I'm only five minutes into my Jukari class and already I'm looking for an exit. The lights are dim, the music (a sort of earthy, Enya-eqsque number) is rolling around the room the room, and I'm lying, legs akimbo, ankles hooked in a pair of stirrups dangling from the ceiling, thrusting my hips into the air. It isn't the most dignified of poses. Surely, I think, this can't be for real.
But it is. Jukari is the latest on-trend workout from Reebok. Based loosely on the training used by the acrobatic phenomenon that is Cirque du Soleil, Jukari has already proven a hit in the United States. Aided by a number of Hollywood endorsements – Misha Barton, Molly Sims and Kim Kardashian – it has picked up where yogalates left off as the frappuccino-supping LA girls' exercise of choice.
Now Reebok hopes that Jukari will take off in the UK. Indeed, given its rather niche credentials, its growth in popularity is already quite astonishing: what started out as a once-a-week class of 16 in the ivory tower of Canary Wharf's plush Reebok Sports Club (the sort of place one imagines George Clooney might break a sweat every now and then were he so inclined) has grown rapidly into a six-day-a-week-plus-waiting-list affair, soon to be expanded to other gyms around the country.
The idea is to combine suspension work (dangling from a FlySet, a sort of climbing rope-cum-trapeze) with cardio for a workout that promises to "strengthen and lengthen muscles, work on your core stability, strength and balance" – while providing a sufficiently unusual experience to keep even the most workout-weary gym-goer entertained. It certainly delivers. Indeed, my session at Canary Wharf provides possibly the weirdest 45 minutes' worth of physical exertion I have ever experienced – a sensation compounded by the apparent proficiency of my classmates (I later find out they are fitness professionals; there is plenty of scope for beginners in the Jukari schedule too) and the relative exoticism of Magda Polikarska, our acrobatically accomplished, martial-arts-trained instructor.
To say the experience is a weird one is not to say it is unenjoyable. Quite the opposite. Once I have recovered from my initial bemusement, Jukari is actually rather fun (and would be even more so if they decided to give Enya a rest once in a while). Our lesson is broken into four parts: a warm up, a cool down, and then the main body of half trapeze-based and half rope-based exercises.
The rope movements revolve largely around floor work. One particularly testing mini routine involves my lying, face down, on the floor, ropes looped around my ankles, attempting to push up with my arms, and arch into an upside-down V (I look more like a slightly dented dash). The trapeze work, on the other hand, is performed standing up; it's here that I discover my favourite move: a sort of airborne pirouette, done by hooking my hands over the trapeze bar and propelling myself round and off the ground. Because of the level of concentration required (few of the routines bear any resemblance to conventional aerobic exercise), the whole package is surprisingly rewarding.
This, agrees Magda, is one reason for the class's success. "When they arrive people don't know what to expect – but if they pay attention they find it isn't as complicated as it looks, and it's still a full work out." For those still struggling to get to grips with it all, Magda offers easier variations on some of the trickier exercises, giving us the option to leave a foot on the floor here, or an arm by our side there, while the height of your trapeze can be adjusted to make things more manageable.
The classes are mixed gender and although there is only one man in my group, male attendance is apparently on the up. "Initially we attracted mainly women," explains Magda. "When we did have male customers, they seemed fairly wary but after the first few started coming, lots followed: they soon realised it is quite a hardcore exercise, very good for working arm and back muscles."
This last fact I can vouch for. At the end of my 45-minute session, my arms ache in that rather satisfying way they do when they have been stretched and strengthened. The next day, they are in agony – as are my shoulder blades, thighs, ribs and hips. Jukari forces you to work against your own body weight, whether that's by lifting yourself up from lying flat on the ground or suspending yourself mid-air from standing. Crucially, though, it doesn't feel like a chore, but more like a skill that is being acquired. Whether or not it can take off in the mainstream remains to be seen; as a rather fun novelty sport with benefits (sculpted arms, taut stomach, toned shoulders), well – let's just say my second class is booked.
Jukari: How it works
What is it?
A cross between aerobics and a Cirque du Soleil training session. The class was devised by Reebok over an eight-month period. There are 12 key moves arranged in such a way as to avoid becoming too repetitive.
How does it work?
Upper body strength is built through a variety of moves which revolve around using the FlyBar as a lever with which to pull yourself up. Cardio is involved in the frequent running, jumping and spinning, and a lower-body workout is provided through a series of squats, lunges and stretches.
What do I need?
An instructor, and a FlySet, which is a specially designed trapeze-like object, consisting of a detachable bar suspended between two ropes, which are attached to a 360-degree swivel point on the ceiling. The ropes are punctuated with foot loops, which can be used for floor work.
Where can I try it?
At the moment, only at the Reebok sports club in Canary Wharf – but expansions are being planned.