An exercise in eccentricity

Cupid Undies Run

Salute Your Shorts at the Cupid Undies Run

These people are serious about running... in their underwear. You read that correctly. More than 300 Chicagoans dressed down in corsets, tighty whiteys, and in some cases, weird body paint, running around Wrigley field, for passersby to judge.

Did I mention it's mid-February?

This is the annual cupid undies run, a fundraiser benefitting children with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on the body's nerves. Organizer Tamara Forys said Chicago runners raised more than $45,000 in 2013.

"Kids with nuerofibromatosis have a lot of hardship in their life, so we run outside and put ourselves through that hardship to sort of be in solidarity with them and all that they're going through with their health hardships."

Despite being in frigid temperatures, runners bring a goofy atmosphere to the cupid undies run. One could attribute that to the alcohol some runners imbibe before they hit the starting line, but Forys actually encourages the eccentricity of the event. When she and others were brainstorming a fundraiser, she says,

"We were trying to think of an event that was different, that would attract a crowd, in D.C. Not a normal 5k or 10k or walk or run."

Five years later, the unusual run that started in Washington D.C. spread to other large cities, including Nashville, Minneapolis, and Chicago. So far it's raised more than a million dollars total, which appears to be participants focus, not necessarily burning off any calories.

See the eccentric costumes

Stroller Strides

Moms Get Fit Without the Babysitter

Getting that pre-pregnancy body back is easy for these moms. And they don't even need babysitters!

As if these children don't give their mothers enough of a work out in their daily routine, there's a class for new moms to burn calories and simultaneously provide child care. Jackie Dorris' stroller strides class is aerobics and strength training that depends on the use of a stroller, and even the child.

As a mother of two little girls, Dorris balances out both family and career. She brings her two daughters to classes when she teaches other moms, just like everyone else in the program. She says the idea of exercising and keeping fit has been an important part of her daughters' growth.

"I started stroller strides here six years ago when I had my first daughter," Dorris explained.

"Like so many moms, I struggled with getting back in shape and finding the time to work out, and felt guilty about leaving my daughter in a gym daycare, so I started stroller strides as kind of the best of both worlds."

If you witness a class, don't be alarmed if you see grown women acting like monkeys, or hear them singing nursery rhymes while doing squats. It's all a part of the class, which is part exercise, part entertainment for the kids.

The stroller strides program also creates a mom community, in which every mom helps each other. Some trainees make friends with classmates and keep in contact after the class. People who have left the program still keep in touch with Dorris.

Most of the trainees in stroller strides class are stay-at-home moms. This newly emerged community helps one another by exchanging ideas in children care, personal fitness and childrens education.

Most of the time, the children enjoy class, but on occasion, toddlers will do what they do best, and pitch a fit.

What are these babies thinking?

"Even myself instructing the class, there's moments where my kids are melting down," Dorris admits, "but we're kind of all in it together. Everyone understands that we're all doing the best that we can, so it's a supportive community."

A judgment free zone for exercise and the kids? That could be part of the reason why Dorris says she has the demand to teach stroller strides six times a week, sometimes twice a day.

Trainer Speaks

Jennifer Hogg Talks Trendy Workouts

Somewhere in the evolution of the gym, fitness turned fashionable - and this trend goes far beyond the people who work out in name-brand Spandex. Fitness routines go in and out of style, and people flock to find the most trendy way to burn calories, just like a fashionista races to get the latest pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.

"High Intensity Training is the rage right now," says Jennifer Hogg, Group Fitness Manager for Equinox, a chain of fitness clubs in the Chicago area.

"Treadmill workouts are huge right now as running has gotten increasingly popular as of late."

She keeps up with the trends through continuous education and by shopping smaller, boutique fitness studios to see what they're offering.

Hogg says boredom is a primary driver for switching from Zumba to Bikram yoga to studio cycling. Fitness studios also exercise their right to promote unique routines to gym members. "A lot of it is simply marketing, putting a new paint job on the same car," she says, although she admits, the good routines will have staying power.

For every trendy fitness routine that crowds a gym class, there's a more unorthodox workout that is drawing a smaller, more passionate group of people. Here we find classes like yoga based on laughing techniques, aerobics classes that incorporate babies and strollers, and a mile-long run where the participants all wear underwear.

Sometimes, the fitness-eccentric are drawn to these routines for its promise to provide unique health benefits, sometimes it's to try the abnormal.

Hogg's advice is to find the routine you love, no matter how trendy or strange it is, and be consistent with it. "Once you start seeing results, people are naturally open to trying new things or possibly the things they don't like but they know are good for them," she says. "If they can do the class they love two or three times a week, they will also add another workout to cross-train and balance out the equation."

Roller Derby

Rolling Through a Workout

Nice people need not apply. Roller derby is a hard core workout, intended for people who want to burn calories, build muscle, and come home with a few new bruises.

The rules of the road may take a little while to pick up (they play "bouts" instead of "games" or "matches"), and if you're not good on a pair of roller skates you could spend a lot of time eating dust, but roller derby players say it's a great way to exercise and release the day's frustrations. After all, you get to shove people!

There is quite a bit of skill involved. Chicago has five teams that play each other regularly at the University of Illinois Chicago's Pavilion, at 525 South Racine. Only the best skaters make the teams, which means if you're interested, you may have to practice first before you're lucky enough to workout with the others.

Roller Derby bouts produce lively crowds, and players get sweet names like "Janicide Joplin," and "Sunshine and Painbows."

Roller derby has evolved from an over-the-top form of sports entertainment to a serious sport with a focus on athleticism. The sport is mostly known to have female competitors, but men and children participate in some leagues across the country. Chicago's league, however, is restricted to women for now. Skaters compare it to a mix of rugby, speed skating and basketball. If you think you have what it takes, check out the Windy City Rollers in Chicago.

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