Consider the schedule at an average neighborhood gym. It’s probably packed with at least 20 different types of fitness classes that vary in style, purpose, and intensity. How can you possibly choose one? Unsurprisingly, it all comes down to what motivates you and results you’re aiming for.
Below, we came up with a handy reference guide to identify the significant benefits provided by seven popular fitness classes. All of the workouts do a great job of burning calories, so we sorted them into more creative categories to help you identify the best one for you.
That’s not to say barre itself is easy—just devoid of the punishing requirements of technical proficiency and dancing en pointe. The fitness regimen makes use of a ballet barre to provide support while students perform strength exercises and stretches. The movements are meant to build lean muscle, burn calories, and increase flexibility. In fact, good posture and form are highly valued in barre fitness because they indicate the student’s strength, much as they do in a ballet dancer’s graceful, controlled performance.
Barre instructor Lauren Ross told us that teachers develop their own choreography, and they should be able to modify workouts to suit each student’s fitness level.
Runner-up: Pilates classes, which are also concerned with building a strong core, conditioning long, lean muscles, and boosting flexibility
Hot yoga is practiced in studios that maintain a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity of 40%. Exercisers sweat through whatever skimpy clothing they do wear. Students are encouraged to practice atop absorbent towels, and many hot-yoga studios feature odor-fighting antimicrobial floors and showers where students can rinse off the perspiration.
Hot yoga’s sequence of 26 moderately challenging postures has a number of purported benefits. The heat helps burn off calories, and many practitioners say it helps them loosen up and achieve deeper stretches. Yoga as a whole helps increase flexibility and strength through the holding of poses. Also, the buckets of sweat are said to be detoxifying.
Runner-up: Horseback-riding classes. Person sweat, horse sweat, dirt, and manure—need we say more?
Music is an integral part of every indoor-cycling class. Many studios, with their mood lighting and sound systems, seem to be modeled after nightclubs; a lot of instructors labor over creating the perfect playlist. The name-brand Spinning program even posts a weekly playlist with a description of the type of ride the music corresponds to.
In our guide to spin class, instructor Stephanie Beck said that she matches a driving beat to increases in speed or resistance to motivate her students through tough stretches. Although indoor cycling one of the best low-impact cardio workouts available, a soundtrack helps students push through each class’s strength- and endurance-building sections.
Runner-up: Zumba classes, which set dance steps and aerobic exercises to the beat of Latin, Caribbean, and hip-hop music.
It’s not called “boot camp” for nothing. This group-training trend is inspired by the interval training that new military recruits undergo during basic training. Some programs are even led by former military personnel, including Sergeant’s Fitness Concepts, the longest-running military-style boot camp in the US.
The company employs Chuck Dyson, a former US Army Airborne sergeant, to coach exercisers. In our list of boot-camp tips, he admits to doing some yelling at regulars, but he tries to motivate and encourage his students—Dyson isn’t the drill sergeant you might remember from Full Metal Jacket. Also, the workouts aren’t as intense as you might think: “The program is set up so that we can work with any level of physical fitness,” Dyson said, just like basic training is designed to get people in any shape fitter and stronger for duty.
Runner-up: CrossFit classes use a similar style of interval training—though one that emphasizes functional fitness—and at least one CrossFit trainer cops to screaming at students he knows can handle it.
Also known as HIIT, this fitness regimen alternates intense bursts of activity and recovery periods of lower-intensity work or even rest. The high-intensity period can incorporate activities as wide-ranging as running, bodyweight exercises, resistance training, and plyometrics. (Most of these can be performed without equipment, whether in a fitness class or on your own.)
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, such a cycle excels at burning calories, boosting endurance, and decreasing fat while maintaining muscle. HIIT also provides a prime opportunity for mixing up your strength exercises to prevent your muscles from adapting to a single activity’s amount of stress or intensity.
Runner-up: Martial-arts classes, in which sparring with an opponent naturally forces your body to respond to changing threats.
Let’s get #swole! Pumping iron isn’t just for those dudes at your gym who believe grunting is the highest form of self-expression. A rigorous strength-training routine helps build endurance, lower body-fat percentage, and, in women, sculpt lean muscles. (Men tend to bulk up in the traditional way.)
Also, there isn’t a single way to strength-train—all you need is resistance, reps, and sets. Some people prefer barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight machines for their resistance, while others get more out of bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, or medicine balls.
Runner-up: SUP yoga classes, since a snap of you performing Warrior II while balanced on a paddleboard in the water should earn a social-media post just for looking so cool.
If you’ve ever practiced karate chops and kicks in front of a mirror at home, get yourself to a kickboxing class. There, you’ll have an actual opponent—well, a punching bag—and the opportunity to perfect your technique so that you get actual results from your efforts.
Generally, classes involves strikes using only the hands and feet, but the origins of those strikes include martial arts such as boxing, karate, and muay thai. Overall, kickboxing is a full-body workout that incorporates intense cardiovascular exercise and upper- and lower-body flexibility. Learn other facts about kickboxing.
Runner-up: Rock-climbing classes, where you can hum the Mission: Impossible theme while building upper-body strength.