Fitness: Body by Boston

You've got resolutions. But you’ve also got more excuses than Dunkin’ has donuts, and it’s colder than an iced coffee out there. Your motivation level? Not exactly sky-high.

By Casey Lyons | Boston Magazine |

Edited by Casey Lyons


We’re here to help you get in shape!

Whether you’re just starting your fitness journey or looking to take things to the next level — whether you want to run a lap around the Common or sprint up Heartbreak Hill, find enlightenment through yoga or just touch your toes — consider this your guide to getting in the best shape of your life:

Start Running
How often have you heard yourself say, “I should run more”? Too often, probably. But believe it or not, that can change.

Build Strength
Want to hoist weights like Arnold in Pumping Iron? Easy, champ. You’ll get those muscles toned. But take it slow.

Eat Right
You know better than to go on a crash diet. But even smart folks want to believe in miracle methods to shrink the waistline. Truth is, they don’t exist.

Get Flexible
If you’ve never heard of yoga, let us be the first to welcome you out of your apocalypse bunker. Happy 2012!

Be a Fighter
First step: Find a fighting style that suits your goals and temperament, then get acquainted in a beginners’ class

Illustration by Resident Alien

Illustration by Resident Alien

How often have you heard yourself say, “I should run more”? Too often, probably. Because it’s something we all know how to do, we often forget what a challenge it can be. “Running is hard,” says Sarah Anderson, endurance running coach at Boston Running Center. “We run for those days when the running feels easy, but most runs will not feel easy.” Want to make your resolve stick? Get started here.

Once Around the Block

How an avowed non-runner finally got a move on.
By Donna Garlough

I’ve always hated running, and, at least in my mind, it’s not hard to see why. I have this awkward, shuffling gait, and my breathing mimics an asthma attack. When I pass people while I’m jogging, I can read the looks on their faces. They’re thinking: I wonder what spooked that ostrich.

Then came the summer of ’09, when in the span of one week my gym membership expired and I “outgrew” (read: split) two pairs of $170 jeans. Suddenly, running’s cost-permissive calorie burn was looking pretty good. I signed up to run the Harpoon 5-Miler, to be held the following June. Nothing motivates me more than the threat of public humiliation.

[sidebar]The next day, I pulled on the paint-splattered sneakers I’d owned since college, jogged out my front door, around the Bunker Hill Monument, and back: 0.3 miles. I burst through the door, flushed and panting. “Forget something?” my husband, the triathlete, asked. “Nope, I’m done,” I told him, scowling.

Over the next six months, I lengthened my runs by a few blocks at a time. I’d get an occasional view of the panicked ostrich in passing windows, but I taught myself not to look. By October, I needed new sneakers. On Thanksgiving, I did a 5K.

As I neared the finish line the day of the Harpoon 5-Miler, my newly muscled legs took longer, more powerful strides than ever before. A few weeks later, I realized that I’d run the race pregnant. And now that my maternity jeans are packed away, I think it might be time to lace up the sneaks again. So get ready, little one: We’re going on a run. But we’ll be back in no time.

Boston’s Best Running Routes

These eight runs will take you around town, from Davis Square to the Charles River to the Arnold Arboretum.

* Start here

Running Map

Map by L-Dopa

Danger: Joggers Beware!

Running through: Downtown
Challenge: Cabbies
Strategy: Day-Glo workout wear

Running through: Fenway
Challenge: Geese
Strategy: An air-horn

Running through: The Esplanade
Challenge: Unwanted attention
Strategy: Palm-size pepper spray

Running through: Harborwalk
Challenge: Gale-force winds
Strategy: A windbreaker and goggles

Illustration by Resident Allen

Illustration by Resident Allen

Want to hoist weights like Arnold in Pumping Iron? Easy, champ. You’ll get those muscles toned. But take it slow. By and large, gym folk agree that pushing too hard at the outset creates a negative fitness association (working out = major ouch = to hell with workout) and can worsen underlying injuries. Instead, get an assessment from a qualified trainer to help identify potential problem areas, then start a workout program that balances your stronger and weaker points.

