If you think buzzed-about fitness trends like TRX classes, stand-up paddleboarding and mud runs are only for young fitness junkies, it’s time to open your workout world. Healthy men and women in their mid-40s on up through their mid-60s are at a perfect point in life to explore new ways to sweat.
“If you want what you don’t have, you have to do what you don’t already do,” says South Florida-based fitness expert Aimee Nicotera, who’s created wellness programs for corporations and fitness clubs. “Trying new fitness activities is a great way to change and challenge our bodies, as well as to keep our minds fresh and avoid boredom.”
Adds Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata Aerial Yoga: “Although their postural habits may be visible and stubbornly persistent, the people in this age group are still young enough to have the energy and the capacity to change while at the same time old enough to have learned that change takes patient persistence.”
If that sounds like your mindset, here’s a closer look at 7 workouts that can help you meet your health goals — gray hair, cranky knees and all. (Friendly reminder to check with your doctor before beginning any new workout, especially if you have an underlying medical condition.)
AERIAL YOGA: If you’ve ever watched a Cirque du Soleil performance and wished it was you gracefully swinging to the rafters, an aerial yoga class should be in your near future. Traditional yoga poses are done with hammocks that hang two to three feet from the floor. Unnata founder Dortignac, who also leads the aerial performance troupe Suspended Cirque, says the hammocks offer added support and won’t put additional pressure on the spine. “Your back will absolutely love the lack of compression on the vertebral discs,” she says. Hard to believe, but aerial yoga is actually good for beginners, as its a safe way to learn the poses and establish good alignment. Because these classes are still relatively new to the scene, you can take heart that many participants will also be newbies.
What to expect: Most aerial yoga classes accentuate using arm strength and hanging upside down, so you’ll likely feel as if your blood is rushing to your head. With time, your body will adapt and you’ll be able to stay inverted for longer periods without discomfort. If you do have high blood pressure, be sure to let your instructor know that so he or she can provide different options for certain positions.
Find a class: Visit aerialyoga.com to find a Unnata class; classes may also be referred to as antigravity yoga. For the best experience, check that your instructor is well-versed and ideally certified in traditional yoga.
HIIT: Prize yourself an efficiency expert? Or maybe you simply struggle to rally yourself to lace up your sneakers? Either way, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, classes are right up your alley. The idea here is to work your body hard by alternating between quick-but-intense bursts of cardio and strength moves, and periods of rest or low-intensity movement. But the real beauty is that you you can squeeze out maximum benefits in a condensed time frame. And if weight-loss is your goal, studies show that HIIT workouts help dieters keep muscle mass while losing fat, compared to strictly focusing on cardio.
What to expect: Since you’ll be putting your muscles through some new paces, expect some soreness the next day. “This is a good thing,” says Aimee Nicotera. “It indicates that your muscles worked hard and are ready to rebuild and repair.”
Find a class: Lots of different classes and workouts count as HIIT — CrossFit, treadmill intervals, bodyweight workouts, spinning — so check class descriptions. Or bypass the gym and try Nicotera’s 2X2 Conditioning DVDs, which have three options so you can tailor each session to your liking.
OBSTACLE RACE: While it helps to have a 5K or two under your belt, obstacle-course style races—the kind that look like they drop participants in the middle of an action movie sequence—are viable options for middle-aged, average Joes and Janes. Provided you choose your event wisely and do the prep work. Think Mudderella, Warrior Dash, or Rugged Maniac, shorter-distance events that offer plenty of daring challenges but aren’t as hardcore as a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. “Our participants focus on the accomplishment of completing the course and helping each other achieve that goal, not on winning or being the fastest,” says Cristina DeVito, CEO of Mudderella, a women’s only series of 5 to 7 mile events throughout the U.S. that are not timed and where participants take part as a team.
