Fitness | JCC pros agree: Speedy, high-intensity workouts pay off

Whether it’s part of a formal resolution or you’re simply ready for a change, the start of a new year is a great time to revamp your fitness program. And fitness experts, as well as fitness and wellness directors at Bay Area JCCs, agree: Changing up your workout (or starting one, if you have none) is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

So, what are some of the hottest trends in fitness that you can incorporate into your routine?

TRX training at the JCC of San Francisco photo/sasha gulish

According to the November/December 2013 issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) Health & Fitness Journal, high-intensity interval training, known as HIT, is the country’s number-one workout. HIT involves short bursts of high-energy exercises punctuated by brief periods of rest or recovery. These intervals can include anything from jumping jacks to mountain climbers or burpees (otherwise known as squat thrusts); the entire workout usually takes 30 minutes or less to complete.

Deborah Rothchild, sports and wellness director at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, says HIT classes are by far the most popular among the group exercise offerings at her facility. “Our Tabata and cardio boot camps boost the body’s metabolism so that it keeps burning calories while you’re sitting in the car after the gym,” she says.

Tabata, developed by Japanese professor and sports science pioneer Izumi Tabata, incorporates eight intervals of high-intensity exercise during which you work out hard for 20 seconds, followed by a 10-second rest period.

Laura Greenfield, fitness and community wellness manager at the JCC of San Francisco, concurs that HIT and Tabata exercise classes, especially done in small groups of just four people, are not only popular at her gym, but offer a complete workout that can be done in just 30 minutes.

“Most of us are short on time these days. We want to get in and get out of the gym, so small-group exercise classes that include intervals of cardio- and weight training provide great, speedy workouts,” she says. “Our Power and Speed class is just 25 minutes long, but it leaves you drenched in sweat.”

Both Kelli Maciel, health and fitness director at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, and Bonnie McLaughlin, fitness manager at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, agree that high-interval, shorter workouts have exploded in popularity.

Says Maciel, “We’ve always incorporated some interval training into our group exercise classes, but the four-minutes-on and one-minute-off workouts help build core strength and muscle. We see these more explosive moves coming from workouts like CrossFit and TRX.”

Another popular fitness trend observed by both the ACSM and local JCC fitness pros is body weight training, in which you use your body and not much else to work out.

“Body weight training used to be considered old-fashioned, army-style training — planks, situps and pullups,” Greenfield says, “but those moves are now incorporated into group exercise classes; the less equipment necessary, the better.” 

All of the JCC staffers agree that working out with a personal trainer, either one-on-one or in a small group, is absolutely the best way to get an efficient, whole-body workout without getting injured.

Says Maciel: “Even one orientation session with a trainer is good because people may assume they should be doing a certain kind of exercise — for example, cardio — but they may need more stretching for flexibility.”

And what are some other common fitness mistakes to avoid?

Vicki McGrath, fitness and wellness manager at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City, says it’s simple: “When you do the same routine day after day, you’re not challenging your body in different ways. We are creatures of habit, but for the highest level of fitness you should really switch up your workout every six weeks or so, or you’ll plateau.” 

McLaughlin and Greenfield agree. “I call it mixing consistency with variety,” Greenfield says. “Keep your exercise program consistent and fresh by committing to trying something you’ve never done before on a regular basis, whether it’s Pilates or TRX.”

Other mistakes include not hydrating enough before and during workouts, and working out on an empty stomach. 

“We see people passing out in the showers and steam rooms the most in January and February, because they’ve made a resolution to work out, but they simply don’t drink enough water and then they get dizzy in the hot shower,” Rothchild says. 

“And even if it’s just a banana, you should always eat something before you go to the gym. Our personal trainers’ number-one question of their morning clients is, “Did you eat breakfast?’ ”