The Power Center

What no-frills gyms lack in equipment and amenities, they make up for with intensity.
By Casey Lyons

The term CrossFit describes a proprietary workout system that uses body-weight exercises (think pull-ups and pushups) along with cruder instruments like kettlebells, medicine balls, and barbells for strength training. And it just may be the perfect workout for this city of achievers.

The proof is in the results. As Neal Thompson, founder of CrossFit Boston, says, “It’s type A.” Simply put: Strivers here are hard-wired to want the kind of demonstrable progress that these no-frills workouts provide.

On the surface, that’s what I was looking for when I decided to try it out. What I really wanted was to march my entire hunched-over-a-computer existence into hostile territory, and CrossFit is as hostile as it gets.

How so, you ask? Well, researching CrossFit invariably leads you to warnings about rhabdomyolysis, a type of exercise-induced kidney failure. Most fitness pros agree the exercise regimen itself is safe—that the problems have stemmed from isolated incidents with bad trainers—but make no mistake: CrossFit is kill-you serious.

On my first night, I went through an hourlong workout led by Thompson. I walked up walls into a handstand position and chucked medicine balls into the sky until my arms were so tired that my pushups looked like plank poses. It was three days before I could raise my arms above my head.

Then I went again. Not because it felt good, but because it hurt, and I knew it was working. A lot of people have stories like this. Weakness may escape the body through the dry heave, but it’s your own intensity that keeps you coming back.

Casual to Hard-Core Gyms


Where: 50 Congress St., Boston,
Type: Circuit-style gym; modern, shiny, and wired.
Average gym-goer: Downtown professionals looking to use their lunch break to maintain health.
Members: 350
Percent that actually go: 70
percent male/female: 57% male / 43% female
Most popular class: Boot camp.
Bonus: Endless towels; free high-end toiletries; laundry service. “This is the Financial District,” says trainer Herman Ocasio. “This gym exists because of convenience.”


Where: Locations in the Back Bay, Cambridge, Chestnut Hill, Coolidge Corner, and Salem,
Type: Health club.
Average gym-goer: Ladies only, twenties to sixties.
Members: 3,000 (at the Back Bay location)
Percent that actually go: 75
percent male/female: 100% female
Most popular class: Bar sculpt.
Bonus: A eucalyptus steam room; on-site childcare.

Commonwealth Sports Club

Where: 1079 Commonwealth Ave., Boston,
Type: Come one, come all.
Average gym-goer: Half of the members are between 22 and 40, but there are some 90-year-olds.
Members: 2,000
Percent that actually go: 68
percent male/female: 40% male / 60% female
Most popular class: Spinning
Bonus: Indoor saltwater pool; roof-deck pool with lounge area; free parking.

Total Performance Sports

Where: 68 Vine St., Everett,
Type: Three levels filled with highly specialized equipment and Olympic weightlifting platforms.
Average gym-goer: Anyone who wants to get really strong.
Members: 1,000
Percent that actually go: 100 (per owner)
percent male/female:57% male / 43% female
Most popular class: Gutts and Butts
Bonus: The Shed, an outbuilding filled with strongman gear.

Illustration by Resident Alien

Illustration by Resident Alien

You know better than to go on a crash diet. But even smart folks want to believe in miracle methods to shrink the waistline. Truth is, they don’t exist. So when you do commit to shedding pounds, set realistic goals and pick a plan that’s right for you (hint: it won’t be a fad diet), and you’ll end up with results you can see.

Think Thin

How your ideas of good and bad foods can make you fat.
By Ashley Wood

Superfruits, antioxidant vegetables, evil pastries—are we at the supermarket or in a comic book? Forget which foods are the heroes and which are the bad guys. Turns out that the very notion of good versus evil at the grocery store could be making us chunky.

[sidebar]During a 2011 study conducted by three researchers at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, 50 college-age women were instructed to eat either a doughnut or a banana, and then asked to complete a series of questionnaires that evaluated their mood and body image. The two foods actually have identical caloric makeups, but as you might expect, the banana eaters reported feeling cheery, while the doughnut eaters were left scrutinizing their waistlines. “People get this mindset that there are good foods and bad foods, and there really aren’t,” says Robin Kanarek, coauthor of the study.

