Wish you could be one of those fit women who are always taking the new trendy exercise class, biking to work each day, and going on treacherous weekend hikes? You can! Just summon the courage to step away from the treadmill and expand your fitness horizons with a new activity.
Psychologically, doing something that's fun and different improves your mood, while doing the same old workout can drag you down mentally, explains exercise physiologist Fabio Comana.
Another reason to branch out: "Doing the same thing over and over takes its toll on your body," says Comana. "Over time, overuse can cause microtrauma and lead to injuries." These seven exercises may seem intimidating, but they're actually fun workouts that burn major calories and fat while requiring mental focus. So face your fitness fears and challenge yourself to try one of these exercises today.
Get ready for some butt-kicking kung fu fighting. Even if your last attempt at a choreographed fitness class was a flop, with patience and practice, kickboxing (whether you opt for the dance-style gym variety or a boxing gym session that actually involves wearing gloves) is a boredom-proof workout that burns anywhere from 700 to1,000 calories an hour, helps to sharpen your brain, and provides built-in muscle sculpting. And anyone can do it: "We have everyone from teenagers to middle-aged adults at our gym," says Chad George of PKG Training Center LA.
How to brave it: "It's like riding a roller coaster for the first time--you just have to take a deep breath and try it," says George. Another way to warm up to a class: Practice jump roping to work on your coordination, George suggests. If you're still nervous for the first class, recruit a friend to join you, recommends Alyssa Simon, an on-again, off-again runner who tried boxing for the first time almost 2 years ago and was hooked.
So much for never forgetting how to ride a bike. Some 60% of adults like the idea of traveling on two wheels but are fearful of traffic. Yet cycling advocates argue that the health benefits of getting out of your car and into the fresh air far outweigh the risks.
How to brave it: Remember, 40% of our trips in the United States are less than 2 miles—about a 10-minute bike ride. Find at least one driving trip per week—say to the store, park, restaurant, or friend’s house—and switch it to a bike ride. Skip the Spandex, fancy road bikes, and clip-in pedals; instead, find a bike-savvy buddy who rides in regular clothes and is willing to show you the ropes on a sturdy upright bike, says Mia Birk, author of Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet. Many cities have bike maps available, and some are even coded by level of difficulty, so use that to pick a route that’s low-stress, has either nice scenery or a fun destination (like an ice cream shop), and is no more than 5 miles.
3. Kettlebell training
Don't let a small ball of iron intimidate you. First used by Russian bodybuilders in the 1700s, these weighted orbs (they look a bit like cannonballs with handles) may seem like something better left to the superfit. But you'd be missing out big time. "It looks pretty scary, but you don't need a lot of athletic ability," says Sarah Lurie, author of Kettlebells for Dummies. "I've trained senior citizens, obese people, and people who've never exercised before, and they see results in as little as a week." Speedy results, including weight loss and muscle sculpting, are a hallmark of the kettlebell workout, which University of Wisconsin researchers found burned over 20 calories a minute—the equivalent of running a 6-minute mile.
How to brave it: Your best bet is to splurge on one or two sessions with a qualified instructor (look for the letters RKC, for Russian Kettlebell Challenge certified), says Lurie. Otherwise, look for a workout DVD with plenty of instruction—Lurie has several—to get you started. And if you're buying your own kettlebell, go bigger than you think, advises Lurie: Fifteen pounds is a good starting point for most women. If you skimp on size, you'll end up using just your arms or legs and not getting the full-body workout kettlebells are capable of.
Move over, men in uniform. Contrary to popular belief, push-ups (the "real" ones, done on your hands and toes) are not just for men, and they're one of the single best exercises you can do to strengthen your body from head to toe and fend off age-related flab. That’s because while your arms may be doing most of the heavy lifting, the rest of your muscles are engaged in stabilizing your body.
How to brave it: It's all about progression. You wouldn't pick up a 20-pound dumbbell for your first weight workout, and the same goes for a challenging body weight exercise like push-ups. So how do you lighten the load? By increasing the incline. Standing in front of a set of stairs, place your hands several steps up from the bottom, then walk your feet back until your body is in the classic push-up position. The slant shifts some of your weight back toward your legs so your arms don't lift quite so much weight as you bend and straighten your elbows. Do as many push-ups as you can like this—even if it's just a couple to start—then continue with that number every other day for a week. When you're ready, add another one or two reps, and once you can do 10 push-ups, descend a step (you might have to reduce your reps at first). Keep up the cycle till you get to the floor.
5. Rock climbing
Head for the hills—or the wall, as the case may be. "Sure, rock climbing has more inherent dangers than golf or tennis, but with proper instruction and guidance, climbing is safer than the drive on the freeway to get there," says Brittany Griffith, a climber with Black Diamond Equipment in Salt Lake City, Utah. And you don't have to be superstrong to do it either. Climbing is largely about technique, not how many pull-ups you can do.
How to brave it: Start at an indoor climbing facility—with the growing popularity of the sport, you'll find climbing walls at many YMCAs, health clubs, and even universities. Stick to beginner routes to start, says Griffith. "Rookie mistake number one is getting on a climb that's too difficult. You'll gain more by climbing a lot on easier terrain than working yourself to death on a sequence that’s too tough."
Don't be spooked by the Spandex and "om" chants. Studies show that yoga can help you relieve stress, feel good about your body, and curb overeating. But if the thought of going to a class makes you bite your nails, curse your love handles, and dive into a pint of Ben and Jerry's, clearly you're missing something.
How to brave it: "Even I get scared if I'm going to an advanced class with all these superyogis," says Kristin McGee, an in-demand NYC yoga instructor and creator of yoga DVDs, including her latest, Yoga Tone. If the chanting in one class makes you uncomfortable, try a different one, she says. If mirrors make you self-conscious, look for a studio without them. And if you find yourself getting wrapped up in comparing yourself to other women in the class, focus on your breathing to reset your mind. Or, don't even go to class—do yoga at home via a website like emglivefitness.com, where you can "attend" live or on-demand classes online for $5 a session.
7. TRX® Suspension Training®
Want a workout that's all about hanging out? Like a jungle gym workout for grown-ups, the original TRX® Suspension Trainer® is made up of industrial—grade nylon straps that leverage your own body weight for hundreds of exercises. But like the old trust test of closing your eyes and falling backward into another person's arms, it takes a lot of confidence in your own strength and balance to, for example, get into a suspended plank position to complete an Atomic Push-up. Yet anyone can do it with the right instruction—even pregnant women, says Lisa Witzlib, a TRX senior course instructor, trainer, and owner of Witzlib Fitness Studio in Atlanta, Ga. And the instability from being suspended means far more muscles are activated while doing a chest press on a TRX than if you were doing it on a bench with a set of dumbbells. The result? A spiked calorie burn.
How to brave it: Because the TRX® Suspension Trainer® comes with an educational DVD and workout guide, you can easily get started on your own. Still, unless you're very self-motivated, the machine may end up collecting dust in your closet. Instead, look for a local class at trxdirectory.com. Allow some time—try two or three classes—to get into the swing of things. Some gyms offer a free intro class to learn things like how to adjust the straps and how to position yourself. Women generally pick up the TRX® very quickly, says Witzlib. "Think of it as standing Pilates with a bit more athleticism."