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After Brian Ayers earned his degree in fitness management and went to work in a corporate fitness setting, he discovered a new kind of training—one that involved challenges such as boxing, mud races, and obstacle courses. "I moved away from using machines and dumbbell exercises to exercises that will get people in shape for more athletic things," he says. In June 2011, he decided to open a studio dedicated to the philosophy of embracing challenge, and Rugged Fitness was born.

Traditional machines do not exist at Rugged Fitness. Instead, there's plenty of space for boot-camp workouts, a pull-up area with TRX bands, and 11 heavy bags for boxing classes, which never exceed 11 pupils. Outside, giant tires patiently wait to be lifted and flipped, and an obstacle course with monkey bars, army-crawl netting, and a climbing wall dares visitors to push themselves to their limit. During the interval-based boot camps, students might heft sledgehammers one minute and drop for pushups the next. Because activities focus on increments of time, rather than specific weights or numbers of reps, everyone can calibrate the exercises to their ability level. And the students do have a range of abilities—some are fitness aficionados, whereas others are complete beginners, and one student dropped more than 100 pounds.

To challenge and encourage students, Brian gathered a staff of experienced coaches, which includes a former professional boxer and an amateur mixed-martial-arts fighter. "Our coaches are all very hands-on," he says, "Everything they they're putting you through, they've done. It's not just someone sitting back with a cheeseburger telling you to do pushups." That spirit of camaraderie extends throughout Rugged Fitness's clientele. "You're all struggling through these crazy workouts we're going to put you through," Brian says. Even outside the gym, members frequently band together to complete mud runs, obstacle courses, and marathon Macarena sessions.

To supplement the classes—which include kickboxing, kettlebell conditioning, and the once-a-week Rugged Boot Camp challenge—the trainers offer one-on-one nutrition counseling. An online nutrition program helps steer guests toward healthier diets, analyzing what they're eating based on the calories, nutritional components, and number of Flintstone vitamins hiding in foods.

1870 Berlin Turnpike
Wethersfield,
CT
US

Visitors never have to wait in line to workout at Cardio Express—each of the six clubs boasts a ton of Cybex strength-training machinery, an arsenal of free weights, and more than 80 pieces of cardio equipment affixed with personal 15-inch television screens. Compassionate instructors imbue gym visits with a human element as well, leading classes such as Core Fusion, Total Tone circuit training, and spinning sessions at the Southington, Vernon, and Manchester locations. Each year, the staff members carry the same motivational energy they use in their studios to recruit members and friends for the Multiple Sclerosis Bike Tour. Cardio Express has raised a grand total of nearly $400,000, and it also acts as title sponsor for the 2012 benefit.

1199 Silas Deane Hwy
Wethersfield,
CT
US

Helmed by studio owner Carolyn Phillips, Fit Behavior's certified instructors help clients to reach health goals through group classes, weight-loss programs, and personal-training services. They lead guests of all fitness levels through dynamic and challenging exercises, drawing on experience in gymnastics, bodybuilding, and Afro-Cuban dance to jazz up boot-camp sessions, Pilates classes, or elementary-school talent shows. The wellness emporium's specialty class, 30Fit, stitches together a fabric of plyometrics, kettlebells, rope work, TRX-suspension training, and cardio kick to show lethargy and monotony the door over the course of 30 intense minutes.

2139 Silas Deane Hwy
Rocky Hill,
CT
US