There's something about the warm weather. It makes me want to slip into ripped jean shorts and sleeveless T's, letting the sun drench me in its warm embrace.

Then I look in the mirror, and that makes me want to be a little more modest.

I like exercising, for the most part. But I get bored on a treadmill or elliptical and usually end up laughing or falling asleep at yoga class.

To switch things up, I tried three unconventional training centers to test something new. Here's what I learned:


At Philadelphia Self Defense, instructors Allen Chambers and Joe Nophut are like yin and yang, like peanut butter and Nutella. Joe's eyes feel like they're daggers penetrating your soul. Allen, on the other hand, is a huge teddy bear. You just want to hug him, so it's against human nature to kick and punch in his general direction.

But kick and punch I did - though usually at Joe. And it was fun.

Newbies interested in self-defense should sign up for one of the six-week, twice-a-week courses (the next one starts Sept. 3 and costs $125). I got a broad overview of what Joe and Allen teach in these courses. Private lessons are also available and typically cost $75 for a one-hour one-on-one session. There are also 10 group classes a week that are open to the public, but the six-week course is recommended before you start.

While the adrenaline highs were trippy (I really liked being chased in slow motion around the studio, which was surprisingly difficult), my favorite part of the class was that I learned real-world safety tips. Yes, I broke a sweat: Beware, the room wasn't air-conditioned. More important, I walked away feeling more confident in my ability to detect a threat and respond effectively in dire situations.

When on the defensive, most people's instinct is to ball their hands into fists and get ready for a fight. As someone who can barely make a fist, hand-to-hand combat might not go my way. So instead, Joe and Allen recommended I raise my palms parallel to my face to give off a calm, passive vibe. Then, they showed me target areas - eyes, throat, crotch, knees, shins, etc. - where I could pack a jab, giving me enough time to escape from danger.

In the end, I learned I wasn't as invincible as I thought. That's a good thing, because Joe and Allen also taught me how to be aware of my vulnerabilities and counter them with proactive measures. Plus, I got to hit a dummy all over, which was a good time.

Philadelphia Self Defense, 1333 N. Front St.


I saw a few of my friends doing silks on Facebook and thought it looked interesting. So I hauled myself to the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, where head coach Adam Woolley gave me a private lesson. With his peppy, encouraging attitude, he almost made me forget that I was always one wrong move away from falling on my butt.

From sling to trapeze to silks, I tried a nice buffet of contraptions. The hardest were the silks (think Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics) because it was nearly impossible to stand up. I was much better at plopping into the splits than staying vertical, and my favorite moments were when I wasn't supposed to be in control (I never was, but there were times when I definitely should have been).

Aerial takes tough abs. It also takes tough feet. You have to be ready for pain the first few times you do anything above the ground. But it's also a great, stretchy workout, like yoga but less snooze-worthy. Plus, everyone was so friendly and nurturing.

Beginners should look at the fall schedule, starting Sept. 4 for fundamentals classes in trapeze and sling, before moving on to higher levels. Single classes are $24.

Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, 5900A Greene St., 215-849-1991.

Pole Dancing

Real talk: Pole dancing is amazing. At least it is at Pole Haus. I took an intro class with Jules Corrado, Pole Haus' Australian owner. When I walked in and saw a middle-aged man in his tighty-whities, I didn't know what to think. By the time we got to body rolls, I was all in.

The thing about pole dancing is that it's so empowering. I felt supersexy (regardless of how I looked) swinging around that pole. The next day, my arms felt like they could fall off - and I might have been happy about it - so obviously my upper body took a beating. I'm planning to go back, even if I have to dance to the Bieb's "Sorry" again.

For those looking to try it out, Pole Haus offers intro classes and a $55 introductory membership for pole rookies.

Pole Haus, 1719 Chestnut St., 215-995-2036.