating a cutting-edge, core-strengthening exercise program called AIR Aerial Fitness. Headquartered in Chicago, the health and wellness franchise specializes in fitness studios and facial bars: AIR Aerial Fitness and Mud Facial Bar.

Patel, a River North resident for over a decade, perfected the design of a hammock rigging system with the help of her father, a structural engineer. The rigging system supports a person’s body weight, and is designed so that participants engage their core instantly. The hammock is the centerpiece of studios in River North, Lincoln Park and the South Loop.

The hammock’s role in building core strength is what Diandra Asbaty appreciates when she takes any of three AIR fitness classes — AIR Core, a 30-minute ab blast class; AIR Foundation, a 50-minute beginner class that introduces new clients to aerial exercises; and AIR Flow, a mixed-level flow class fusing yoga poses with aerials to increase flexibility. (First-timers can use the promotional code AIRCHICAGO at checkout to take the first class for free; membership details are at http://www.airfitnow.com.)

Asbaty, a professional bowler and South Loop resident, took up the fitness regimen to gain strength both personally and for the Professional Women’s Bowling Association tour.

“As a mom, I sometimes feel I put myself last,” said Asbaty, 37, mother to 7-year-old son Madden and 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Jersey. “Going into 2017, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to take better care of myself.” Asbaty, who runs her own coaching firm, The International Art of Bowling,  said she fell in love with the classes right away because they provided “a really good combination of mental stability and physical strength.”

Asbaty also enjoyed her quick progress, as well as an extra uplift from supporting a local woman-owned business.

“I could barely lift myself up when I started,” she said. “Now, I have a lot more control.”

The South Loop studio’s franchise owner, Hannah Wolf, 28, teaches classes with the strength and grace of her training as a dancer and, in childhood, as a competitive gymnast.

“I’ve been in fitness my whole life, and I’ve never seen results I’ve had with AIR,” she said. “I’ve never been so toned or in shape in my life.”

At Runner’s High, cutting-edge technology lets a group of runners stay “together” on side-by-side treadmills even though they’re all running at different speeds and paces. The runners watch a big screen to run “excursions” like the Swiss Alps or the hills of San Francisco. | Provided photo

Runner’s High, a new indoor running gym, uses technology to set up each runner’s treadmill to his or her casual and comfortable jogging mile time, and to train accordingly. The setup lets runners stay “together” on side-by-side treadmills even though they’re all running at different speeds and paces. Large screens enable the runners to “virtually” watch a big screen to go on excursions to places like the Swiss Alps or the hills of San Francisco.

Runner’s High founder Jeff Levy, who grew up in Glenview and now lives in Old Town, says he wanted to make running on a treadmill more fun and to let people feed off of one another’s energy. A single class costs $25, with several price packages available. (See www.runnershighstudio.com)

The gym is set up to provide both a respite — the reception area is outfitted with patio furniture and a crescent-shaped couch surrounding a fireplace — and a complete fitness center, with recently added classes offering yoga, core and body-strength training.

“Our slogan is ‘Find Your High,’” Levy said. “We want you to find your happy place and achieve it over and over.”

Indeed, Northwestern medicine’s Hogrefe says the best way to stay fit is to build exercise into your daily routine.

Sandra Guy is a local freelance writer.