What to expect: Thrills, moments of panic (but hey, you can always go around), fatigue, pride — sometimes all at once. Before you sign up, it helps if you’re comfortable running 5 miles and have the time to log almost daily workouts to build your strength and endurance. (Find a beginner-friendly plan here.) Above all, go into the event with the right attitude — your goal here is to prove to yourself that you’ve still got mojo.
Find a race: Check out the websites and Facebook pages of the above, and ask friends if they’d like to join you — the more the merrier to get through training and power through those pesky obstacles.
BARRE CLASSES: Nevermind if you find ballet boring or perhaps intimidating, there’s no denying the head-to-pointe fat burning and muscle saving that comes when you take a ballet-inspired class. While they go by various names, these workouts send participants to a waist-high barre for a series of tiny leg movements that have a big impact on the butt, legs and core. The nice benefit for older adults is that the exercises are easy on joints and will lead to improved flexibility and better posture. They’ll also help you hold onto your muscle mass. Many instructors make use of weights and balls so the upper body gets some attention, too.
What to expect: Since you’ll likely be moving muscles that have gone ignored for awhile — even if you regularly walk or strength-train — it’s natural for your muscles to be sore for a day or two.
Find a class: Most gyms feature a barre class, and you can often find classes through community recreation departments.
TRX SUSPENSION TRAINING: Yes, this popular workout was created by a former Navy SEAL, but the beauty of suspension training is that you control the level of difficulty when you adjust your body angle in relationship to the strap. And it’s a head-to-toe workout — so you can do it two or three times a week and add a simple walking workout on the other days and be covered. For Boomers, TRX can help you shore up your core muscles and improve your balance and flexibility.
What to expect: At first glance, the strap system can be intimidating, but once you’ve got it anchored you’ll quickly get the hang of using your bodyweight to move through the exercises. And if you’ve signed up for a TRX class at a gym (as opposed to buying the home kit) the instructor can help you fix any form mistakes. As with any new workout, expect some initial muscle soreness.
Find a class: Many gyms offer TRX classes, or visit TRXtraining.com. Home kits, which include workouts, cost about $200.
STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING: For those fortunate enough to live near the water, stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is a fun way to get in a full body workout. As the name implies, you steady yourself on a special board and paddle your way through flat, calm waters. The small muscle movements required to keep you from plunging in strengthen your core and help you develop better balance. And all that paddling really works your arms, shoulders and back.
What to expect: A scenic sweat! OK, chances are you’ll fall as you’re learning to balance, but is that really so bad? Two quick pointers: Keep your knees slightly bent and stare at the horizon, not your feet.
Find a class: Check outdoor speciality shops for workshops and board rentals — even skateboard shops might offer leads. Many parks departments also offer seasonal classes that provide equipment.
TAI CHI: Here’s one activity where you might think you’re too young to participate. After all, how many pictures of tai chi have you soon featuring anyone younger than 70? Stereotypes aside, this slow-motion form of martial arts, which emphasizes gentle breathing, has many benefits for younger adults. It’s been shown to improve both the quality and duration of sleep, for example. A review of several studies found that Tai Chi lowers blood pressure. Practiced regularly it can also help maintain bone density and ease arthritis pain. And it’s one more way to increase your range of motion and strengthen muscles.
What to expect: The slow pace is probably the hardest thing newbies will have to adjust to, and some of the movements will seem awkward at first. But other than that, it’s quite gentle on the body and good for all levels.
Find a class: Start by checking community centers, recreation departments, and nearby Ys for offerings. Many martial arts studies will also offer tai chi.
Tips for Success
It’s not always easy to try new things — especially when it involves donning workout clothes — but this advice can help:
* Observe a class and talk to the instructor about any concerns you have.
* If the class you want to try is at a gym, ask the management if they’d agree to a one- or two-week trial membership. Some gyms offer punch cards; they might not advertise them, so it’s worth asking.
* Give yourself time — it can take 12 weeks or more before you become fully comfortable with a new workout. Don’t wimp out early.
* Learn the difference between pain and soreness — you should expect some muscle soreness with any new routine, but not pain. Listen to your body.