Some of the most popular new fitness classes are also the most intense, but do these grueling workouts leave enough room for pleasure and endorphins amongst all the burning and the pain?
One of the great things about exercise is that there are hundreds of ways it can be done. From gym rats to outdoors lovers, and from zen seekers to those looking to release some energy, there's something in the fitness world for everyone—beginners and hardcore athletes alike. Lately, though, people from all over the exercise spectrum have been drawn to one fitness trend in particular: really, really tough workouts. These challenging classes take on a no-frills style and promise to get you fit and make you strong from the inside out. They also promise you're going to work harder than you ever have before (or at least harder than you're used to).
"You find your breakthrough when you're pushed to your limits both physically and mentally," says Alonzo Wilson, founder of Tone House in New York City, which uses sports conditioning to help everyday people train like athletes (read: tirelessly). Why the tough-stuff attitude? "You need to go beyond easy to really find out who you can be," says Wilson. (Test your own limits with 9 of the Hardest and Best Exercises from Real Trainers.)
And don't even think about giving up, even if you think you're ready to, says Coss Marte, founder of ConBody, a high-intensity bodyweight workout Marte previously developed in his prison cell. "We will help you to mentally overcome the urge to throw in the towel," he says. Although the workout isn't easy, and you're exercising in a studio designed to look like a jail, ConBody trainers encourage you with positive feedback, not screaming. "We all finish together," explains Marte of the supportive environment. "You come in, get down, get dirty, and get the job done. And afterward, you hug a thug!" (Looking to lose weight fast? Add this HIIT Bodyweight Workout to your schedule.)
So what's drawing us to these incredibly brutal workouts? "People are realizing that they're capable of so much more than what's typically demanded of them," says Wilson. "And getting out of your comfort zone not only improves your physical and mental game but prepares you for anything that life throws your way." See, unlike Spinning or running, these classes challenge you to move your body in back-to-basics ways. "The human body is designed to move as a whole and in multiple planes," says Wilson. "Movement training utilizes more muscle groups and expends more energy, resulting in highly effective and efficient training sessions."
It also prepares you for more real-life situations, which spawned the idea behind New York Sports Club's latest class, Bravest & Finest, developed in collaboration with Mike Counihan, a New York City police officer, and Joe Schiraldo, a New York City firefighter, to train students as if they were first responders.
"First responders need to be ready for anything and everything at all times," says Counihan. "They need to be able to conquer tasks such as gaining entry through a locked door or carrying an unconscious person out of a location." That's why, during NYSC's circuit training class, you could be striking a large tire with a sledgehammer, manipulating a 120-lb. dummy through a course, or carrying a real (read: heavy) fire hose.
There's an adrenaline rush that comes from really pushing yourself, which makes workouts like these very appealing, says Counihan. So even if you have no intentions of becoming a firefighter or, uh, going to prison, we guarantee you'll get a boost from achieving fitness feats you never thought possible...just make sure to maximize those rest days.