Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been trying out a different fitness program every month for five years. You might think by now she'd be running low on new workout ideas.
Not even close. On the contrary, Americans produce such an endless supply of strategies to stay (or become) trim, strong and healthy that she has trouble narrowing it down to one a month.
"The fitness industry is so big in America right now that they're always coming out with a new product, a new workout, a new book," Andersen said.
The Lakeville author, blogger, stay-at-home mother of four and former computer-science and chemistry instructor chronicles her monthly fitness adventures on her blog, "The Great Fitness Experiment" (www. thegreatfitnessexperiment.com). Last year, she published 12 months' worth in a book, "The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything" (2011, Clerisy Press, $14.95). A sequel, in which Andersen describes her 12 favorites among the exercises she has sampled since then, is due out this spring.
The vast variety of workouts is especially amazing given that most basically come down to strengthening either the muscles or the cardiovascular system (or sometimes both). But with all the possible different moves, different equipment, different speeds and so on, "the latitude to play around within that is immense," she said. "Sometimes it's just a different guru whose face is on the cover of the book."
Most enjoyable exercise so far? The hula hoop, Andersen said. It's a core strengthener and a cardio workout, especially fun with a group of friends, she said. (If you remember trying the hula hoop as a kid with less than stellar results, don't worry -- today's adult hula hoops are larger, heavier and easier to keep in rotation.)
The most effective workout -- the one that whittled away the most inches and body fat -- came from a book called "The Female Body Breakthrough" by Rachel Cosgrove (2009, Rodale Books, $21.99), she said. The program calls for short but intense cardio workouts and heavier weights than women usually attempt to lift.
"I can bicep curl now more than most men that I know," Andersen said.
Actually, all of the workouts she has tried have been either helpful or fun or both, she said. Well, almost all.
"I've done experiments where I've come to the conclusion that the people were just insane when they wrote the book," Andersen said. "There have been a few that have been a total joke."
No joke here: We asked Andersen for a year's worth of interesting, unusual and enjoyable workout ideas for you to consider incorporating into your own great fitness experiment.