As much as we like a few good drinks and a meal worth writing about, working out is something we need to keep us going. However…we find that sweating it out on a treadmill bores us to death. We came across some weird and wonderful ways to stay fit and toned in Shanghai this winter.
Kendo, (a martial art descended from Kenjutsu) is the ancient Japanese art of swordsmanship. You don’t use actual swords, of course; but wooden sticks, or ‘bokuto’. The principles, however, remain the same, with participants seeking to do things such as ‘love one’s country and society’, ‘cultivate a vigorous spirit’, and ‘contribute to the development of culture’ through practice which sounds quite a lot grander than what you get out of a boring old gym membership.
Protective armor is worn (more on that after the jump). Novices – you can tell who they are because they’re the rabble in the corner dressed in civilian clothes – start with the basics, which include the correct way to hold a sword, some footwork, and some strike and thrust patterns. You get to do some shouting too.
Even though it’s not exactly out-and-out cardio, a lot of it is quite dainty, with delicate footwear requiring a supreme sense of balance and the sword-work itself relying on coordination. Newbies start in their civilian clothes, but it gets a lot sweatier once you’re wrapped up in the protective gear, which is actually dark robes, and a grilled mask – which makes you look a bit like a League of Shadows ninja crossed with an ice hockey player.
Price: 200RMB for one two-hour lesson / 2000RMB for three months of unlimited lessons.
Time: every Tuesday 19:30 – 21:30
Add: Shanghai Kendo, The third floor basketball court at Shanghai Conservatory (20 Fenyang Lu)
This is a dance class that uses a genre of music that lands somewhere between Latin and Caribbean pop. Think plenty of hip thrusts, sexy dance moves, body wiggles and a hardcore workout on the core region and glutes.
It veers far more on the side of energizing than exhausting. The toughest part is the next day, when our aching muscles remind us that we don’t do sexy dance moves very often.
If it’s your first time, some of the moves feel a little odd, particularly wiggling to the floor and trying to hoist yourself up in a delicate and graceful way. When the teacher does it, she looks amazing. We look a little like a beetle that’s fallen on its back and can’t get the right way up again.
It’s a lot of fun, slightly crazy, but a good chance to try out sexy dance moves in the name of exercise.
Price: Trial classes are free. After that, drop-in sessions are 170RMB or you can get 16 classes for 2,200RMB.
Add: Studio MT is at 667 Changhua Lu, near Anyuan Lu, Jingan district
Time: between 18:30 – 19:30
3. Aerial Yoga
Occasionally referred to as ‘anti-gravity yoga’ – It’s still pretty much yoga, but it introduces a colorful silk hammock hanging from the ceiling which supports you in a variety of mid-air moves. The benefits are said to be similar to yoga – good for emotional, psychological and spiritual health – with the hammock enhancing stretching and allowing the body to hang freely. During the hour class, the teacher moves towards longer position holds.
It’s not as complicated as we expect, and the hour-long class flies by as we toy with the idea of running away to join the circus. The class is good for beginners, but we feel the true benefits would come after a few lessons when you’re not craning your next to check whether the teacher is still hanging upside down or not.
Sweating is minimal as the movements are completed slowly, but due to the size of the room and your proximity to other yogis, things got a little steamy towards the end of the class. Perspiration aside, the class is certainly a work out, with our shoulders, legs and abs feeling a little weary the following day.
If you love yoga, or swings, or have always wondered deep down if you’d make a good acrobat, then this class is for you. It’s relatively easy, for beginners at least, since it’s slow-moving and good fun. The highlight is definitely the few minutes of Savasana (final relaxation) at the end of the class while ensconced in the hammock, but the rest was surprisingly enjoyable too.
Price: 200RMB/class (10 and 30 class passes, plus yearly memberships are available – contact My Soul Yoga for prices).
Add: My Soul Yoga is at Third and Fourth Floors, 218 Fengxian Lu, near Taixing Lu
Fencing is all about trying to ‘stab’ (touch) your bout partner before they ‘stab’ you. You are both dressed-up in protective garb. You then to and fro up and down the fencing strip swinging your sabre and aiming for your partner’s chest.
The class starts with a run through of the equipment as well as an overview of the required footwork (beginners will learn how to ‘advance’ and advance lunge). Then you get to hold the mighty sabre. You’ll practice repeatedly stabbing a rather large torso to get a feel for the motion. Then, after donning a chest protector, jacket, mask and glove, you’ll hit the strip for your first bout.
