We're approaching that time of year again, when our inboxes get flooded with annoying emails that have things like "summer fitness goals" and "bikini body" in the subject line. Gross. All of those marketing ploys are part of the inherently faulty way our society thinks about exercising and body image, and it does nothing in the game of managing our overall health. That doesn't mean we should give up on working out entirely, though. If we approach it in the right way, exercising can reduce our risk for cardiovascular disease and anxiety, and improve cognitive thinking. But with a million different workout options out there (apparently pole dancing works!), it's hard to know which workout will be best for you. It gets even harder to decide when all your friends are into different things, from long-distance running to hot yoga, and you just can't decide which one to commit to.
No need to worry. You've got plenty of time to experiment and figure out what you like — and what you despise. It helps to have a rough outline before you go exploring, though, which is why I've put together this layout of the hottest workout trends out there today. I've tried 'em all, so I speak from personal experience. As for which is my favorite, I'll leave that to your imagination.
Here are six different popular workouts, and how to tell whether they're right for you.
1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT is just a really fancy acronym for alternating fast-paced, intense spurts of movement with rest (or sometimes active rest, like holding plank). It has been crowned the ultimate fat-burning workout, as it's scientifically proven to burn more calories long after you've left the gym. The American College of Sports Medicine conducted a study in 2011 discovering that just two weeks of HIIT workouts improves your aerobic capacity more than regular endurance training.
Why It's For You: You're on a time crunch but you still want to get your sweat on. HIIT workouts can be as short as five minutes or as long as half an hour. This kind of exercise requires no equipment, making it the perfect thing to do at home if you're not a fan of the gym. No matter your fitness level, you can find at least one variation of HIIT that will leave you feeling like you've kicked your own butt.
Why It's Not For You: If you've got some very specific strength goals you want to put into practice, HIIT might not be for you. You're moving quickly and packing in as much movement as possible in a short amount of time, so even though you'll be building endurance, you won't see much improvement in your overall physical strength.
CrossFit has been one of the top fitness trends for a few years now. It's famous for getting you super-fit and it allows you to do so in a big group of motivated people who are dedicated to the lifestyle. I was a CrossFit junkie for a while and loved every second of it. But how does one explain CrossFit to someone who's never done it? The official definition is "functional movements that are constantly varied at high intensity." In simpler terms, every day you go into a CrossFit location — or a box, as they call it — there is a Workout of the Day (WOD) you do, and it's always different. You'll do everything from weight lifting to rope climbing to sprinting, in an old school gym that's only marked with the bare necessities.
Why It's For You: If you get bored easily, you want to continuously be challenged, and you don't mind some healthy competition, Crossfit is for you. Perhaps the most rewarding part of Crossfit that often gets overlooked is the strong sense of community it builds. It's the perfect kind of exercise for people who enjoy motivation from others. Even if you're not particularly athletic, like me, there's a lot you can gain from Crossfit.
Why It's Not For You: You like to fly solo, you have no interest in lifting weights, and really intense workouts aren't really your thing. Also, you don't want to bulk up. CrossFitters try to tell you this is a myth, but take it from a chick who did it religiously for almost two years: bulk happens.
3. Barre Workouts
Don't be fooled by the pretty colors you see plastered on barre ads: it's not an easy workout. Barre is derived from classic ballet exercises and Pilates routines, but it's accessible for all abilities, including those of us who have never set foot in a dance class. The isometric movements are designed to give you long, lean muscles; they target multiple muscle groups at once and, other than the occasional 1 lb dumbbell, you generally use your own body weight to get the job done.
Why It's For You: Barre routines are excellent for people who need something low impact with little risk for injury. It can also be a great avenue if you don't like to get too down and dirty with your workout — barre doesn't exactly leave you dripping with sweat. Sign up at your nearest barre studio if you want to improve your core strength and get lean while also increasing your flexibility.
Why It's Not For You: Folks who like to feel wiped out after a workout (yes, those people exist) should move right along. Barre boasts some pretty incredible benefits, but it's not a good fit for those who enjoy being challenged time and time again. Also, if you are trying to build functional strength that could translate into a sport, go with something else.
First thing's first: there are many, many different types of yoga, so if you've already tried one and hated it, don't convince yourself you've got it all figured out. The yoga we know today, derived from an ancient Eastern practice, can do all kinds of things for you. Just to name a few benefits, it can grant you lasting flexibility, upper body strength, a stronger cardiovascular system, and a more efficient digestive system. Oh, and as you may have heard, yoga is your greatest ally in the war against stress and anxiety.
Why It's For You: Yoga is for anyone, really, but it will be especially therapeutic if you have old injuries that need some attention. If you're looking for a workout whose benefits will branch out to other parts of your life, sign up at your nearest studio. Additionally, yoga is perfect for you if you're hell-bent on gaining strength and flexibility.
Why It's Not For You: I believe that yoga is seriously for everyone. The most popular excuses I've heard about why people don't try yoga are usually pretty silly, like the "I'm not flexible" one. Even if you enjoy a tough, rough workout, you can still benefit from incorporating a little bit of yoga into your routine.
5. Boot Camp Classes
Plenty of celebrities out there swear by boot camp classes these days. They're tough, high-energy workouts loosely based on the routines they use to get fit in the military. Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., creator of Mohr Results Adventure Boot Camp for Women in Kentucky, told Women's Health magazine that boot camp is "built on three fundamentals of training — cardio, strength, and agility." You'll use your body weight and various equipment (exercise ball, dumbbells, jumprope, etc.) to get fit fast.
Why It's For You: You get bored easily and you need an energetic instructor to get you going. If you're a person who is trying to lose weight for health reasons, boot camp is also a good choice. The fast-paced drills will burn fat and keep your metabolism working for a long time after you leave the room. These workouts are designed to get you fit from head to toe, so if variety is the name of your game, you'll be right at home.
Why It's Not For You: It can be a bit intimidating to jump straight into a high-intensity boot camp regimen without first having a foundational understanding of gym workouts. Don't feel bad if this is you. If you're the kind of person who also has a very low tolerance for the cheesy — loud pop music, enthusiastic instructor with a headset shouting words of encouragement — you should reconsider.
6. Cycling Classes
It's nearly impossible to get a spot in a spin class these days unless you've spent the last six months bribing the instructors with artisanal coffee. Cycling in general has become such a sought-after workout trend for a while now, and for good reason. It's a power-house cardio workout, taught by super-fit instructors who have endless amounts of energy. Your legs aren't the only parts to get a workout; the upper body gets toned too.
Why It's For You: You know deep down that you need to strengthen your cardiovascular system. This kind of cycling is great to get your heart rate going in an anaerobic way, and it'll build up your endurance pretty quickly. Spin classes are also the perfect selection for you if you thrive off of group workout settings where everyone is collectively pumped up about life.
Why It's Not For You: For starters, you're keeping a close eye on your cash flow. Places that specialize in spin classes are known for being a bit pricey. And if you deal with chronic back pain issues, I would highly recommend steering clear of cycling. Being in that position for extended periods of time can put strain on your lower spine, leaving you with more aches than you had before.
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