Thinking of heading back to indoor workouts as the weather cools? Instead of returning to your old step aerobics or spin class, shake it up a bit and try some of the newer workout offerings. The following are fun routines that burn calories and provide an aerobic workout to strengthen your heart. But they also have an added bonus: They increase your flexibility, balance, and core abdominal muscles—three elements that work together to maximize your physical fitness, according to Mayo Clinic researchers. Here are some classes or DVD's to consider:
1. Zumba. Try this dance workout and you'll know why dancers are in such great shape. This is a high-energy cardio routine based on Latin dances like Salsa, Merengue, and Reggaeton (Latin hip-hop) mixed with other international moves from Asia and Africa. Zumba typically incorporates plenty of stretching and strengthening: Squats and lunges tone the legs, while kicks and forward bends engage the core. The music is more nightclub than gym class, and the bright-colored ribbons, bracelets, and belly dancing scarves that some gyms provide add to the fun. Classes are usually built around standard moves with a lot of repetition, making it easy for beginners to jump in. Hand weights may be used for resistance training, and some fitness centers offer classes for those ages 55 and up.
2. Pole Fitness. Dubbed "cardio with an exotic twist," pole fitness has been adapted from an erotic dance to a challenging head-to-toe workout. The twirls, climbs, dips, crunches, pull-ups, and inversions (lifting your legs over your head) deliver serious strength-training for the upper and lower body as well as the core. The constant movement makes this a good cardio workout if you're looking to lose weight. Women-only classes tend to incorporate dance improvisation, while mixed classes focus more on fitness, often with added exercises like squats and lunges off the pole. Heels aren't required, but you'll probably need dance or tennis shoes. One caveat: Some of the gymnastic moves designed to improve coordination and balance make these classes challenging for beginners. Take a basic class for the first couple months to learn the moves and build your strength and endurance. (More on pole dancing.)
3. Cardio Kickboxing. This combination of boxing, martial arts, and traditional cardio movements, is a great outlet for stress. The nonstop bobbing and weaving, shuffling and jumping will help you burn fat, while the rapid-fire punches, knee strikes, and kicks can improve muscle tone, balance, and coordination. The hooks, jabs, and uppercuts in this workout tone the shoulders, biceps, and triceps. Its side, front, and roundhouse kicks target the glutes, quads, inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, and calves. You'll get results if your form isn't sloppy, so you don't have to kick high or punch a bag to benefit.
4. Hula-Hooping. Yes, hula hoops are back, but the new workouts are no child's play. Spinning a 2-pound hoop around your waist tones and strengthens your core muscles and requires you to improve your balance and coordination. Keeping the hoop in constant motion helps strengthen your heart and improve your endurance. Most of these cardio workouts incorporate other moves like arm and leg circles with the hoop to tone shoulders, biceps, triceps, hips, thighs, and glutes. When you're ready for an additional challenge, look for variations like "Hoopilates," which mixes abdominal-strengthening Pilates into the workout, or use a heavier hoop to burn more calories and further advance your weight loss goals.