In another study, conducted by Emily Fox Kales, a student of Kanarek, those who ate a perceived “bad” food were more likely to binge than those who ate “good” stuff. People’s preconceived notions influence “their behavior a lot more than the actual calorie content of a food,” Kanarek says. “Once they already feel bad about themselves, they think, Oh well, might as well finish the whole bag of candy.”

It’s said that you are what you eat, but the truth is more like you are what you think you eat. Just don’t go thinking a Snickers bar is Kashi.


Casual to Hard-Core Diets


In a nutshell: Meat and potatoes, hold the potatoes.
How it works: Replacing carbs with protein and fiber forces the body to metabolize fat, which causes weight loss with quick initial results.
Sample meal: For dinner, steak grilled with green bell peppers and onions.
Avoid:  Sugar, bread, and pasta.
Criticisms: Lacks focus on exercise; a long-term diet rich in saturated fats may contribute to heart disease.
Duration  Forever.


In a nutshell: If it isn’t found in nature, don’t eat it.
How it works: Eating only whole, unprocessed foods eliminates sugar, salt, and excessive fat, which are staples of the typical American diet.
Sample meal: For breakfast, three eggs from cage-free chickens with mushrooms, and a side of bacon made from free-range animals.
Avoid: Anything processed (plus sugar, dairy, and grains).
Criticisms: Free-range meats and organic foods can get spendy.
Duration: Forever.

Juice Cleanse

In a nutshell: Detox and drop weight by not eating.
How it works: Abstaining from solid food allows the body to expel toxins, recover from the relentless stress of digestion, and shed a few pounds.
Sample meal: Filtered water, cashew nut milk, and vanilla.
Avoid:  Anything that’s not in the juice.
Criticisms: It comes with a panoply of side effects, including fainting, dizziness, arrhythmia, and vomiting—plus the weight often comes back quickly.
Duration  Typically 3 to 5 days.


In a nutshell: Weight-loss results you can inject.
How it works:  Daily injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (a hormone pregnant women release)and a daily limit of 500 calories trigger the brain to burn fat.
Sample meal: For lunch, 3.5 ounces of tilapia with a side of beet greens.
Avoid: Dairy, carbs, and sugar.
Criticisms: The near-starvation diet produces short-term weight loss, but isn’t sustainable over the long term.
Duration: 23- or 40-day regimens.

Illustration by Resident Alien

Illustration by Resident Alien

If you’ve never heard of yoga, let us be the first to welcome you out of your apocalypse bunker. Happy 2012! But if you’ve simply never tried it, start slowly. “Be kind to your body,” says David Vendetti, co-owner of South Boston Yoga Studio. “If your body says it doesn’t feel right, it’s definitely not for you.” Not right now, that is. But a little practice and your body will be firm and flexible in no time.

Stress Less

Release your inner tension without ever breaking a sweat.
By Anne Vickman

Chances are your daily commute carries you right to the brink of overstressed. But what if you could undo your worries — work headaches, road rage, and all — in the same amount of time?

[sidebar]Herbert Benson, director of the Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Mass General, claims that’s all it takes. For the past 40 years, he’s been singing the praises of the Relaxation Response, a fast-acting chill-out technique he developed that now boasts thousands of devotees.

Here’s how it works: While breathing slowly and sitting comfortably with closed eyes, start repeating a simple word (Benson suggests “one”), phrase, or movement for up to 20 minutes. If you get distracted, just return to your word.

Sound easy? It is. And Benson insists that it works. According to his research, the Relaxation Response causes a stressed-out body to change. In the short term, metabolism and heart rate decrease. Over the long haul, immunity increases and cells appear to age more slowly. If it’s a miracle drug, your brain is the pharmacy. And the best part? It’s always open.

Casual to Hard-Core Yoga

Chair Yoga

What: Some (okay, all) advanced yoga poses can look intimidating to newbies—especially to seniors or those with injuries that impair movement. Enter chair yoga, which teaches basic poses and breathing while controlling intensity and the impact on joints.
Where:  Blissful Monkey, 663 Centre St., Jamaica Plain,
When:  Anytime; classes generally have about five participants.

