Summer is beach season, and for many Americans that means intensifying (or starting up) a workout regimen to shed those extra pounds or simply get out and enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on gym memberships, weight-loss programs and other health-related products. And with many new workouts promising to build muscle or trim fat, there are more options than ever. But which workouts are worth the money? And which ones are merely fads?
Here's a look at six workout trends and their associated costs.
1. CrossFit. CrossFit is an intense, endurance-based group workout that's popular in many parts of the country. "Its timed workouts try to pack a lot of exercise into a limited amount of time to promote muscle endurance," says Brad Schoenfeld, director of the human performance laboratory at Lehman College in New York. The program can cost hundreds of dollars per month depending on where you live. Level4 CrossFit in Seattle, for instance, charges $70 for four classes per month or $220 per month for unlimited classes. CrossFit Atlanta offers 10 visits for $150 or unlimited classes per month for $200 (buddy discounts or discounts for a longer commitment are also available).
Sure, you could do CrossFit-type exercises on your own, but without a group instructor, there's the potential for injuries if you push yourself too hard or use poor form. And as Schoenfeld points out, "one of the reasons why it's so popular is there's a competitive aspect to it, a camaraderie."
2. Body weight-based workouts. Using body weight to create natural resistance (pushups, planks, crunches, etc.) allows you to build muscle without special equipment. The American College of Sports Medicine listed body weight training as one of the top fitness trends for 2013 and 2014. Schoenfeld says this approach is "highly convenient because you don't have to go out of your house." The lack of equipment also means you can essentially work out for free.
Still, it might be worth keeping the gym membership (so long as you actually use it) for cardio and motivational purposes. "A lot of times just being around other people who are getting fit is worth the cost of the gym membership," Schoenfeld says. "The act of going to the gym and getting out of the house can be a very positive thing."
3. Zumba. Zumba workouts include Latin music and hip-hop dance moves to create a high-powered, party-like atmosphere. The concept began in the early 2000s and has grown to over 140,000 locations in 185 countries, according to zumba.com. "Zumba is for people who don't like traditional gym exercises and need something more intense than Jazzercise," says Alicia Hunter, a certified weight-loss coach based in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York City. She adds that it's the type of workout that can be adjusted up or down based on your energy and fitness level.
With dozens of Zumba videos available online or on DVD, you could get your groove on at home for free or cheap. But many people enjoy the group dynamic and in-person encouragement of high-energy Zumba instructors. Many gyms include Zumba classes as part of the membership, and some specialized Zumba studios offer specials on Groupon or other deals sites.
4. Weighted hula hoops. Weighted hula hoops became popular several years ago, and first lady Michelle Obama and celebrities like Kelly Osbourne are reportedly among this workout's devotees. Hunter loves working out with a weighted hula hoop, which she says can be ordered online for about $35. "It's excellent for the core, and you can squat while you're doing it or hold hand weights," she says. "It's very versatile." Some gyms and fitness studios offer hula hoop fitness classes, but it's an easy workout to do at home, and you can even include kids in the fun.
5. Barre workouts. Ballet barre classes combine moves from Pilates, yoga and ballet for a cardiovascular and resistance-training workout that can scale up or down depending on your fitness level. "A lot of women [like] it because they're getting more of a dancer's body, a long lift as opposed to getting stocky," Hunter says. However, she warns that these workouts can be "extremely sweaty." Most people don't have a ballet barre in their homes, so they usually attend class at a dance or fitness studio, which can range in price depending on the studio and location.
6. Aerial yoga. For yogis who've grown tired of plain ol' downward-facing dog, aerial yoga offers a twist on the ancient practice. The classes use fabric hammocks (which can typically support up to 400 pounds) to challenge muscle groups and create a feeling of weightlessness as students suspend themselves parallel to the floor, flip upside down and perform other circus-like feats with the help of an instructor.
"It will increase your flexibility and work on your core, which is fantastic," says Julie Maina, associate professor of health and human performance at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. "Overstretching could be one safety issue, though." As they say on TV, don't try this at home! Individual aerial yoga classes can cost between $10 and $20 per class (or less if you have an unlimited membership or a punch card).
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