When the weather gets hot and muggy, the last thing you want to do is suit up for a run, and the treadmill is as appealing as C-SPAN. But weekend barbecues and frappuccinos aren’t doing wonders for your beach body. It’s time to change up your fitness routine.
“If the same demands are always placed on your body, you’ll adapt to a point, but no further,” explains Chris Barucci, a physical therapist at Boston University Physical Therapy Center. “If your goal is to maximize your strength or conditioning, your program should challenge you. One way to do that is by varying your routine with new exercises. Combining aerobic exercise with an overall strength, endurance, and flexibility program gives you a more well-rounded approach.”
Over 10 punishing days, I tested out six different classes and talked to experts, who weighed in on the benefits of each activity. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s the importance of a good night’s sleep.
AT THE BARRE
Thanks to devotees like Madonna and Kelly Ripa, barre has become the workout du jour. (There are three studios on Newbury Street alone.) And since it combines strength building, toning, low-impact cardio, and philosophies borrowed from ballet and pilates, it warrants the popularity. Exercises include pulses, plies, and leg lifts. Lots of them. Music played loudly during my Boston Body class, but it was run at a measured pace that encourages focus on form and grace, a state that doesn’t necessarily come with high-impact cardio.
“Every series in the barre workout targets a specific muscle group,” says Boston Body co-owner Zayna Gold, who also runs the country’s largest pilates and barre teacher training center. “You work the muscles until they fatigue completely. You can’t sculpt a muscle until you stress it. You’re focused on targeted results. You feel what you’re trying to achieve with every move, which gives you reason for the pain.”
Boston Body Pilates, 8 Newbury St., Floor 2, Boston, 617-262-3333. For a full list of locations visit www.bostonbody.com
KICK INTO GEAR
The octagon cage at Sityodtong Muay Thai/MMA Academy in Somerville looked daunting at first sight. But when the Muay Thai instructor had the class step inside, the (non-contact) drill was an exercise in agility and control, offering a sense of how to command your body in a small space. The hourlong class included conditioning sequences and partner work. And yes, there was risk of contact. It would take time and discipline to adapt, but the instructor kept a close eye on me since I was a first-timer. He patiently demonstrated how to modify kicks and strikes.
“You’re getting true attributes of authentic martial arts: mental well-being, hand-eye coordination, confidence,” says Mark DellaGrotte, owner of Sityodtong, who trained in Thailand and now trains professional Mixed Martial Arts fighters. “You see punches and kicks coming at you, so your reflexes get sharper and your eyes dilate faster, which helps in everyday life. It kicks in, for example, when you’re driving a car.”
Sityodtong Muay Thai/MMA Academy, 100 Broadway, Somerville, 617-627-9678, www.sityodtong.com
BURSTS OF ENERGY
You might say Tabata is the Twitter of workouts. In essence, it’s a series of quick bursts of high-intensity exercises. Developed in Japan for Olympic speed skaters, this style of interval training includes 20 seconds of a high-intensity exercise (think jump rope, push-ups), followed by 10 seconds of rest eight times without a break. Each cycle totals four minutes. Each class is eight cycles, plus a warm-up and stretching at the end.
“High-intensity interval training is the most effective fat-burning method in the shortest amount of time,” says Caitlin Monaghan, group exercise director and Tabata instructor at Boston Athletic Club. “The harder you work, the more oxygen your body requires. It takes calories to consume oxygen. When you get to your maximum oxygen intake, it triggers an ‘after-burn’ effect, so you’re burning calories after you leave the gym.” Imagine that — from a class that allows you to “rest” for a third of the time.
Boston Athletic Club, 653 Summer St., Boston, 617-269-4300, www.bostonathleticclub.com
JUMP FOR IT
SkyRobics might be the toughest competitive sport I’ve ever tried. My opponent? Gravity. The trampolinarium Sky Zone features four rows of nine connected trampolines. Coordination, concentration, strength, balance, and guts were in instant and equal demand when Terrence Young, the instructor, started shouting out commands: “Jump front to back!” “Side to side!” “Spin!” “Laps!” It took a drummer’s sense of timing for other drills, like tossing a ball to a partner on the next trampoline, and the stability of a circus performer when Young ordered us to stop bouncing for squats and push-ups.
“When you do static exercises like squats and sit-ups on an unstable surface, you’re engaging all your stabilizing muscles, like your core and obliques,” explains Young, a competitive track and field athlete. “You make the jumping more efficient if you time your arms with the up of the trampoline, so you’re getting a good cardio workout, too.”
Sky Zone Boston, 91-B Sprague St., Hyde Park, 857-345-9693, www.skyzone.com/boston
IT’S A HIT
I gave up my fantasy of running a marathon years ago when my knees got temperamental. I figured I’d written off the most intense endurance-building activity there is. Then I discovered boxing. “Instead of running, which puts pressure on your knees, boxing gets you your cardio while you do an entire body workout without taxing your joints. It works your upper body and shoulders, not just your lower body and legs,” says Marc Gargaro, co-owner of Nonantum Boxing Club in Newton. “You’re doing fluid smooth movements and a lot of body-weight exercises. You’re not working with weights you may not be able to handle.”
A single session includes a warm-up focused on technique, form, and footwork, heavy bag work to learn how to throw different combinations of punches, then body-weight conditioning with exercises like push-ups and squats. “You learn how to handle your own body and control it,” said Gargaro. “And the bag relieves tension and stress while you get a workout.”
Nonantum Boxing Club, 75 Adams St., Newton, 617-340-3700
BE A ROCK STAR
Rock climbing always makes me think about the classic “North by Northwest” scene when Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint clutch the craggy surface of Mount Rushmore in terror. My first ascent on a climbing gym “boulder” — a surface dotted with protruding “holds” — turned out to be not that traumatic. Jaclyn Tirocchi, a climber and booking coordinator at Rock Spot Climbing in Hyde Park, showed me the ropes, literally. She explained that there are two styles of climbing: top rope, which involves an automatic belay system, or a belay system with a partner, and boulder climbing, which is rope free.
“It’s holistic — it works you physically, mentally, and emotionally. . . . All the big-hitters in terms of life come together on one climb,” says Tirocchi. “When you climb, you’re problem solving. You have to decode the most efficient way to use your body positively, otherwise you work against yourself.”
The most efficient way means using your legs, butt, core, and arm muscles in synchronicity. And given the instinctive fear of falling, climbing almost seems a better way to hone my concentration than following a yoga instructor’s step-by-step directives on how to center myself.
Rock Spot Climbing, 67 Sprague St., Hyde Park, 617-333-4433, www.rockspotclimbing.comLiza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @livingtheproof.