By Cynthia Dusseault

Call them fitness crazes. Call them trends. It really doesn't matter so long as people are trying them, sticking to them and getting something out of them. If you'd like to add something new to your fitness routine but aren't sure what those quirky names such as BODYPUMP and group cycling are all about, here'€™s a brief guide to some of today'€™s popular fitness activities and what they can offer you.

BODYPUMP™

The posters promote it as "the fastest way in the universe to get in shape." It'€™s an energetic barbell workout that'€™s choreographed to music and targets every muscle group in your body. "It’s actually ideal for beginners right through to experienced exercisers because you can adjust the weight on the barbell," says Peggy Cleland, trainer, fitness instructor and program director for The Sports Clubs of Canada (in Toronto). "For people who are intimidated by a weight room or don’t know exactly what they’re doing in a weight room, it’s a nice way to get started with a weight program."

Done two or three times a week, body pump will tone and strengthen your muscles without, as Cleland points out, building a lot of bulk.

Group Cycling

If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness level, consider trying this intense indoor cycling class, sometimes called power pacing or group cycling. On a stationary bike, similar to a road bike, you use a knob or lever to change the resistance and intensity.

"With the music, the instructor, and the motivation, group cycling encourages people to get their heart rates into the levels they should be at [for cardiovascular benefit]," says Lara Penno, fitness instructor, trainer and co-owner of Momentum Fitness, a personal training facility in Vancouver.

"Something that's really popular right now are spinning combination classes," she says. Along with the main cycling component, they incorporate an off-bike upper body or core component as well, so you get a complete workout.

Circuit Training

As Micaela Henkel, fitness instructor and director of operations for Just Ladies Fitness in Vancouver, points out, circuit training is popular with individuals who don’t have a lot of time to work out. In a fast-paced, hour-long class, you warm up and then alternate (approximately every 40 seconds) between cardio (i.e., stepping, jogging, cycling) and working on a piece of strength-training equipment. The instructor generally leads you through some stretches at the end.

"Circuit training is very effective for changing body composition quickly," says Henkel. So if you want to firm up fast or simply want an effective fitness activity that fits into a busy schedule, consider a three-times-a-week circuit training regime.

"The Ball"

If it'€™s got the word "ball" in it, then you'€™ll be working out with an exercise ball that’s 55 to 75 centimetres in diameter (the size depends on your height). "It'€™s very versatile," says Henkel. "It really targets core strength, and it'€™s great for the lower back, the abdominals, and for building balance."

In a ball class, you can use the ball for adding resistance and intensity to the cardio portion, for doing strength-training exercises and for stretching.

Kickboxing

Variations of this vigorous martial art go by names such as TKO (technical knockout), TKB (Thai kickbox), Tai Bo and Body Attack. Kickboxing's popularity "probably originated with the whole Tai Bo craze on TV," says Cleland.

In a non-choreographed format, it incorporates punching, blocking, kicking, jabbing and some footwork. Cleland advises that you make sure you'€™re doing the moves properly or kickboxing can do more harm than good. "If it'€™s done properly," she says, "i's a really good workout for your core and for learning how to control your body'€™s movements. It's also a cardiovascular workout, a bit of a stress release and a way you can learn a little self-defence."

Pilates

"The big catch-phrase in the fitness industry today," says Penno, "is '€˜core stability'--strengthening the trunk muscles or the torso." That'€™s the focus of Pilates. For the "mat" version, all you need is an exercise mat.

An instructor leads you (without music) through a series of slow, controlled, stretching and strengthening exercises that focus on the muscles of your back, abdomen, hips and buttocks (your "core").

Penno says the main benefits are "improved posture, core stability and abdominal and back strength." All of these help to keep your body properly aligned and can stave off back problems in the future, but Penno recommends that if you have a "bad back," you should take care of it first so that you can get the most from the Pilates exercises.

Tai Chi

This is just one of the many martial arts that are popular fitness activities today. It's an ancient form of self-defence that involves slow, controlled, yoga-like movements that often culminate in kicks or jabs. Meditation is part of it, as is mind-body awareness. Practicing tai chi can improve your balance, coordination and posture. It can help you to move more gracefully, and its meditative effect can help to relieve stress.
 

Cynthia Dusseault is an Edmonton-based freelance writer who specializes in health and fitness topics.

Reprinted with permission from Alive Magazine.

www.alivemagazine.com

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