Upgrade Your Workout: The Best Extreme Sports to Try

Karen Pearson/Fitness MagazineKaren Pearson/Fitness MagazineBy Cristina Goyanes

Thinking about taking your fitness routine to the next level? Smart idea, as research shows the secret to staying in shape is learning how to keep your body on its toes. "Fitness goers want to be challenged, and sometimes going to the gym isn't enough," says Pete McCall, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. Here, McCall offers smart and exciting ways to upgrade your workout, whatever your sport.

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Sick of Running Around in Circle?
If you're the queen of 5Ks, it may be time to expand your kingdom to include some obstacle courses, like the Warrior Dash (warriordash.com) or Spartan Race (spartanrace.com). With both race series scattered across the country and happening all year round, you can sign up anytime for the hard-as-hell three-milers that guarantee to engage more than your legs. "A lot of the obstacles -- mud pits, tunnels, and wall climbing -- require upper-body strength, coordination, agility, and flexibility, so they really challenge you to move completely different than you're used to," says McCall. "Interval training is key for this, so instead of just running in the park, you'll need to do sprints and pull-ups."

A longer option for half- and full-marathoners is the Tough Mudder (toughmudder.com), a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course created by British Special Forces. The series, which currently features 22 events around the globe, just teamed up with 24 Hour Fitness to offer 60-minute boot camp classes to members ($15 for non-members), complete with belly-crawling, wall-climbing, and mud-slogging moves, to help you get race-ready.

Ready to Bike the Distance?

Bike commuters and weekend warrior triathletes alike should consider using charity bike rides as the perfect setting to push themselves and the pedal. Think about it: These events are fully supported, which mean staff is on hand to keep you fueled, change flats, help with other mechanical issues, even give you a lift. And because these rides are more like tours than like races, you can really sit back and enjoy them. To find upcoming local charity rides for causes like MS and diabetes, check out mapmyride.com/mycyclingevent, which is a tool created by Raleigh Bicycles to connect cause-cyclists with rides near them. One of our personal favorites is the Dempsey Challenge (dempseychallenge.org), a cycle charity event designed to raise money for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center. Sign up for the 50-miler and you'll get to ride alongside McDreamy himself!

Looking for a harder ride? Apply for an Epic Endurance Bucket List adventure, like the Tour de California or Leadville 100, through Carmichael Training Systems. Lance Armstrong's former coach, Chris Carmichael, and his talented staff of coaches will prep you for the experience of a lifetime. Visit trainright.com for more information and to sign up for a race.

Related: The Calorie-Blasting Cycling Workout

Laps Making You Lose It?
Think outside the pool! Take the plunge at an open-water event near you or somewhere exotic to turn your vacation into a fitness triumph. Thanks to the growing popularity of triathlons, swim events ranging from half a mile to 22 miles are popping up all over, including New York City's Hudson River, where you can row, row, row your stroke three-quarters of a mile to the Statue of Liberty. Check out usopenwaterswimming.org to find a body of water where you can make a splash.

Weight Lifting Too Boring?
If you're not already obsessed with CrossFit (crossfit.com), you will be soon. "One of the cool things about CrossFit is it took weight lifting, which a lot of people find tedious, and made a competition out of it -- you are basically competing against yourself in time," McCall says. "I think that makes it more challenging and fun."

But if you've already push-upped there and dumbbelled that, McCall recommends trying the TRX suspension training (trxtraining.com), a unique and effective workout developed by a U.S. Navy Seal who hung parachute straps and handles from trees back in the '90s while serving in Kosovo (upon his return he founded the exercise program). "These two portable straps hang down to let you use your own body weight and gravity to get a great resistance workout," McCall says.

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Yoga Making You Sleepy?
Just held your side crow for 30 seconds or longer? At this point, you're probably upstaging your yoga teacher. Rather than getting certified, which can be time consuming and expensive, consider elevating your practice using techniques that were first developed back in 2006. "Aerial yoga uses a suspended low-hanging fabric to allow you to combine traditional yoga with trapeze-like acrobatics," McCall says. "This is definitely not for beginners," he warns of the masters-only classes. Visit aerialyoga.com to find an instructor or studio near you.

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