The Cure for Cardio

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Apart from staring glazed-eyed at the attached television — or casting sly glances at the cute runner on a neighboring treadmill — there are only so many ways of making that obligatory 45-minute block on an exercise machine interesting. Yet for many of us, the treadmill, elliptical trainer or stair stepper are a necessary evil — the default method for getting in our daily cardio work.

But who said it has to be that way? Cardio options abound, and a few even offer the chance to check off the calorie-burning and strength-training parts of your regimen all at once. Try one of these unique alternatives to the treadmill.

Cardio Barre
The Cardio Barre method, created by dancer and choreographer Richard Giorla, is a program that combines basic ballet movements with 1- to 3-pound free weights. The majority of the class is spent at a ballet barre following a sequence of pliés, tendus and leg lifts designed to get the heart rate up and sculpt longer, leaner muscles without any of the jumping or pounding that can cause joint stress. The last 10 to 15 minutes of each class are devoted to floor work to tone the abdominals, inner and outer thighs, and glutes. Many enthusiastic students swear by the results that Cardio Barre has helped them achieve, and it is fast becoming a staple for fitness enthusiasts in urban markets. If you live in a more remote location or can’t make it to a studio class, DVD workouts and portable barres are available for purchase on the Cardio Barre website (cardiobarre.com).

Zumba
Zumba, the popular trend sweeping gyms and studios across the nation, provides another alternative to humdrum machine workouts. Set to Latin, Caribbean and other styles of world music, Zumba consists of a set of easy-to-follow moves drawn from the world of Latin dance and hip-hop. With infectious beats and movements taken straight from the nightclub to keep you going, boredom isn’t likely — but improved cardiovascular health and calorie loss are. And what’s more, Zumba is available on DVD and as an interactive game you can run on most game consoles, including the Wii and PlayStation 3.

CrossFit
Ready to get stronger, leaner, more flexible and fitter, all in one workout? Billing itself as an elite training system appropriate for everyone from police academy trainees to senior citizens, CrossFit offers a Workout of the Day, known as a WOD, that combines high-intensity activity with strength-training exercises involving kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls and carrying or pushing heavy objects. Easily accessible to fitness buffs with or without a gym membership, CrossFit participants can attend communal workouts at an affiliate gym or can work out on their own using the CrossFit website (crossfit.com), which posts the WODs as well as instructional videos on how to properly execute their signature moves. A key selling point of CrossFit is the sense of community it builds, and the company has even expanded into children’s fitness (crossfitkids.com) for those looking to make workouts a family affair.