Offbeat workouts to get fit, get your blood pumping
Roll this way with log rolling, aerial yoga and...
On a roll
More than 100 years ago, brave lumberjacks known as river pigs drove logs downstream to sawmills, “rolling” them to keep the river free of jams. At the end of the season, these same men competed to see who rolled best. The quick-footed sport of log rolling was born.
Here in the city, log rolling is kept alive and well under the auspices of Shana Verstegen and the company she co-owns, Madison Log Rolling. Verstegen started rolling at age 7, and is now a four-time world champion who eagerly shares the sport she loves.
“Madison is full of adventurous people that always want to try cool, unique fitness,” she says. “The log rolling community is diverse. We have kids as young as 4 and seniors as old as 75. They’re all different body types, and they have so much fun supporting each other.”
MLR’s adult competition team, Lager Loggers, earns an end-of-practice pint by rolling at the Supreme Health and Fitness pool during the winter months and in Lake Wingra during summer. Log rolling builds balance, core strength and focus, and eventually “becomes the best cardiovascular workout you’ll ever have in your life,” Verstegen says.
An early goal is staying up for five seconds. “It’s hard at first,” Verstegen says. “You get up. You fall down. But you learn perseverance, and you’re always getting that reward of seeing yourself do better.”
Gotta cache ’em all
It’s hard to put the cell phone down long enough to work out–and now you don’t have to. Geocaching is a high-tech scavenger hunt that takes participants on adventures to find hidden “caches” with the help of an app downloaded to a phone or a GPS device. Some caches are naturally occurring, like a cliff or tree, and require you to answer questions about geology, such as the pH of water or naming a type of rock or mineral. But most have been placed by geocachers who created their own hunts.
Frank Conway got into geocaching through his son, who’d already given it a try with a friend. “I was given a GPS for Father’s Day that year and we saw that there were geocaches near our home,” Conway says. “We took a couple of family walks and found our first geocache as a group and we had a lot of fun.”
Since then, Conway and his family have enjoyed both hunting for and hiding their own geocaches.
“It is a great way to get outside and see places you otherwise might not go to,” he says. “Geocaching has introduced me to beautiful wildlife areas in and around Madison and it is awesome to explore nature while having a destination in that location.”
Conway suggests checking out the America the Beautiful series along the Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail extending from Cottage Grove to Deerfield, the Illinois Train Car series along the Badger State Trail south of County Highway M and extending to Sun Valley Parkway, and the Green County Barn Quilt series that runs from Albany to Monroe along two bike trails, among many other worthy routes.
While geocaching can be a solo pursuit, Conway says a welcoming and social community has formed around the hobby, with events geared toward putting faces to the signatures left on the logs at the caches. “Writing a nice note in a log is very much appreciated by the geocache hider,” explains Conway, “and I have met some of the nicest people through geocaching.”
Up and away
Every few years there’s a new style of yoga to try. The past few years, aerial yoga, or antigravity yoga, took off around town. Aerial yoga uses a soft sling or hammock that hangs from the ceiling. Practitioners work their poses from inside the sling.
Rainbow Rudhe, a student at Kula Yoga, was drawn to aerial because it was different, although she was a little wary at first. “In reality, you’re only a few inches off the floor, but in your mind, you might as well be 10 feet up,” she says. Once Rudhe got used to it, the benefits quickly outweighed her fears. “You’re very supported by the silk, and it’s like using any prop such as a block or strap. You get into poses deeper and use parts of your muscles that you can’t on the floor.”
To the uninitiated, aerial yoga might look like an act from Cirque du Soleil, but Rudhe says the experience is nearer to being inside a cocoon. “You feel childlike, getting to do all these things in there that in your normal life you wouldn’t do. How many times during the day do you get to crawl inside a big cocoon and rest for 10 minutes?” While resting is part of it, a lot of hard work goes on inside that soft cocoon.
Into the woods
Just how popular is trail running? Well, for starters, the Ice Age Trail 50, a 50-mile trek through rolling prairie and forest on the statewide trail, held for the 35th time in May, is one of the oldest continuously running 50-mile races in the country.
If you missed that race, you can still join Christopher Rozoff’s meetup group, Madison Trail Runners. MTR boasts about 600 runners–of all ages and all paces–brought together by a shared love of running on Wisconsin’s beautiful trails. Typically three to 15 people participate in the group runs.
Rozoff started running to lose weight. But road running made him nervous. “The cars made me feel in danger and it got repetitive,” he says. “Trail running was a way to keep it more interesting. I felt like I could run forever because there’s just so much to see. Nature is spiritual and healthy. It’s my form of meditation.”
Running has become so much a part of Rozoff’s life that he’s training for a 100-mile ultramarathon this September, and doing a handful of 50K races as warm-ups. But when he compares himself to other runners in town, he says, “I’m just middle of the pack.” It is Madison, after all.
Into the groove
James Meadows was on a trip to Guatemala when a friend suggested they both take a salsa dancing class. It was nothing he was interested in at the time, but once he tried it, he says, “It was a revelation. There was something about the music and the intricacies of the rhythms. It just took me over.”
In 2011, as a University of Wisconsin-Madison law student, Meadows founded Eastside Salsa, a school that teaches Latin social dances like salsa and bachata to beginner and intermediate students. Even if students come alone, instructors partner them up. Meadows’ approach to partnering is LGBT-friendly and gender-neutral. “I’ve danced with fantastic female leads and great male follows,” he says. “There’s no reason why any person should be deprived of either experience because of gender.”
Meadows says salsa supports coordination and balance, but mainly it creates a sense of joy. At a Saturday night school-sponsored dance at Cardinal Bar, Meadows looked out and saw the floor packed with happy, smiling people enjoying the dance.
“The message of salsa is don’t be afraid to enjoy your life,” Meadows says. “People tell me all the time learning to dance is one of the scariest things they’ve ever done. But they stick with it because it’s fun. The community aspect gives you the freedom to make mistakes and to persevere through those mistakes. You master an art, and it’s an art you share with others.”
In a pickle
Pickleball is the love child of tennis and ping-pong, played on a short, badminton-sized court with a whiffle-like ball and an aluminum paddle. The short court is an important aspect of its rise to fame. Players, usually configured as doubles, have a limited area to move around in, making it easier for people with limited mobility to play.
A longtime favorite of Midwestern school gym classes, pickleball has been championed by baby boomers in active retirement communities around the U.S. Now, pickleball has a growing group of local participants, too.
Westsider Dave Weinbach is an enthusiastic ambassador of the sport. He’s also the 2014 national singles champion in his class and the 2015 national men’s doubles champion. The sport has become a family affair for him, his wife Diane and their sons Jake, Ryan and Sam.
He first noticed pickleball–and the loud, unique sound that occurs as the ball hits the paddle–when he was playing tennis at his father’s retirement village. “In 10 minutes I was hooked,” he says. He now plays pickleball almost exclusively, and notes other racquet sport players have done the same.
Weinbach says some of the sport’s selling points are that it’s easy to learn, inexpensive to try and highly social. He sometimes plays in three- or four-hour stretches because it’s less strenuous than other racquet sports. “If you’re [age] 5 or 100, in any kind of health, you can play pickleball. It grips you and you can’t let go.”