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Trampoline center offers great exercise with sky-high fun factor

By: Amy Bertrand

"CHESTERFIELD, Mo. - Some just bounce up and down. Others do zigzags across the unstable surface, while others do drills designed to get their hearts racing. Still others jump through hoops - quite literally.

At SkyZone Recreational Center, a trampoline facility that opened recently in Chesterfield, Mo., participants are finding a new way to exercise.

"Cardiovascularly, this is the most phenomenal workout I've ever had," says Marci Willenbrink, a fitness instructor at the West County YMCA and at the Jewish Community Center. "I found this place accidentally, and I haven't been able to stop talking about it since. It's different, and it's fun. It's like you are a kid again, but you are working hard."

"It's the most dynamic workout in the world," says SkyZone CEO and founder Rick Platt. "Anybody can do it, because it's no-impact," meaning it's easy on the joints and bones.

Platt opened the first SkyZone in Las Vegas three years ago after buying a patent for the concept. The facility there has taken off, and now he hopes to open them nationwide. But he thought he'd start in St. Louis, where he and his wife grew up and their two sons have attended college.

When you enter the facility, you can choose three courts (two more are being built). The primary one is suspended above the main level and offers 6,000 square feet of jumping space. You have to strap on special shoes, which offer ankle support and special soles for traction, before you can begin.

Some people go simply to jump around and have fun. Others take special aerobics classes called SkyRobics, or to work out with a personal trainer. Still others play organized games.

"We play games just like you'd play outside," Platt says. "It's just that we do it on a 3-D surface."

The biggest benefit of this playing surface is the easy-on-joints, low-impact aerobic training it offers.

Because rebound exercise, as it's called, is low-impact, "it doesn't pound the vertebrae," says Jeff Wolls, an exercise physiologist by training and director of recreational sports at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where thousands of students take part in SkyZone games. "We have a tendency to enjoy the type of exercise that is nonimpact. You don't think of it so much as hard work, so the direct benefit is F-U-N, and it still gives you all the benefits of a tough cardio exercise."

He says studies have shown that even a baby who can't walk yet can lie on a trampoline-type surface and get his or her heart rate up when someone bounces the surface up and down.

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