As exercise routines evolve as quickly as a Usain Bolt photo finish - this year's most invigorating fitness trends range from drag-queen dancing to hi-tech health.
Fusion or hybrid classes are set to become ever more elaborate this year. "Hybrid classes add more fun and variety to studio timetables," explains Matt Julian, head of fitness at The Third Space gym group, which offers "Poleates" and yoga-ballet fusion (thethirdspace.com).
The all-conquering, high-octane Zumba classes (attended by more than 12 million people in 110,000 locations across 125 countries) have been combined with circuit training (Zumba fitness), redesigned for older exercisers (Zumba gold) and younger ones (Zumbatomic) and relocated – to the pool – for Aqua Zumba (zumba.com). Virgin Active is now offering Beaming classes, a heady mixture of step, gymnastics and Pilates. You balance on a beam only a few centimetres off the ground, before performing balance-based moves that are meant to tone and strengthen.
Also new for 2012 are shorter classes to slot into busy lunchtimes. Choose from 20-minute fast classes in the gym or 30-minute studio sessions. The Frame method, which uses a combination of a ballet barre, Pilates ball, yoga strap and proprietary Frame cushion, is a low-impact, muscle-busting class offered at the Frame gym in London (moveyourframe.com).
Fancy something a little more flamboyant? How about the Drag Queen Dance Class at Floridita in London's Soho (floriditalondon.com)? You'll be taught a full-on routine which aims to improve muscle tone, flexibility, co-ordination and core strength. The 90-minute class includes a cocktail, too. Fabulous!
Burn, baby, burn
The popularity of triathlon and endurance events is on the rise. For would-be competitors who like to get their hands dirty, there's now Tough Mudder, featuring 10- to12-mile obstacle courses designed by US special forces to test fitness, stamina, mental strength and teamwork and involving 12ft-high Berlin Walls, muddy trenches and even flames...
Another American export is P90X, the secret to Michelle Obama's sculpted arms. Described by its makers as "extreme home fitness", it involves 12 seriously tough workouts ranging from cardio to core, yoga to strength training plus a workout calendar and fitness plan for £99 (€119). The company behind it, Beachbody (beachbody.co.uk), also offers a roster of killer fitness plans, including the Insanity Fitness Programme and Turbo Fire. All are intense ways to work it at home. Tracy Anderson, trainer to the stars (Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox), has a follow-up DVD to her mega-selling – and mega-difficult – Tracy Anderson Method, called The Tracy Anderson Method: Dance Cardio Workout. Be prepared to discover moves – and muscles – you never even knew about.
Keep your bank balance healthy
Despite January traditionally seeing a surge in gym memberships, 2012 is a time when people are more concerned with healthy bank balances rather than bodies. But a number of chains have caught on to this cost-cutting ethos and are offering slimmed-down fees. According to research by Fleurets, the recession has seen a surge in chains that are rather more fleet of foot than more expensive brands. Its latest health-and-fitness report explains that "despite the subdued market and stiff competition for new memberships, 2011 saw an influx of new entrants into the market in the form of low-cost budget gym operators.
Similarly, The Gym Group (thegymgroup.com) offers low-cost membership and you don't need to sign a contract. Its gyms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, letting you work out whenever the urge takes you. John Treharne, CEO of The Gym Group, believes that this approach makes gym-going feasible for anyone on a budget. "For years, the percentage of the population exercising in a health club or leisure centre has hovered around 12 per cent, with price constantly quoted as a barrier to entry. This has paved the way for a new, low-cost model." Another smart way to beat big fees is Payasugym.com, a concept that lets its account holders use credits to cover visits to the hundreds of gyms on its books.
Group personal training is another way that people are choosing to get high-quality instruction at lower costs. Clubbing together with friends and hiring a trainer also means you can socialise as you sweat.
At-home options are appealing if you'd rather pay a one-off amount to work up a sweat on your own turf. Personal trainer Mark Anthony (the man responsible for Billie Piper's Belle de Jour body) has just launched the Body Trainer, a resistance device that's portable, fits on any door and comes with a DVD (markanthonysuk.com). At £39.99 (€48) it may not be as cheap as a fitness DVD alone but lets you pack in a full workout in 20 minutes.
Using your phone to get fit is an idea that has exploded in the past decade. Ten years ago, Nike pioneered a virtual running coach that used text messages to encourage Nike 10K participants to hit the road; since then, its Nike+ collaboration with Apple has let iPhone owners track their runs via their phone's GPS locator. But it's not the only mega-brand to move into hi-tech training – Adidas's miCoach, a collection of tracking devices and software that can be used for a number of activities, gives real-time audio coaching while collating performance information that can then be stored – or even shared – online. New for 2012 is the F50 football boot, which contains a Speed Cell chip to record a player's speed, distance, amount of active time and intensity of activity. Costing £245 (€295), the boots aren't designed for casual kickabouts – they're used by Lionel Messi, for one – but they give users the ultimate in performance monitoring, plus that information is then translated into a virtual world (adidas.com).
Another high-end, high-spend gadget is the Jawbone Up, a £79.99 (€96) wristband (jawbone.com) that tracks physical activity, sleep patterns and what you eat and stores the information on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. This data can then be shared and used to improve your performance. Swimmers can track their times for free with Splashpath, an app that lets you choose a theoretical distance (the length of the Amazon; down the Thames) and then swim towards it.
These items, however, as experts warn, give you everything except the workout so you have to do more than just download them if you want to get fit.
Bikram yoga – where 90-minute classes are held in studios heated to 40 degrees – continues to boom, with more than 5,000 studios across the world. Increasingly, candlelit classes are being held in the evenings and at weekends, which adds a relaxing atmosphere to the physically challenging poses. If the furnace-like warmth of Bikram yoga is too hot for you to handle, a new class, Glow Yoga, could be for you. Classes consist of vinyasa flow yoga conducted in an infrared-lit studio. It's not as punishing as Bikram, and the lighting is also said to combat seasonal affective disorder. Another option for anyone wanting to experience a more mindful way to keep in shape in 2012 is The Third Space's Meditation in Motion classes, which combine yogic techniques with fitness training and relaxation.
Independent News Service