by Mike Morrison
ODDS ARE YOU'RE ONE of the millions of people whose New Year's resolutions include working out more and getting in shape. This is finally going to be the year, right?
Group fitness training, circa 1939.
The 70s was clearly the decade that distance running hit its stride. In the 80s, Jane Fonda, leg warmers and head bands took over as aerobics classes sprouted up all over the country, which were then followed by "low impact" step classes. In the 90s we took our exercise home with us in the form of treadmills, stationary bikes and a surplus of "as seen on TV" products like the ab-flex, ab-roller, bow-flex and Suzanne Somers's favorite, the thigh master.
The new fitness trends give participants the chance to work out their minds as well as their bodies
Walking, hiking and weight lifting (now better known by its softer, gentler name "strength training") will always be popular but now as we reach the 21st century, more and more Americans are heading back to the gym as different forms of "group training" have swept the nation. They range from high intensity classes like Tae-Bo and Spinning to lower impact, stress-reducing activities such as Yoga, Pilates and Tai-chi, but all give participants the chance to work out their minds as well as their bodies, keep motivated and interact socially in the setting of their choice.Tae-Bo (pronounced Tie-Bo)
Billy Blanks, the international martial arts champion turned film star, has been teaching his brand of cardio-kick boxing for over 11 years. You may remember him from such legendary film classics as Bloodfist, Tough and Deadly and Assault on Devil's Island, but Blanks truly hit the big time in the late nineties with the release of his Tae Bo videos. His classes combine Tae-Kwan-Do and boxing and have become a favorite to such celebrities as Shaquille O'Neal, Carmen Electra and Sinbad. While some kickboxing classes actually have punching bags for members to take out their aggressions, Tae-Bo involves kicking and punching the air while listening to dance music. But be careful. It is an extremely high impact activity that can cause injuries to those that overdo it. Also, while Tae-Bo will make you more fit and more confident, trainers warn that it is NOT a martial art and that does not teach you how to effectively defend yourself, as true martial arts do.Spinning (pronounced SPIN-ning)
Burning approximately 900 calories in a one-hour class, this is one of the most intense workouts available. Spinning is basically just glorified stationary bike riding, but don't think you can just clear all the clothes off the one in the corner of your back room and think you can spin (although that's not a bad place to start). A class consists of loud, base-thumping music and energetic instructors leading a group of cyclists on an extreme, sweat-filled ride to fitness. The instructor removes any possible boredom by periodically telling the class to envision themselves climbing steep hills or speeding along a race track. Some bikes even have video screens for those riders with lots of money or little imaginationYoga (pronounced YO-Ga)
Yoga was developed over 5,000 years ago in India to increase strength, flexibility and balance. Most instructors are quick to point out that yoga is NOT a competitive sport. Rather than push yourself and sneak peeks around the room to see what everyone else is doing, the idea is to listen and adjust to what your body is telling you and to focus on your own breathing. Almost all forms of yoga in the West are variations of hatha yoga, which is geared toward improving the body so that it is worthy of self-realization. In less spiritual terms, it is an excellent way of calming the mind and reducing stress.
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There are many styles of hatha yoga but the three most widely known are Kripalu (a gentle, slow-moving style), Iyengar (known for its use of props and its extreme attention to form and precise postures) and Astanga (also called power yoga, it is possibly the most demanding form, moving from one posture into another).Pilates (pronounced Puh-LAH-teez)
Developed by Joseph Pilates, European fitness guru in the 1920s, Pilates is a successful offshoot of yoga that strengthens and elongates your muscles with various exercises performed on mats and specially designed equipment. Breathing and posture are extremely important to each individual exercise. Try this as an example of a mat exercise. Sit with your knees tucked under your chin. Wrap your arms around your legs and roll back. Then roll forward without touching your feet to the ground. Sound easy? Yeah, right. Many swear by Pilates as a low impact way to work the body while relaxing the mind. The down side is that the equipment is often elaborate and expensive and tends to cause classes to be on the pricey side. Group mat sessions average between $10-20, while machine classes with private instructors start at about $50.Tai-Chi (pronounced Tie-Chee)
Another popular fitness trend from the Far East that works both mind and body is Tai-chi. It is performed primarily while standing and moving very slowly and methodically, twisting your body and raising and lowering limbs. It is usually performed with quiet, soothing music and because of its low stress on muscles and joints, can be performed by people of all ages. Participants focus on the center of their body and concentrate on executing all movements outward from there. If Tai-chi is done correctly, it leads to complete mental and spiritual relaxation and inner peace.