The Big Weigh-In: 5 Exercise Fads Plus Their Pros and Cons

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It’s January, resolutions season, the 2014 Winter Olympics are nearing, and Super Bowl XLVIII is less than two weeks away. Exercise and fitness are on consumers’ minds. Holiday muffin tops are no longer amusing, award-winning athletes are on the television, and Spring Break plans are getting nailed down — thus, anxiety rises. Where do you turn? Your neighborhood fitness center, your basement gym, or your yoga studio? You decide.

Each incoming and outgoing exercise trend has its merits, but today we’re spotlighting five of the most popular. Some fitness programs are more effective than others, while others are specifically appealing to a specific kind of exerciser — it just depends what you are after. The important part about exercise programs is knowing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how to avoid getting hurt. Before you commit to any regimen, it’s important to learn the understanding behind specific workouts, and that’s what we’re explaining today. Check out the explanations behind these five exercise fads and why so many fitness junkies love them.

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1. CrossFit

First up: the current big man on campus — CrossFit. Perhaps one of the greatest things about this exercise regime is that you always know who is doing it — because CrossFitters never stop talking about it. All jokes aside though, this exercise program definitely is one that has proven to stick, and certainly has many advocates singing its praises.

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning group fitness program that encourages a community atmosphere among its members, and it is this teamwork and unity that exercisers praise. Crossfit’s community atmosphere is one of the program’s many merits, because the regime keeps its exercisers accountable while providing them with a support base that they want to continue coming back to. According to WebMDCrossFit targets the major components of physical fitness that include cardiorespiratory fitness, stamina, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy. CrossFitters usually visit their gym, or “box,” three to five times a week and the workouts are intense, but short and sweet. They usually take around five to 15 minutes to complete.

These new, demanding exercises allow CrossFitters to see gains fast, but some still caution that the regime encourages muscle gain, and shouldn’t specifically be used for weight loss. In other words: CrossFitters are more fixated by the number on their weights, rather than the number on the scale. So, yes, there are many advantages to CrossFit, but there are also some drawbacks that should be considered before you sign up to jump aboard the bandwagon.

First off, CrossFit is expensive, costing $100 to $200 per month for unlimited classes at many places. In addition, some doctors warn CrossFitters about the many injury risks that surround the demanding exercise. Since CrossFit is intense, competitive, and puts a premium on the time a workout can be completed in, many exercisers either rush through programs, scale up their weights too quickly, or don’t pay enough attention to proper technique, leading to injuries down the line. The model that CrossFit uses is excellent — short, high intensity, focused workouts — however, not everyone sufficiently understands the mechanics behind the workouts, and thus some are at risk for overcommitting and ending up with an injury.

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2. Hot Yoga

Taking a pivot from the aforementioned high intensity exercise, we come to hot yoga, another popular exercise as of late, especially in the winter months when exercisers are looking for any excuse to warm up and sweat. According to Mayo Clinichot yoga, or Bikram, is a form of yoga performed in a studio that is heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and has a humidity of 40 percent. Hot yoga is a 90-minute program that consists of a series of 26 postures that involve lengthy, forceful and well-controlled contractions of all major muscle groups. The combined rigor of the poses and the heat are purposed to raise yogis’ heart rate and tire the muscles.

One of the most touted benefits of hot yoga is the detoxification – heavy sweating to help flush toxins from the skin — it entails. The heated room helps raise heart rates, making the body work harder, while the regimens also help exercisers develop strength, flexibility, and tone along while allowing them to benefit from a cardiovascular workout. On top of that, the focus on the mind and breathing is also cited as one of hot yoga’s many advantages.

However, like CrossFit, there are also drawbacks to this exercise, and those are just as important as its merits. To start off, belonging to a yoga studio is expensive, and a yoga class generally costs anywhere from $10 to $35 dollars a session, which adds up quickly. Also, the heat and intensity of hot yoga puts significant stress on bodies that some are not adapted to handle. The programs warn that those with heart disease, who have problems with dehydration or heat intolerance, or have had heat-related illness should stay away from hot yoga, and pregnant women also shouldn’t practice.

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3. Zumba

Next up is the dance-based workout, Zumba. This regime has attracted a lot of exercisers as of late, both young and old, male and female, and it has been recognized as both an effective and fun way to exercise, which is not what many can say about a lot about their classes. According to Fit Sugar, Zumba is aerobic fitness program that is a fusion of Latin and international music combined with a cardio workout. Upbeat music provides the soundtrack to classes taught by Zumba-trained instructors, and the workouts are purposed to be intense while also entertaining, attracting a lot of exercisers who are either too embarrassed to work out in the gym or feel that they lack the necessary coordination.

Zumba classes are typically an hour long, and can help a person lose weight and increase muscle tone, highlighting the exercise’s advantages. However, one of the most commonly cited disadvantages is also one that people recognize as one of Zumba’s merits, and that is that the exercise is equally as fun as intense, so you can get out as much as you get in. In Zumba class, no one is screaming in your face to work harder, so exercisers are forced to keep themselves accountable. In addition, some fitness junkies find that the Zumba routines are too difficult to learn, and the fast-paced Latin dance rhythms are challenging to keep up with.

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4. Insanity

Next up is an exercise program that can be done from one’s own home, but don’t get too excited, because although Insanity can be completed every morning in your pajamas, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it’s far from it.

Some say that Insanity is the hardest workout program ever put on DVD, and it’s all thanks to Shawn T. The program promises that in 60 days, exercisers will see a year’s worth of results, as long as they follow the dictated exercise and diet regimen. But how does it work? Shawn T explains, “You work flat out in 3-5 minute blocks, and take breaths only long enough to gulp some air and get right back to work. It’s called Max Interval Training, because it keeps your body working at maximum capacity through your entire workout. You keep pushing your limits — so your body has to adapt. That’s how you get in such insane shape in just 60 days.”

The workouts come in DVD sets, and are only suited for those who can do basic exercises and have good cardiovascular health. The program dictates that prior to committing, you should be able to at least make 10 pushups and crunches, as well as run at least a mile.

The cons to Insanity? It’s pricey — $144 on Amazon — and reviewers say that its results vary. Exercisers warn that the program does work, but participants have to follow the diet and regimen extremely strictly, and because Shaun T. puts such a premium on pushing yourself to the fullest, some walk away with injuries and pain. In addition, instruction on the television screen is much different than in-person direction.

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5. Spinning

Last but not least, spinning — another exercise that encourages a group dynamic and is taught by a certified instructor. Spinning classes or other indoor cycling workouts are especially enjoyed by fitness junkies during the winter months because they provide a serious cardio calorie burn inside and even make it fun. Indoor cycling classes have grown in popularity recently due the celebrity of certain (expensive) regimes like Soul Cycle, and now, classes are filling up quicker than ever, and it’s easy to find a exerciser up for singing the program’s praises.

Cycling classes are typically done in a fitness studio, with various light and music settings that provide an entertaining and party-like atmosphere. Instructors guide the participants through phases that include a warm-up, sprints, climbs, cool downs, etc., but it is ultimately up to the exercisers to determine how hard they will push themselves. The bikes are stationary, have toe clips, and come with resistance control knobs which can simulate outdoor cycling.

The downside to spinning, which has already been mentioned, is that it is up to exercisers to push themselves for maximum effect. The instructors are typically in the front of the studio, and therefore can advise participants to increase their resistance and pedal faster, but it is ultimately up to the rider to determine how hard he or she will go. In addition, spinning classes are usually not cheap, and are either paid for in a package or individually, but as every regime on this list has proved that working out isn’t always cheap, and sometimes the most effective workouts are the most expensive ones.

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