Amanda MacMillan, SELF magazine
I love taking group fitness classes at my gym (and testing out new ones all over New York City for this blog!), but I often wonder -- is there really a big difference between them all, in terms of payoff? Sure, yoga can teach you how to do a handstand and kickboxing helps you blow off some steam, but will one type of workout really give me leaner limbs, or protect me from injury, or sculpt my six-pack more than another?
To set the record straight, I spoke with Marc Santa Maria, New York City's regional group fitness director for Crunch gym (which, speaking of limbs, has a class list longer than a pair of Hollywood legs!) about which classes are best for which goals. See which of these scenarios fits you best, and see how Santa Maria's suggestions fit into your workout routine -- or, if you've already got a favorite class of your own, let us know what it is and why!
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Goal: "I want something to balance out my cardio."
Try: Yoga or barre classes
You already run/bike/swim/power walk -- in other words, you're already getting some type of regular heart-pumping exercise every week. "That's a great start, but eventually you're going to stop seeing results if you don't diversify your workout," says Santa Maria. Since you've already got the cardio down, find a class that blends strength training with flexibility work, he says. "This type of cross-training can also help protect you from injury and will make you stronger, faster, and more fit."
Yoga classes that focus on weight-bearing postures (lunges, planks, etc.) will help you build strength while stretching out tight muscles. Those trendy barre workouts (Core Fusion, Figure 4 and Crunch's version, Barre Assets, for example) are a good choice, as well. "These classes are all about isolating and working individual muscle groups," says Santa Maria, "but there's a good emphasis on stretching and lengthening, as well."
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Goal: "I want a one-stop-shop so I don't have to run."
Try: Zumba, kickboxing, Spinning, boot camp or step aerobics
If you hate the treadmill (and the elliptical, and the pool, and the rowing machine ...) and you want to get your cardio from a class, consider a fun, fast-paced activity with a pumping soundtrack and an upbeat instructor. Dance classes, like Zumba, can burn up to 400 calories an hour and will keep you engaged from start to finish. Some classes use hand weights for an extra boost, says Santa Maria. "You're not going to get toned arms like Madonna by carrying little baby weights while you salsa," he says. "But for people who don't like to run and who don't like to lift weights, either, this is a good way to get some of both."
Step aerobics, kickboxing and cycling classes can also provide the fast pace you need to keep your heart healthy, as can many boot camp-style classes. Just be sure there's some emphasis on sustained cardio (with drills like jumping jacks, jump rope, or running) as well as on strength work.
Goal: "I want to firm up my trouble spots, fast."
Try: Classes targeted at those specific body parts
Want to tone your tummy, lose your love handles, or sculpt your shoulders? Look for classes with those body parts in their names. "We have everything from Upper Cut (upper body) to Rock Bottom (lower body) classes, but our most popular class is Ass and Abs," says Santa Maria.
Some other options at Crunch? Six Pack Attack, B.L.T. (Butt, Legs & Thighs), Booty Kickin' Step -- you get the idea. If you're getting your cardio elsewhere, choose a class that focuses on weight training; they often use words like Sculpt, Chisel, or Toning in their names.
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Goal: "I need something to help me relax."
Try: Restorative yoga or kickboxing
Whether you're feeling extremely high strung or you're running on empty, exercise can be a great stress reliever. If you're in the mood for something slow and relaxing, look for a yoga class that focuses on restorative poses, breathing and meditation, like Crunch's R&R Yoga. (Avoid Vinyasa or power yoga classes unless you want a real workout.)
Can't sit still long enough to savasana? You may need a high-intensity activity, like kickboxing, boot camp or CrossFit, to help you work off your pent up energy.
Goal: "I want to look longer and leaner."
Try: Barre workouts or Pilates
A lot of strength training and core conditioning classes focus on crunching and shortening your muscles, says Santa Maria (think: ab work). But if you want long, lean lines, you'll want to train like a dancer. "Barre workouts focus on stabilizing, lifting and lengthening, all the way from your head to your toes."
Pilates, similarly, focuses on the natural alignment of the spine -- you're more likely to work your abs by doing "hundreds" (in which your legs and arms are stretched out and off the mat) than you are by doing muscle-shortening exercises, for example. "It's also a more holistic approach than being in a boot camp class, with an instructor shouting at you to do 100 crunches," says Santa Maria.
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