Far Out Fitness
The things people do to get in shape
Working out just got harder. Insanely so. As if slogging yourself to the gym every day isn’t enough, the latest fitness trends take exercise to an extreme,
redefining limits and—in some cases—flirting with danger.
Remember when running a 5k was a huge accomplishment? Compared to the Warrior Dash, Spartan Warrior, and Tough Mutter, even a triathlon seems like a cakewalk. As their names suggest, these obstacle footraces fall somewhere between a gladiator game and a fraternity party on steroids. Competitors rappel down ravines, crawl through mud and under barbed wire, tramp over stacks of crushed automobiles, and even jump over roaring fires. It’s muddy and messy, and elicits a little frisson from a perceived element of risk. The websites, which list locations and dates of races, imply it’s not just for testosterone-fueled gym rats. Stay-at-home moms wearing Viking helmets, or old prom gowns, also charge over the course barbarian-style then celebrate afterward with free beer.
What’s the draw?
I posed the question to Julia Leavitt, a 39-year-old mother and costume-design professor at Fairfield University, who was making a tutu for her first Warrior Dash in June. “I run 5ks all the time, but I’ve never run an obstacle 5k course—and certainly not in a tutu. It just sounds like fun,” she says, adding that her teammates would be there to help her over obstacles.
The Tough Mutter was founded by a former counterterrorism agent for the British government, who while getting his MBA at Harvard, became bored with unimaginative marathons, triathlons, mud runs, and adventure challenges. So he thought up something even more torturous.
The Tough Mutter, usually 9k races, are mentally challenging, too. Think crawling blindly through a black tent that’s as hot as an oven. Equally formidable, but more civilized, is the Men’s Health Urbanathon, a series of 10-mile footraces with concrete barriers and monster truck tires obstacles.
In the gym, Tabata, boot camp, and plyo classes all are high-intensity interval workouts aimed at burning calories and getting fit fast. “With so many different options, it can get very confusing deciding which is best for you,” says Valerie Walsh, assistant general manager at Phys-Ed Health and Performance of New Milford. “We have heard it called muscle confusion, max interval training, or high-intensity interval training. Really, it all boils down to changing your routine and tricking your body, ” Walsh says.
Having a personal trainer, or attending a class is useful for getting the hang of it. A speed timer that tests the quickness of your movements is a handy gadget for training solo. Pedro Floresjoya, personal trainer at Phys-Ed, has designed a multi-purpose exercise machine, SBR Challenge, that allows you to work through a series of exercises at a high intensity on one machine, using many muscles in the shortest amount of time.
TRX suspension resistance training, invented by a former Navy Seal, uses nylon straps with adjustable handles at one end and an anchor on the other. As you adjust the angle of your body and position of your feet, the exercises become easier or harder. The focus is on core body strength, and while it seems at first easy, it quickly turns into a sweat bath.
“High intensity is not appropriate for all,” cautions Debi Fitzgerald, a personal trainer at the Litchfield Athletic Center and the New Milford Sport’s Club, who also teaches at the Mayflower Spa. “But personally I feel most people can push harder than they do. In fact, that’s how I started teaching. I’d go take a class and it wasn’t hard enough,” she says.
Even yoga has gone a little bonkers. The latest trend in yoga is acroyoga, extreme poses that are a combination of acrobatics and yoga. In the Berkshires, Kripalu, a mecca for yoga-devotees, offers hundreds of classes, including outdoor classes like kayak yoga. Along the coast, students perfect the warrior pose on paddleboards, a combination of surfing and yoga.
Yoga in the vineyard? Hopkins Vineyard hosts yoga sessions led by instructor Anne Hungerford, owner of ah Yoga and Wellness Center of New Preston. After the hour-long session, participants unwind with a glass of wine served with cheese and fresh fruit.
Ah—sanity, at last!