Trying something new keeps you motivated to exercise. But which current fitness craze is worth your time, money, and energy? Real Simple asked health experts to weigh in.
TRX Suspension Trainer
The trend, explained: This piece of workout equipment was developed by a Navy SEAL as a way to stay fit in the field. The TRX, made up of nylon straps and handles, anchors over a door or some other stationary object and adjusts to different heights so you can do head-to-toe moves—push-ups, lunges, pull-ups—using your body weight. The equipment costs about $200 (trxtraining.com) and comes with how-to DVDs. Fans say that the TRX engages more muscles than the same moves performed on solid ground.
Expert opinion: “The main benefit of using the TRX is that it forces you to use your core to stabilize yourself,” says Scarsdale, New York–based exercise physiologist Brad Schoenfeld, the author of Women’s Home Workout Bible ($20, amazon.com). For example, to do a plank pose on the ground, you only have to keep your body straight and lifted, using your abdominals for support. For a plank pose with the TRX, in which your ankles are held up by the nylon straps, you need to engage your chest, back, shoulders, and abdominals to ensure that you don’t fall over. “The TRX is also convenient, because you can rig it up at home and adjust your positioning to increase or decrease the difficulty level,” says Schoenfeld.
The bottom line: The TRX is worth it for almost anyone, especially for people who want a challenging way to exercise different muscle groups but may not want to sign up for a gym membership.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
The trend, explained: HIIT turns a regular cardio workout into a super-efficient one: You alternate between 20- to 30-second bursts of all-out effort and easier recovery periods. HIIT works with any cardio activity, including walking, running outdoors, and using the elliptical or stair-climber. The approach is said to strengthen the heart, the lungs, and large muscles, and devotees love it because of its purported fat-burning abilities. Plus, HIIT workouts are short—20 to 30 minutes on average. To try it: Start with a slow five-minute warm-up, then increase your pace (or resistance or incline) until you’re breathing heavily. Keep going for 30 seconds, then drop your pace, resistance, or incline down for two to four minutes; repeat three to four times. Because of the intensity, most experts recommend HIIT a maximum of three times a week.
Expert opinion: “HIIT is an excellent approach to cardio,” says Rachel Cosgrove, a personal trainer and the owner of Results Fitness, in Santa Clarita, California. “The harder your body works, even for short periods, the longer it takes to return to its normal resting state, which means your metabolism stays elevated—and you burn more calories—for up to 24 hours afterward.” And HIIT may be particularly effective at whittling fat from the belly and legs: A 2008 study in the International Journal of Obesity showed that women who did HIIT burned more abdominal and leg fat than did those who performed longer, moderate-intensity cardio.
The bottom line: Virtually anyone can benefit from HIIT, especially those looking to reduce fat.