Barre is a graceful form of strength training using the ballet barre and incorporating Pilates, yoga and dance. Photo: Joshua Lawrence

Ah, the beginning of a new year, that traditional time for self-evaluation and self-improvement. My ritual every New Year is to publicly deny making any resolutions, while I secretly compile an admittedly ambitious list. It probably looks much like everybody else’s: stick to a strict budget, be punctual, cut out all refined sugars and carbs, and, my perennial favourite, work out every day. Sound familiar?

It’s hardly surprising that my list — and those of the many people who share these popular ambitions— is the same every year. Only eight per cent of people manage to achieve their resolutions; and that’s out of the 42 per cent who admit to making any. Who knows how many others also choose to keep their goals (and failures) hush-hush?

Of all my secret resolutions, maintaining a fitness regimen is my holy grail. I know it’s the key to a healthy weight, better sleep, and fighting stress. Plus, it’s a proven mood-booster. And who doesn’t want to be more toned? So, every January finds me making grand commitments to daily, intense workouts. No pain, no gain, correct?

Wrong. Like the majority of those who start the year off with a bang, by mid-February I’m back to my old bad habit of exercising sporadically. It seems pushing through the pain isn’t the road to success.

So what is? The latest research shows the better your chosen activity fits with your personality and the rest of your life, the more likely you are to sustain it. Apparently enjoyment is also an important consideration. Sign me up.

Bespoke Fitness
“A person’s likes and dislikes are really important when planning [fitness routines],” says personal trainer Heather Rock. “You’re unlikely to keep something going if it doesn’t become a habit. It needs to become part of your lifestyle, something you can maintain forever.”

Rock is the founder of Hero Within Fitness & Nutrition, which helps people reach their wellness goals by bridging exercise, nutrition, and psychology. Every client receives a customized program targeted at specific needs.

“My goal is for people to incorporate this into their lives and graduate beyond me,” she says.

I meet Rock at Catalyst, the gym and personal-fitness training facility on Fort Street, where she is based. After accessing my comfort level and fitness goals, she leads me through a workout. I’d been expecting a weigh-in, measurements, and exercise testing, where she’ll make me do sit-ups and push-ups to exhaustion. (Needless to say, there had been an element of dread when I’d walked into the studio.) But Rock isn’t focused on the numbers. It’s all about working within your mobility and doing the movements properly.

We start with a cardio warm-up on the bike, before launching into a series of squats, lunges, planks, and other exercises. Rock draws from her background in yoga, Pilates, and bodybuilding, using the elements that fit with each client’s goals. As it’s mid-morning, the studio is quiet, but during the short breaks, I watch other trainers with their clients. There’s a woman with enviable arms being led through a Pilates-style workout and a very-muscled man being spotted as he thrusts a loaded barbell into the air.

“There are as many different trainers out there as there are types of clients,” says Rock, and that can be the key to sticking with your workouts — finding a trainer who you get along with and who can challenge you to new levels of fitness. You’re able to see results faster because you have someone who is pushing you beyond where you’re able to take yourself.

For those personality types who need structure, having that standing appointment with a trainer is also a big help.

“If they have an appointment with themselves to go to the gym, they might cancel or come up with a reason not to go,” says Rock. “But if they’re meeting me, I’m going to follow up if they don’t show up a bunch of times. And even having the cost associated with it is incentive.”

Clock Watchers
For the truly appointment-driven, a program like the one offered at Vibes Fitness might be just the ticket to making a workout stick.

“We have people who book their time slots a year in advance,” says owner and founder Jessica Cruise. “We notice if you don’t show up. That’s one of the draws of what we do, and a lot of people like that accountability.”

The concept of Vibes is pretty simple, though admittedly hard to explain. The workout is done on a WAVE platform, which vibrates up and down, causing contractions in the little muscles in whatever area is being targeted. While you do something similar to a traditional circuit — push-ups, lunges, squats, and core exercises — because the machine is moving, you work more muscles.

“About 60 per cent more muscles than conventional workouts,” says Cruise, as
she runs me through the program. “Which is why people are only in our studio for
15 minutes at a time.”

It might not sound like much, but you can definitely feel the burn. While I’m holding a squat, I secretly will the countdown clock on the control panel to move faster.

“These small muscles get fatigued quickly, but also build strength quickly because they’ve never been used,” Cruise says.

The short time commitment of this strength workout is also a big draw for the time-crunched. And a definite advantage if a regular workout is your goal.

“Especially with New Year’s resolutions, people want to make these grand plans,” says Cruise. “But because this is only 15 minutes, three times a week, people start in January and we don’t see a lot of people fall off. I think that’s because it’s a manageable amount of time.”