Although it might seem intimidating rushing toward somebody with a pointy metal object, the protective garb does its job, and having watched an undisclosed amount of Game of Thrones, the sound of slapping sabres seems frighteningly natural.
Sweating was the order of the day in this class. We’re guessing this has a lot do with the protective clothing you’re required to wear, as well as the muscles required to maintain the ‘en guard’ stance and to keep your arm elevated. Each bout is relatively short (three minutes or under) but manages to get the heart racing, if not from the exercise, then from the fear/excitement of attack.
The gear required for fencing is slightly restrictive, in particular the mask, so if you prefer feeling free and breezy when you exercise, perhaps this isn’t one for you. In addition to the garb, you’re also attached to an electronic body cord – a wire that runs through your jacket and glove and is plugged into the wall – which helps keep score electronically, beeping loudly every time you touch your opponent.
Price: 300 RMB (45min private class) / 65 RMB (90min group class)
Add: Supreme Fencing is at Room 405, 1010 Zhoujiazui Lu, near Baoding Lu, Hongkou District
A group class that consists of biking in water with some resistance bands and water weights exercises thrown in. Add some up-tempo music and a very motivating instructor for a fast-paced work-out
You can’t really tell since you’re in the water, but after 20 minutes you really start to feel a thigh-burn and your breathing will surely accelerate. The full hour is broken up into a 20 minute warm-up where you pedal in the water and do some arm exercises with the water-weights, and then a 25-30 minute section of intense biking with some upper body exercises incorporated. Finally you have a cool-down section that has you doing ab exercises and various stretches in the water.
Biking for nearly an hour straight is tough – really tough. Also, the resistance band workouts that target your arms and upper body get really difficult after a couple of repeats.
Swimming caps are definitely required, and it’s best if you wear lengthier swim shorts unless you want to get crotch burn. The whole concept itself is kind of bonkers, but the vibe of the class is fun, everyone’s working out and the instructor is really upbeat!
Price: 80 RMB for the first lesson that last 1 hour + various other price packages
Add: Shui in Aquabiking is at Hilton Hotel, 250 Huashan Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu, Jingan District
Time: Tue, Fri – Sat 9:30 – 10:30
6. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Although it might sound bizarre to some people, but anyone with an interest in mixed martial arts fighting (MMA) will be incredibly familiar with this South American school of the Japanese martial art.
The Brazilian Gracie family has practiced jiu-jitsu since 1917 and for a while they dominated the Ultimate Fighting Championships, kick-starting a new era of popularity for the style. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art based on self-defense, grappling and ground fighting. The focus is on neutralizing the threat your opponent causes you, while in turn becoming a threat to them.
It all sounds very violent, but it’s not: beginner’s classes start with basic self-defense techniques and introducing new techniques that are practiced in pairs. More advanced classes focus more on the practice as there are fewer techniques to teach. Every class is conducted in a seamless bilingual fashion.
It’s incredibly taxing and heavy exercise as a beginner, but the payoff comes shortly after class when you find yourself walking home in a great mood with higher spirits than you’ve had in a long time. It really is worth every last drop of sweat.
Price: 150RMB for one hour lesson
Add: SHBJJ is at First Floor, Number 7, Lane 333 Shaanxi Nan Lu, near Zhaojiabang Lu, Xuhui District
7. Rock climbing
Join introductory rock-climbing lessons with a personal instructor to get a feel for the sport of rock-climbing, which also includes safety instructions and some basic techniques. We try out the easiest route on the outdoor rock-wall as well as climb along the indoor bouldering wall and the instructor gives us plenty of tips on hand grips, foot holds and positioning of our body.
It definitely makes you ache a little the next day as you’re using never-before-used back and arm muscles, but nothing too bad. The instructor doesn’t push you to climb too much as they’re well aware that too much climbing initially will result in soreness, sometimes so bad that it deters people from coming back. Great fun, though.
Price: 350 RMB per person for a 1.5 hour one-on-one coaching session; 1,500 RMB/5 classes; 2,500 RMB/8 classes
Add: Rockdancing is at Room 105, Floor 1, Block A, Sports Loft Space, 128 Huayuan Lu, near Jingxiang Lu