Is your idea of “hitting the gym” half-heartedly dragging yourself onto the elliptical for 30 of the LONGEST MINUTES EVER? Time to switch gear.
Swap that staid workout routine for one of these popular fitness classes that will get your heart rate up and leave you satisfyingly sweaty and eager to sign up again.
SoulCycle Spin Class: Cardio or Cult?
Class starts on a stationary bike in a dim, candle-lit space. But this ain’t no meditation. You’re about to spend the next 45 minutes in a bath of your own sweat as you sprint, jog and “hill climb” through SoulCycle’s signature grueling workout.
What to expect: SoulCycle classes are a heady mix of transcendence and aggressive training. The instructors push you on (and your metaphorical demons out) in a Jonathan Adler-grapefruit-scented room. The juxtaposition of Zen-like ambiance and physical intensity has its devotees describing classes in religious terms like “spiritual” and “transformational.”
Why people are obsessed: The unique vibe—a mixture of scented candles and cycle-guru instructors—has cultivated SoulCycle’s cult-like following. This hype is further intensified by the scarcity of bikes. SoulCycle’s online registration opens weekly on a class-by-class basis and bike spots are snapped up almost instantly. The challenge in securing a spot is all part of the allure, so SoulCycle has become something of a cool kids’ club.
One more thing: Cycling shoes (the ones with the clips) are a must. The shoes are available to rent but, if after your introductory class you’re as hooked as the other SoulCycle devotees, consider purchasing your own.
Bikram Yoga: Redefining “World’s Hottest Workout”
Be warned: The temperature is intense. Even those who murmur, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat…” have to admit that a Bikram yoga studio is sweltering: the room is set to 104 degrees with 40% humidity. Brace yourself for 90 minutes of moving through 26 postures rooted in traditional hatha yoga.
What to expect: You’re going to sweat like crazy. Bring a towel (or two).
Why people are obsessed: Withstanding a 104-degree room for 90 minutes is impressive alone. Add a challenging yoga routine and it’s easy to see why practicing yogis are proud of their accomplishment. It’s a humbling experience and a serious challenge for every athletic level. The mix of endorphins and self-satisfaction that follows a grueling class is irresistible.
One more thing: Water, water, water. This class is a veritable perspiration-fest and newbies are very susceptible to feeling dizzy, lightheaded or ill as a result of dehydration. Chug, chug, chug the entire day before class.
Pilates: Stretching as Strength Training
A low-impact conditioning workout that, like yoga, looks simple, Pilates is fluid, even balletic. But the seemingly peaceful pace of the class can be misleading. You will stretch and tone muscles you didn’t even know you had. Get set for a recovery day of jelly arms and sore abs that hurt when you sneeze or laugh.
What to expect: There are two exercise classifications: Pilates Mat and Reformer Pilates. Pilates Mat relies on your own body weight for resistance as you move through controlled movements. Reformer Pilates replicates these mat exercises on a specially designed workout bench with pulleys, bars, and straps. The modified workouts are designed for both seasoned Pilates devotees who need increased resistance or rehabilitating practitioners who require lower impact on tender injuries.
Why people are obsessed: When Pilates was first introduced in the first half of the 20th century, delicate yet super-athletic ballerinas adopted the method as a core-muscle strengthener. It was previously believed Pilates could build long, lean muscles and make you taller. Although those assertions have since been proven false, professed celebrity fans (including Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank and Megan Fox) still credit Pilates for their svelte, toned physiques. And given our celeb-obsessed culture today, it’s no surprise Pilates has gone mainstream.
One more thing: Ditch the loose gym clothes. Pilates is all about form and if you’re wearing a baggy cotton T-shirt, your instructor cannot see if you’re maintaining good posture.
CrossFit: A Controversial Club
CrossFit combines aerobic exercise, calisthenics and weight lifting. This high-intensity circuit or “Workout of the Day” (WOD) alternates between cardio on the floor or using plyo boxes, and strength training with dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands.
What to expect: First, it’s not a CrossFit gym but a box: a no-frills, quasi-militaristic environment, a conflicting mix of competition and camaraderie. It’s intense but if you love extreme workouts, CrossFit is the ultimate platform to show off your strength as your comrades cheer you on. This is one fitness regime that gets in your blood—you’ll push yourself to lift more, jump higher and squat deeper than you ever would in a normal gym setting.
Why people are obsessed: The unexpectedly geeky athletic gear (tall white tube socks, athletic tape), secret language—“WOD,” “AMRAP” (As Many Reps As Possible) and “ATG” (Ass To Grass)— and negative rep (that it’s not a sport) cultivate an “us versus the world” mentality that draws its devotees further into the fold.
One more thing: This is a bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew kind of workout designed to push you to your limit. While you may feel unstoppable, injuries happen when you sacrifice form for the perceived glory of lifting heavier weights or completing more reps.
Barry’s Bootcamp: Treadmills and Taunting
This no-nonsense hour-long boot camp is broken into two parts: 30 minutes’ cardio and 30 minutes’ strength training with free weights and resistance bands. The cadets are also divided so while half are sprinting on the treadmills, the other half are weight-lifting on step platforms. The instructor alternatively barks directions for the two groups.
What to expect: As the name implies, Barry’s Bootcamp’s motivational approach is rooted in military-style tough love, with heavy emphasis on the tough. It’s not uncommon for attendees to drop out mid-class due to the intensity, but the instructors won’t let you slink off quietly. If you can’t cut it, prepare for some farewell heckling.
Why people are obsessed: Instructors will unabashedly shame slow pokes and praise the leaders of the pack. When you’re one of the blessed pace-setters, your ego swells and that heady hubris can be a major high. As for the newbies, the competitive energy is palpable and motivating. Take a peek at your neighbor’s treadmill and smugly think, “I bet I can beat that…” The cutthroat environment hooks in speed demons and casual joggers alike.
One more thing: Swipe on more deodorant and get ready to get cozy—the walls are lined with treadmills so you are thisclose to your classmates.
Now tell us: How do you like to sweat it out? Share your favorite workout below!