If you’re among the hopeful masses who have vowed – once again – to get in shape this year, you’re no doubt aware how hard it is to keep from throwing in the towel on a fitness routine.
Harsh winter weather, packed gyms and not seeing results fast enough are all powerful detractors from the goal of a firmer figure or faster 5K time. Another formidable obstacle to success: boredom.
“Without variety, workouts become monotonous and stale, which leads to – you guessed it – no more workouts,” says Stacy Berman, a personal trainer and founder of Stacy’s Boot Camp in New York City. “So if you've made your New Year's get-fit resolutions, variety and a fun routine will keep you motivated to stick with your plan for a healthier, fitter you.”
Why not make an adventure out of it?
Here are a few off the beaten path fitness-oriented options that mix in a healthy dose of travel (or at least a day out) guaranteed to keep you motivated and moving forward (and, in at least one case, muddy) when it comes to your get-in-shape goals for 2012.
Bonus: There’s nary a treadmill involved.
Take to the Trapeze: Ever since Sex and the City protagonist Carrie Bradshaw grabbed the bar at Trapeze School New York in Manhattan, trapeze classes have been flying high as an invigorating mix of adrenaline rush, core-building and upper-body workout. “You’re using muscles you wouldn’t reach in any other kind of workout,” says TSNY spokesperson and student Toni Machi. “You use back muscles, core strength and arm strength. And the more classes you take, the more physically challenging it gets for you.” At TSNY, which has outposts across the country, wannabe aerialists learn how to fly through the air with the greatest of ease in beginner-friendly classes, which are open to all skill and fitness levels (so no worries if you haven’t yet worked off that holiday eggnog.).
Participants start with basic techniques to improve timing and coordination, gradually moving to more difficult tricks like knee hangs and shooting stars. And though there are safety nets and harnesses, “that does not change now much adrenaline pumps through your veins,” Machi notes, adding an extra edge – and sense of accomplishment – to the activity.
While trapeze classes aren’t a substitute for cardio workouts, they’re an excellent complement to them, not to mention a great conversation piece at parties. Classes and longer workshops can be found in many major cities, but TSNY is the pioneer, with schools in Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles (where pop singer Pink trained for her stunning performance in the 2009 Video Music Awards).
In addition, most trapeze schools offer other circus-style classes, including trampoline and acrobatics.
Get Down and Dirty: Adventure-style endurance challenges have exploded in recent years, and leading the pack is Tough Mudder, which bills itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”
Debatable, perhaps, but it’s is arguably the hottest event on the planet nowadays for fitness enthusiasts. Designed by British Special Forces, these mud-slogged monsters aren’t for newbies, however, with 10-12 miles of running interspersed with 25-35 military-style challenges: Think immersion in the “Arctic Enema” ice bath, maneuvering through dangling strands charged with 10,000 volts of electricity and scaling 12-foot walls.
Most participants finish in two to four hours, but there’s no prize money. Instead, bragging rights are the real reward, as only about 78 percent of competitors cross the finish line (where there’s free beer, an orange headband and, for those who want a permanent reminder of the pain they endured, a Tough Mudder tattoo).
Judging by Tough Mudder’s enviable growth – it could pull in $70 million in 2012, just two years after hosting its first event, says chief marking officer Alex Patterson – the Brooklyn-based company has found a sweet spot of competitors looking to test both their physical and mental mettle.
“People are sitting at a desk all day, writing e-mails,” Patterson says. “[But] we are animals – we should be out there, crawling around, jumping over things, and testing ourselves. That’s what Tough Mudders are about.”
Strap on Snowshoes: No more scrapping an outdoor workout because of snow: Snowshoeing has shed its old-school reputation to become one of the most popular cold-weather pastimes for everyone from weekend warriors to professional athletes, especially runners, training in the offseason.
It’s become so big that there’s even a push by the U.S. Snowshoe Association for inclusion of snowshoe racing in the Winter Olympics. It’s easy to learn (lessons, and helmet, aren’t necessary), affordable (no pricey lift tickets) and burns around 500-700 calories an hour.
“It’s a whole-body workout, especially if you use ski poles,” says Scott McGee, senior manager for Nordic, guides and training at Jackson Hole Mountain Sports School in Jackson Hole, Wy.“It’s great for people at all levels of fitness, because you can do it at any speed you want.”
While snowshoeing is a cinch to learn, thanks to the vast improvements in snowshoe technology in recent years, “there is something to technique, and having a guide can help you,” McGee notes.
Many ski resorts, including Jackson Hole, offer guided excursions, as well as snowshoe rentals, and you can find trails at many state parks. And speedier ‘shoers can even compete in a number of snowshoe races. Click here for more information.
A few pointers for beginners: You’ll need a wider stance than for regular walking or hiking to accommodate the snowshoes, which can take a little getting used to. With the extra weight of the snowshoes, heart rate increases at a much faster rate than just hiking, especially at higher altitudes, so a heart monitor can be helpful.
And take it slow, as the movement targets hip flexors and calf muscles, which can end up very sore the next day.
Step to It: Prefer your workouts fast and furious? Then check out an emerging trend called vertical running or tower running. The premise is simple: Find a building stairwell – the higher the building, the harder it is, of course – and start climbing.
In the last few years, some of the world’s tallest structures -- including the Empire State Building, the Sydney Tower and Taipei 101 – have hosted grueling races that have created a growing following among enthusiasts, with top-performing athletes competing for big prizes. For the Sydney Tower Run-Up, the average finish time for the skyscraper’s 1,504 stairs is 15 minutes, with an impressive $25,000 in winnings.
Monetary rewards aside, stair-running has long been popular among athletes for its weight-loss and strength- and endurance-building benefits. And the training is simple, especially for those who work or live in high-rise buildings: Forgo the elevator as often as possible.
Among the most popular are Toronto’s CN Tower Climb, which takes place in October and has raised upwards of $1 million for charity per event, and Las Vegas’s Scale the Strat, in the city’s legendary Stratosphere Hotel.
Smaller, community-based events are also becoming more popular, and be sure to book early, as registration is limited -- only so many people can fit into a stairwell, after all.