Fitness polemics: Brazilian granddads do it on the beach to keep fit. Now it's all the rage in Berkshire. Emma Cook grapples with the Body Pole workout

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Five years ago Jayne Beck, air-hostess for British Airways and fitness instructor, was jogging along Ipanema Beach in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, when she stumbled upon an unusual sight: a family exercising on the sand, using large pieces of driftwood to lift and lean on. It's a scene that she recounts with glowing enthusiasm. 'I couldn't believe what I saw - even the grandfather was working out,' she says. 'It just struck me as such a superb way of exercising.'

And so Beck's Body Pole Workout was born. Forget weights, slide training and step. This Brazilian export is already toning, defining and sculpting muscles in fitness clubs across London. Opting for pinewood rather than driftwood, Beck and her husband Steve have designed a 4ft-long pole which resembles a giant cotton-bud.

'We wanted it to weigh a bit more than the pieces of driftwood,' Beck explains. 'That's why we added the bulbous ends.' The Body Pole is, she admits, heavy enough to double up as a lethal weapon. 'There are a couple of ladies who keep them in the car for self-defence, but we encourage people just to work out with them and have fun.'

At the Royal County of Berkshire Racquets and Health Club, Beck introduces her product. 'This ladies,' she says waving her fluorescent pink design in the air, 'is a great way to change your shape and have a good time.' After a 10-minute warm- up, she gives a demonstration. Movements include imaginary rowing in the air with arms raised, resting one hand on the pole while kicking out and throwing the said pole from one hand to the other. A more torturous exercise designed to tone the abdomen involves lying down, gripping the pole between calves and inner-thighs and raising the upper body slowly off the ground.

On Beck's orders we bend our legs, keeping backs straight, and scoop the air with our poles, as though canoeing. 'Now think through your bottoms,' she shouts. So we squat lower and begin to paddle furiously. Then, marching in time to the music, we swing the poles out in front of us. This feels more like joining a troupe of majorettes at a baseball game than an aerobics class.

Apart from giving the exerciser a crutch to lean on, isn't this just another fad to keep the punters interested? 'You could call it a gismo,' says Steve Beck, conceding that anything long, thin and wooden would work. 'You can use lots of things. A broom handle is quite effective. You could even stand behind a chair and do it.'

Despite its novel appearance, exercisers are beginning to take the Body Pole seriously. 'I used to do weights,' says 23-year-old Sara Pemberton, a market researcher, 'but I prefer the pole because it keeps you upright and you're less likely to slip over.'

The workout also appeals to men, who now make up about a quarter of Beck's classes. 'I suppose they like something to hold and use,' she muses. 'They feel good about it because it's like a macho weapon and it's heavy enough to work the biceps quite nicely.' It may appeal to some as a symbol of male potency although 28-year-old estate agent Stephen Barr thinks not. 'It's got nothing to do with my image,' he says leaning on his bright yellow Body Pole. 'It would have to be twice this big to make me feel macho.' Freud would have had a field day.

Brazilian Body Pole classes at Wentworth Golf Club, Surrey and the Royal County of Berkshire Racquets and Health Club (For details phone 0753 830176)

'The Brazilian Body Pole Workout Video' ( pounds 10.99), Body Poles ( pounds 14.99) both from Beck Productions, 16 Queens Acre, King's Rd, Windsor, Berks, Sl4 2BE

(Photograph omitted)