Workout crazes come and go, but we won’t soon forget this year’s fun (and effective!) fads.
THE COLOR RUN
What it is: In these untimed 5K runs, participants wear white shirts and attire and make their way through the course as slowly or quickly as they’d like. At each kilometer, runners hit a “color zone,” where they’re sprayed with a different shade of natural, nontoxic paint. They end the race looking like a walking Jackson Pollock painting. The series of 54 events launched in January; over the course of the year more than 600,000 people participated. Next year, the program will expand to more than 100 cities.
What’s to love: “We’re all for embracing a competitive streak, but fitness should also be fun, and this series really emphasizes that aspect. Our tag line is ‘the happiest 5K on the planet’ for a reason,” says Jessica Nixon, spokesperson for The Color Run. “It really is an event for all fitness levels, ages, and backgrounds. It’s less about competition and more about celebrating health and having fun.”
What it is: Landlocked gym-goers can experience the hard-body benefits of surfing through this program, which uses the RipSurfer X, a surfboard that mimics what it’s like to ride waves.
“We aren’t trying to teach people how to surf; we are trying to simulate a surfing workout because it is such an extreme and challenging sport,” says Nick Karwoski, Surfest spokesperson.
What’s to love: Um, have you seen surfers’ bodies? This workout gets your heart pumping while strengthening your core and legs. Plus, it’s something different.
What it is: OK, so this pastime has probably existed for as long as the world had trails and people had legs, but it’s experienced an uptick in popularity recently. Now, you’ll find trail-specific shoes and gear, as well as special issues of Runner’s World devoted to the sport. Case in point: In a recent Runner’s World survey, 40 percent of participants said they run trails one or two times a week.
What’s to love: Taking runs off the beaten path can offer peace and quiet, scenic surroundings and a new challenge.
What it is: Fast and furious workouts take cues from Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and other sports. Once considered a cult-like fad, CrossFit is now firmly cemented in the mainstream with a Reebok sponsorship that includes a full product line and an annual event on ESPN2.
What’s to love: The super-intense workouts force exercisers to push themselves and build strength, power and endurance at the same time, rather than drilling down on just one competency.
What it is: Many gyms now offer group training sessions — typically capped at eight people — in addition to personal training.
What’s to love: You get personal attention without paying personal-training prices. “The cost of personal training has been defrayed with the onslaught of small-group sessions,” says Jim White, a certified personal trainer and owner of Jim White Fitness.
What it is: Zombie-mania isn’t just limited to Sunday night TV. In these races, runners sprint through a 5K obstacle course while being chased by the walking dead (or people dressed like them) trying to grab the “health flags” around the runners’ waists. The Run for Your Lives race series initially had the zombie-run market cornered, but recently, especially around Halloween, a number of off-brand races began to surface as well.
What’s to love: Ever feel like you need just a little extra motivation to run? Hordes of “undead” people will do that for you! Not to mention it just sounds like a lot of fun. Though we have to wonder what’s next — Hunger Games-esque, dystopian future-themed races? Maybe that’s not such a bad idea ...
WORKING OUT/HANGING OUT
What it is: Instead of meeting for cocktails and dancing, many people are opting for high-energy exercise classes instead. The New York Times recently highlighted the trend, pointing toward studios like SoulCycle, which attracts riders to its Friday night party rides, and Uplift Studio, which offers a class called Raising the Bar — a sweat session followed by a happy hour.
What’s to love: Exercising feels less like a chore and more like a social outing (as it should) thanks to these party-like classes.
FITNESS FOR KIDS
What it is: Along with what feels like an endless feed of bad news about childhood obesity and its potentially devastating consequences have come some initiatives to help kids get fit. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign has highlighted ways parents, schools and communities can promote physical activity among young people. Additionally, a number of popular adult exercise programs have begun launching kid versions, such as Zumbatonic and CrossFit Kids.
What’s to love: A lack of physical activity will do more than set a child up for serious health problems. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to lower academic achievement, less pay, and higher medical bills over the course of their lifetimes. Just eight minutes of exercises is enough to decrease body mass index, waist circumference and systolic blood pressure.
What it is: The Joffrey Ballet School may be out of reach, but a long, lean dancer’s body may not be. Barre classes combine bodyweight and lightweight exercises with a ballet bar to put participants through a toning, total-body workout. The classes have been around for a few years, available at franchises like Pure Barre, the Barre Method and Cardio Barre.
What’s to love: You can feel the burn while still feeling like a ballerina.
ONLINE EXERCISE PROGRAMS
What it is: While spending all day in front of a computer can be a detriment to your overall health, plugging in can also get you slim and toned. “Computers, iPods, iPads and smart phones have revolutionized the industry,” White says. Many programs offer workouts you can stream on your computer, such as Coach Club, EMG Live Fitness and DailyBurn, as well as ways to track your progress toward your goals.
What’s to love: Online programs are perfect for time-strapped exercisers and people who are intimidated by the gym. “Rather than fight to get elbow room in your favorite fitness class, you can stream workout videos that are easy to follow,” White says. And unlike exercise DVDs, you can typically customize online programs to your goals and abilities. These programs are often more affordable than joining a gym, and may even have an effect on membership prices, White says.
What it is: If you’ve attended an exercise class this year, chances are that you’ve been put through high intensity interval training. This type of exercise involves exerting yourself at nearly full capacity for a short period of time, resting or lowering the intensity briefly and then repeating the sequence for about eight sets. Tabata training is one method of HIIT. It involves 20 seconds of high-intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, carried out repeatedly six to 10 times.
What’s to love: Tons of research point to the benefits of HIIT training. One 2012 study from Colorado State University found that participants who performed a short sprint intervals burned more calories throughout the day than they would have without the workout.
What it is: This colorful piece of gym equipment offers a way to pump up without pumping iron. SandBells are flat, round neoprene bags filled with sand that range from 2 to 50 pounds and can be used in place of dumbbells, a medicine ball or kettlebells.
What’s to love: SandBells are an inexpensive addition to your home gym (filled SandBells start at $7.99) and won’t take up too much space. They also deliver a great workout. The sand inside the discs shifts as you perform repetitions, which may force you to engage more muscles to steady yourself.