Cruise sees a wide range of abilities in all of the Vibes studios, from serious athletes who want a challenging workout to people in their 80s who have never been in a gym and are looking for balance, flexibility, and rehabilitation. The workouts on the WAVE platform are very versatile and can be completely customized.

The other draw is the privacy of the studio — there are only three to four machines, depending on the location. It’s perfect for people who aren’t necessarily comfortable walking into a regular gym, perhaps because they are public figures, suffer from weight problems, or just prefer a solitary workout.

Float Like a Butterfly
On the other hand, given the popularity of group fitness, there are many who prefer a social component while they get their heart rates up. For years, the high-energy of dance-based Zumba was all the rage for breaking a sweat with your peers. While Zumba is still immensely popular for its party-like vibe, do an internet search for “hottest new workout” and you get a ton of hits for another dance-inspired class, barre fitness or barre-fusion, which incorporates ballet-barre exercises.

“Barre brings in Pilates, yoga, and dance, and you don’t have to have a background in any of them,” says Justina Bailey, owner of STUDIOfitness, the only dedicated barre studio currently in Victoria.

In drawing from these disciplines, barre also offers the benefits of each. Long lines, loose joints, and strong muscles are the buzzwords for this trending workout.

Like many young girls, I dreamed of being a ballet dancer, and for years, I attended weekly classes. Near the end of Justina’s class, looking down the line of women at
the barre doing pliés and tendus (leg extensions), I get a vivid flashback.

Don’t get me wrong. Much of the class is very different from my childhood experience of ballet. For one, I don’t remember it being this challenging! And there’s the Top 40 playlist, a fast-paced incentive to get your heart rate up.

“Women who’ve done ballet as a kid love doing it as an aerobics class,” says Bailey. “People want a bit more of that stimulation. The music helps people stay upbeat and happy, especially the evening classes, where they just want to get that stress out.”

While the sense of community is very strong ­— at the end of the class, many of my fellow attendees are eager to share their experiences with the barre and how it makes them feel stronger, taller, and more supple — unlike Zumba or bellydance, you don’t have to be a social butterfly to enjoy this kind of dance-inspired workout.

“It attracts introverts because of the way people have to connect to their body,” says Bailey.

Sting Like a Bee
According to Bailey, pound for pound, dancers and boxers have more strength for their body weight than any other athlete. So what if you’re more inclined to the latter?

Fierce Studio is one of the local facilities that offers Hit to Fit, a high-intensity interval workout based on boxing, designed by Victoria-based trainer Sandy Ibrahim.

“It’s a nice outlet for people to channel their ‘stuff,’” says Lindsay Knazan, owner of Fierce. She believes boxing is one of the most mindful high-intensity workouts, and is engaging mentally, physically, and spiritually.

The 30-minute circuit builds participants up to the boxing component. There are 13 stations and at least two trainers floating around the room to help and to ensure proper form. One of the last stations is always at the punching bag, and after I skip, burpee, toss medicine balls, and try to run with a bungee cord tethering me to a pole (in an awesome stroke of luck, the theme to Rocky is playing as I push against the restraints), I get to throw jabs, crosses, and hooks. Swaying back and forth on the balls of my feet, I pummel the bag, feeling the satisfying smack of the leather against my knuckles. It’s surprisingly invigorating.

While one big draw of the circuit is that “people get to hit stuff,” Knazan also points out that people love the flexibility of the program. Fierce has drop-in hours every morning and participants can show up at any point in that window of time.

“The single piece that keeps people coming is that they can show up at 6:05 or they can show up at eight, and they can jump in when they’re ready. They’re not worried about being late for class.” It’s a definite plus if your lifestyle doesn’t make it easy to schedule in strict times.

Fierce also has programs in yoga and three forms of jujitsu, which Knazan says really complement each other. Members are welcome to attend any of the scheduled classes to mix things up and keep it fresh — a great solution for those easily bored by repeating the same routines.

“We’re trying to build a lifestyle habit for people,” Knazan says. “Something sustainable, with lots of options, so they always have something to do.”

And doing it is the key. Success isn’t about going hard for a month, then falling off the workout wagon. Whether you need strict appointments or flexible hours, individual attention or the energy of the crowd, prefer the grace of dance or the intensity of boxing, there is a sustainable workout program for you. Get out there, try a few on for size, and find out what fits. Next time New Year’s rolls around, you’ll have one less resolution (secret or not) to make — and one more good habit for life.

By Athena McKenzie