Hang tight—this isn't your average yoga flow
Credit: CRUNCH

Your first look at the latest fitness trend might have been on Instagram (#AerialYoga), where pics of gorgeous, gravity-defying yoga poses have been proliferating. But you don't need to be an acrobat-far from it-to learn and love aerial, or antigravity, workouts.

The classes really started gaining traction in the form of yoga a few years back (they've since branched out to include hybrids, including aerial barre) and began attracting newbies and devoted yogis alike. The gist: Hop into a silky sling-like hammock, which is draped from the ceiling and supports your full body weight. You'll maneuver the fabric so that you hold poses (like headstands) or perform tricks (swings, back-flips) inside it, or you'll use it as you would a TRX suspension trainer, to support your feet for exercises like push-ups or your palms for triceps dips. (Plus, the pretty poses in silk hammocks make for Instagram gold.)

These out-of-the-box workouts are no gimmick: A new study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that women who did three 50-minute aerial yoga classes a week for six weeks lost an average of two and a half pounds, 2 percent body fat, and about one inch from their waist, all while amping their VO2 max (a measure of fitness) by a whopping 11 percent. In fact, aerial yoga qualifies as a moderate-intensity workout that, at times, can veer into vigorous territory. Classes that are more athletic-like AIR (airfitnow.com), which incorporates elements of conditioning, Pilates, ballet, and HIIT-"elicit an even more intense physiological response," says study author Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise and sport science at Western State Colorado University. Translation: bigger results!

Though aerial fitness may have started as one of those things that you had to live in New York City or Los Angeles to try, its availability has spread. Crunch gyms (crunch.com) offer aerial yoga and aerial barre classes nationwide; Unnata Aerial Yoga (aerialyoga.com) is featured in studios throughout the country; and boutique clubs like AIR have locations in many cities. You can even buy your own hammock and do an aerial workout at home. (The Harrison AntiGravity Hammock comes with a hammock, everything you need to set it up, and a workout DVD, for $295 at antigravityfitness.com.)

So it's easier than ever to hit a hammock class-and not just for the fat burn and huge boost to your fitness level. Here's what really sets aerial workouts apart from the grounded alternatives. (Aerial yoga is just one of a few new wacky yoga styles that you need to try.)

1. No skills (or shoes!) required

Let the ACE study test subjects serve as examples: Sixteen randomly selected women, ages 18 to 45, proved you can go into aerial workouts pretty much cold and still get the hang of things. Most aerial yoga studios have classes for first-timers, and AIR offers a "foundation" class for those just starting out.

2. It's one of the best ab workouts around

"A benefit of taking your routine off the ground is that you lose your point of stability; you'll start to engage your core immediately without even realizing it," says Lindsey Duggan, the owner of AIR Aerial Fitness–Los Angeles.

"It honestly has been the most effective ab workout I've seen in a while." Indeed, not only did the women in the ACE study trim an inch, but there is also this anecdotal evidence from Dalleck: Almost all of them commented on feeling as if their core strength improved dramatically over six weeks. (Stuck on the ground? Try this vinyasa flow that sculpts your abs.)

3. You'll flip for the thrill of it

Imagine how much fun it is getting to play acrobat for an hour. Suddenly you're doing gymnastic tricks that you might not normally try without an assist from the suspension silk. "The fun factor is what gets our clients to stick with the classes," Duggan says. And you don't need research to tell you that if you enjoy your workout, you'll probably do it more often.

4. Mat poses become easier to master

Been working on your headstand or forearm stand in yoga? Forget kicking up against a wall and consider this: "The silk wraps around your body and supports you in certain difficult poses like inversions, giving you the experience of how a pose should feel," Duggan says. In other words, taking a few aerial classes might raise your game in your regular yoga classes as well.

5. It counts as cardio too

The ACE researchers figured there would be full-body firming. "Study participants increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass all over, so it's likely that aerial yoga provides strength-building benefits," Dalleck says. (Expect to see definition in your shoulders and arms especially, Duggan says.) But the scientists were surprised at just how cardio intensive this form of yoga can be. "At the outset of the study, we didn't necessarily anticipate that the physiological responses to aerial yoga would align with those of other, more traditional forms of cardio exercises, like cycling and swimming," Dalleck says. They found that the calorie burn-320 calories in one 50-minute aerial yoga session-is in fact comparable to that of power walking.

6. It's zero-impact

Whether or not you have knee problems, adding some low- or no-impact workouts is great for you ,and aerial classes are exactly that easy on the joints, Dalleck says.

7. You'll walk away feeling Zen

Research shows that mind-body activities can reduce stress, and aerial yoga is no exception. Many classes end with you lying in savasana, cocooned in a hammock as you gently swing from side to side. Talk about blissing out!