I poked my head into a fitness studio crowded with people dressed in fitted tops and pants appropriate for a dance rehearsal. Because I love salsa music, and despite my cycling shorts, I sneaked into the back row and attempted to follow a woman's hip-spinning moves in front of me. Ten minutes into my introduction to Zumba, I realized why so many people were there: It was pure, sweaty fun.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) included specialty fitness classes such as Zumba on its "most popular fitness trends" list for 2009. And there's good reason why. Consumers are looking for "more bang for the buck," says ACE's chief science officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D.
"People are engaging in workouts that provide multiple benefits," such as aerobic conditioning, strength training and even entertainment.
We took dozens of classes and surveyed Women's Running readers to discover the most popular--and most interesting--ways to mix up your cross-training routine. Here are three unusual programs to try.
Fitness boot camps--focused conditioning programs designed to build strength and burn fat--have sprouted up all over the U.S. in a variety of forms. In San Francisco alone, more than a dozen companies offer programs that include outdoor workouts--from uphill sprints to core exercises in a park--as well as personalized coaching and nutrition tips.
The national program Adventure Boot Camps for Women, launched in 2000 by personal trainer and Ironman athlete John Spencer Ellis, features a blend of strength training, yoga, hiking and running.
"Boot camp doesn't get boring like other gym classes," says Daphne Macfarlan, who participated in a twice-a-week program in St. Petersburg, Florida. "You never know what's coming next!"
Beyond independent companies, many gyms offer boot camp programs; some include indoor weight lifting and cardio sessions, others meet at the gym and head outdoors. Usually, boot camps are offered in sessions of one month or longer and meet three to four times a week.
You'll like it if...working out with a group helps you stay motivated, and you're looking to build strength in a focused period of four to six weeks.
You might not like it if...you're training for a long-distance event and don't have the time to add in an intense conditioning program to your schedule.
Where to find it: Ask at your local gym, or visit Adventure Boot Camp's bootcampfinder.com.