Slow Flow

What: To maximize yoga’s benefits, you need perfect form. That’s why beginners and advanced students alike hit slow-flow classes, which break down yoga postures into individual movements and focus on alignment.
Where: Exhale Back Bay, 28 Arlington St., Boston,
When: Mornings for company (20 to 25 attend); afternoons for elbow room. 

Beginners Bikram

What: Now that you’ve mastered yoga’s basic moves, you can employ them in a hot (100 to 105 degree) room to detoxify (via sweat), stretch your muscles more easily, and burn more calories. It’s true: Some like it hot.
Where: Bikram Yoga, 30 JFK St., 2nd fl., Cambridge,
When: Anytime; the average class size is 30 (even fewer in the afternoon), but 80 is the max.

Hip-Hop Yoga

What: Yes, some studios are more likely to pipe in unobtrusive classical music, or, worse, Muzak during classes. For those who want more danceable energy than soporific relaxation, there’s this fast-paced class, which improbably blends Vinyasa yoga with Kanye.
Where: Sweat & Soul Yoga, 1032A Commonwealth Ave., Boston,
When: Classes, capped at 30, are busiest during evenings.


Illustration by Resident Alien

Illustration by Resident Alien

It could be something in the national mood that has made combat sports so popular. Or it could be that we want to look a little more like Brad Pitt brawling in Fight Club. Whatever the cause, when you’re ready to graduate from spectator to participant, here’s what you need to get started. First step: Find a fighting style that suits your goals and temperament, then get acquainted in a beginners’ class.

Brawler’s Ball

There’s no rush like a street fight.
By Shannon Fischer

In the dark alleys and empty parking lots of the real world, fights don’t start with a bell. They just start — fast and ugly — and end almost as quickly. If you want to be the one standing when it’s all over, there’s a special type of training just for you.

[sidebar]Krav Maga is based on “reality defense” — the kind where you’re outnumbered, outweaponed, and taken by surprise. The style was developed back in the first half of the 20th century for the Israel Defense Forces, and it remains the IDF’s martial arts system of choice. Its goal: to incapacitate an aggressor as quickly and brutally as possible. Not exactly your kid sister’s tae kwon do.

Locally, a handful of facilities teach it, including the Boston Academy of Krav Maga, with instructor Gershon Ben Keren.

But the classes aren’t filled with tattooed tough guys slamming one another violently around. Instead it’s young, clean-cut urban professionals slamming one another violently around. Yes, violently: Classes hit the mats for a solid hour of bruising, full-contact movement, pushed to a frenetic pace that’s intended to mimic the emotional stress of a fight. Students regularly break into chaotic, everyone-against-everyone melees.

The farthest thing from pretty or graceful, but then again, that’s the point.

Casual to Hard-Core Fighting Styles


What: Active meditation and stress release.
Where: The Boston School of Boabom, 33A Harvard St., Brookline,
Most popular class: Osseous Boabom, an entry-level offering focused on defense movements and breathing.
Chances of bleeding:  Nonexistent (zero contact).
Bonus: Advanced students get to use staffs and other implements.

Jiu Jitsu

What: Grappling and ground fighting, plus chokes and submission moves.
Where:  Kimura Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 15 N. Beacon St., Watertown; and other locations;
Most popular class: Beginners, which meets at 6:15 p.m.
Chances of bleeding: Low and accidental.
Bonus: School values fun over aggression, and is kid-friendly.


What: Get in the ring.
Where: Peter Welch’s Gym, 371 Dorchester Ave., Boston,
Most popular class: Fighter Conditioning, a fat-burning workout built around a pro fighter’s regimen.
Chances of bleeding: Fair (sparring is optional).
Bonus: Peter Welch, the owner, is a former Golden Gloves champion.

Mixed Martial Arts

What: Various fighting techniques.
Where: Redline Fight Sports, 614 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge,
Most popular class: Fight or Fitness, which maximizes agility through body-weight exercises, plus combat moves.
Chances of bleeding: Good during sparring.
Bonus: Join the novice team, or watch professional fighters compete.

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