The YMCA Adventure Warrior Race gives kids and adults a chance to prove themselves against ropes courses, mud, water obstacles, and other unexpected mental and physical challenges—all while supporting a good cause. Amid the breathtaking views and tranquil waters of Lake Tris, runners maneuver around trees and carry heavy objects up the sometimes snow-covered Laurel Highlands mountains, climbing up to 1,000 feet as they go. Warriors aged 16 and older make a 4-mile circuit, whereas younger participants run age-appropriate distances of a half mile or a full mile. Trophies and the respect of all the woodland creatures are awarded to the top male and female runners, top male and female teams, and top co-ed team. According to the Daily American, funds raised from the race provide camp scholarships that allow kids to attend residential and day programs at the 263-acre YMCA Camp T. Frank Soles.
With machines set up in rows to encourage competition, many ordinary gyms cater to men's bodies and psychology, right down to the urinals that were "accidentally" installed in the women's locker room. At Curves, you'll move around a circuit of hydraulic resistance machines that have been designed to work with women's bodies and promote weight loss, protect against osteoporosis, and deal with arthritis. Instead of fiddling with weight stacks and losing your momentum, the hydraulic machines use your body weight and fitness level to create resistance that matches your abilities, decreasing the risk of soreness or injury. Because traditional lift-and-lower motions create bulky muscles, each machine uses push-and-pull motions to create toned, lean muscles perfect for crushing a grapefruit without looking like you can.
The experienced instructors at Stray Dog Yoga Studio shepherd body benders through a series of Vinyasa movements executed in a heated room. Pupils stretch and sweat their way through the flow, which unites movement with breath the way a magnet unites Dad's finger paintings with the refrigerator door. Each class challenges partakers to push their bodies, find the limits of their flexibility, and discover a sense of peace within themselves. Stretching students of all levels can participate, as modifications for difficult poses allow beginners to follow along and work toward improvement.
Though he has studied, practiced, and taught yoga in such far-flung locales as Mexico and Southeast Asia, Zeb Homison counts his childhood living room in western Pennsylvania as the site of his fondest yoga memory. That's where, as a tottering pre-kindergartener, he worked through poses alongside his mother. After studying dance and theater, Homison—now the owner of Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh— moved to San Francisco, where he rekindled his relationship with yoga while working at a Bikram yoga studio.
The heat, combined with the repetitions of the postures, focused his mind while conditioning his body, and he was hooked. Studying under Bikram Choudhury, the father of Bikram yoga, was another clarifying experience and one that taught Homison to open up and accept the inevitable. That could mean working through intensely fatigued muscles to push toward greater flexibility, or performing all 26 poses at a black-tie dinner party whenever guests clink their glasses and shout "Pose!"
"When studying yoga, you have to be patient with yourself," says Homison, echoing the philosophy that his staff repeats to encourage students to take their time learning the practice. Together, the team works with patrons, inspiring them through bouts of frustration. "Yoga can be a lifelong process," Homison says, "and you just have to be open to it."
Rebecca Rankin and Lisa Lau came out of college prepared to be an architect and an engineer, respectively. Today, they own Bikram Yoga Squirrel Hill. Their goals haven't changed much, though—Rebecca specializes in the architecture of the human body, and Lisa studies its engineering, teaching students how to bend and breathe during each 90-minute class.
These classes are held in a studio heated to around 105 degrees. But newcomers to the practice needn't worry—as the space's website says, "The heat is not there to make it tough, it is there to help." As participants move through the 26 asanas, or postures, of Bikram yoga, the heat loosens up their muscles and encourages a detoxifying sweat, allowing for deeper stretches and a smoother post-workout slip-and-slide ride. Rebecca, Lisa, and their fellow instructors limit their class sizes to better personalize their guidance, and welcome guests of all skill levels to attend any session.
Highly educated trainers—each of whom has a bachelor's or master's degree in exercise science—help clients at bodyXchange fitness tone their bodies and transform their lifestyles with nutrition and exercise programs. Rows of dumbbells weighing 5–135 pounds ring the walls of the 5,000-square-foot gym, where members can swing kettlebells, push sleds, or struggle with a 550-pound tractor tire as well as pumping iron on more conventional Hammer Strength and Icarian strength-training machines. Life Fitness treadmills, stationary bikes, and other cardio equipment populate a separate theater, where wall-hung plasma TVs keep minds busy as bodies sweat and mouths hum the theme to Chariots of Fire.