Gospel aerobics being conducted in a church hall near Washington may be the novel way to get fit.
"We almost done, y'all praise God," gospel aerobics instructor Melanie Kelly shouted over the music to the group of African-American women as they struggled to control the trembling legs they were lowering to the floor for the umpteenth time.
Gospel aerobics blends spirituality and sport, adulation and adductors, praise and press-ups. It takes an arduous workout out of the gym and lifts it to a higher plane.
"Gospel aerobics is where we come together and exercise to present our bodies as temples to God," said Dawn Harvey, pastor at the church and founder of Embrace your Greatness, which aims to empower women.
"Our bodies house the Holy Spirit, so we want to take very good care of our temples so we can live long, prosperous and healthy lives," she said, citing from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.
Kelly has been leading the weekly gospel aerobics class in the carpeted meeting room with deep maroon walls at the Dawn Harvey Ministries church just outside Washington since April, when she said she acted on a vision she had been sent from on high.
"One day, I was in my basement and was dancing and exercising at the same time, and God gave me a vision to do gospel aerobics," said Kelly, who is a systems analyst in her day job, and a praise dancer -- someone who ministers the word of God through dance and movement -- at the weekend.
After a 10-minute warm-up, Kelly and her charges moved on to arm exercises as a CD-player in the corner belted out the lyrics: "Ever since the day you claimed me, I've never been the same."
"Grab yourself back from the devil," Kelly exhorted the women as they snatched at the air with outstretched hands and moved from side to side.
"Lift him up, higher, higher," the lithe instructor bellowed, as the music shifted to "My God is an awesome God" and the class began doing press-ups.
Flagging bi- and triceps were buoyed by words of encouragement from others and by the music.
"When we push ourselves, having music that actually fulfills the spirit and doesn't just move the body, helps," said Harvey, who has dropped a dress size since she started taking the hour-long class.
"No harm will come to these vessels... no pain... we ask you to remove it in the name of Jesus," Kelly said, drawing approving 'Amens' from the sweaty class.
But Kelly must have been referring to spiritual pain, because the physical hurt was real and present.
"The burning is there. You feel it and it hurts... but we push through it," said Mary Grice, a post office worker.
"It's still aerobics, but doing it unto the Lord makes it easier and gives us that extra push," said Kindra Owens.
Patrina said she has lost 18 pounds (8.5 kilos) since she joined the gospel aerobics class in May.
"I had a gym membership before, but I didn't go," she told AFP.
"When you go to the gym they might be playing Britney Spears or something and I don't want to listen to Britney Spears," she said, wiping beads of sweat from her brow.
But she didn't forsake the gym for the church hall only because of the music.
"You get so much support here. People are expecting to see your shining face here every week. You know these people are praying for you and they're in your corner," she said.
And unlike the local gym, which one of the women described as a "meat market" where scantily clad men ogle just as scantily clad women, gospel aerobics classes are held in an environment where the only one watching is the instructor -- and, of course, God.
"He is watching us now. He is always with us," Harvey said as the music segued into another uplifting spiritual and the women gritted their teeth and worked through another grueling set to divinely shape their glutes, getting assistance from above.