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Polynesian-Inspired Workouts You Should Try In Hawaii

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Photo: Getty Images / Diego Mariottini / EyeEm

When millennial travelers book a vacation, one thing is clear: A big reason for their choice of destination is the culture. According to Topdeck Travel, who surveyed 31,000 people, 86 percent of travelers want to learn something new about the way people live in a different part of the globe (aka experience a new culture), instead of party or shop. (Did you know it's easier than ever to exercise at the airport?)

For the fit traveler, that often means infusing culture into your sweat routine. Which is exactly why Maui—one of the most popular Hawaiian islands—is an ideal destination. Whether you're interested in water sports or land adventures, there's an array of options available for tourists to break a sweat while still learning about the Polynesian culture that inspired the workout. Sign up for one (or all!) next time you book that plane ticket. (Got a busy day ahead of you? Try these hotel room workouts so you can get on with your schedule.)

 

You can't end a Polynesian-inspired #workout with anything BUT #spearthrowing. Duh.

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1. Kiakahi

Imagine starting your workout outdoors on a lush green lawn, with the sun shining and the gorgeous Hawaiian scenery splayed out in front of you. Before doing anything else, instructors blow into a pū, or conch shell, and launch into a chant called "Ho'opuka Mai Ka La," sending up a prayer that places you back "into the spiral continuum of life."

That's exactly what happens when you sign up for a Kiakahi class at The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas, and it sets the scene for what can only be described as a cultural-to-the-max workout. Hawaiian for "united in one purpose," this functional fitness routine lasts for an hour and a half (bring water!) and focuses on proprioception (your perception of movement), balance, and stability work, all while infusing Hawaiian culture into the session. From the local island music that plays and the lāʻau you use (staffs harvested from coffee trees in the Maui valleys), to the spear-throwing exercises and hākōkō (ancient Hawaiian wrestling techniques) you learn, there's no way you'll walk away from this workout without an educational experience. And to really make sure you get your money's worth, class leaders also share knowledge about ancient Polynesian teachings, 'olelo Hawai'i (which means Hawaiian language), and lua (Hawaiian martial arts). Oh, and because all classes should end in fun, your session wraps with games that would be played during Makahiki season, a time of peace where Hawaiians would cease war and work to play and compete in athletics and games. When your workout takes you this far out of your everyday hustle, you know it's a good one.

2. PolyFit

Many Hawaiian children grow up dancing hula and Tahitian in a hālau, or Hawaiian dance troupe. But if you're not from one of the islands, the odds of you having that level of expertise in these dance styles is slim to none. That's why classes like PolyFit are available: Tourists and locals alike can jump into a 60-minute group workout that's inspired by Polynesian dances, specifically teaching the movements of hula and Tahitian, without the commitment of joining a hālau. No idea what that really means? Think of it as the Hawaiian version of Zumba—you'll work all your major muscle groups, squeeze in a hit of cardio, and tone your core while dancing to the sounds of traditional Polynesian drumbeats, Polynesian Techno, and Samoan music. (Bonus: These 5 Dance Classes Double As Cardio Workouts)

3. Outrigger Canoeing

You don't have to stay on land to learn about Hawaiian culture. Those who prefer to paddle their way smarter will love an experience with Ali'i Outrigger Canoes. Outrigger canoeing originated in Polynesia, and in ancient times, crafting one was considered a spiritual process: A Kuhana, or Hawaiian priest, oversaw the creation, often praying and offering protection to the workers. Eventually, outrigger canoe paddling was brought over to the Hawaiian islands, and to this day, it's a sport that's taken quite seriously by the locals. Case in point: the annual Pailolo tournament, a 26-mile race from D.T. Fleming Beach in Maui to Kaunakakai in Moloka'i that attracts people from all over the world to compete.

That's why an expert-led excursion with Ali'i (booking's available through The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas Resort, btw) is so great—not only will your leader teach you about the proper way to get in the boat and how to paddle in the most efficient manner (trust us, your arms and core will feel the burn), but you'll also learn about the history and tradition of outrigger canoeing with each stroke, making it easy to feel like you're really connecting with the locals. (It doesn't hurt that you'll see them out on the water too, getting in their own training sesh while you search for sea turtles.) Pro tip: Come prepared with plenty of questions—the instructors at Ali'i are all super chatty, and love sharing their passion for the sport, the culture, and the Hawaiian people. The more you're willing to learn, the better the experience you'll have.

4. ShaktiRize

If you're the type who hates deciding on a single workout, ShaktiRize—a class that originated in Maui but is now available online, too—is a pretty sweet option. It's women-only, and the 60-minute session mixes tribal dance movement with yoga, salsa, Bollywood, and hip-hop, all while in a room that's heated to about 90 degrees. Sure, you won't soak up as much of the Hawaiian culture as you could in other workouts, but if it gets your body moving and you feel good doing it, isn't that the end goal anyway?

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