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Fitness likes friends

San Francisco fitness geeks were practically quivering with anticipation. Tough Mudder, the self-proclaimed most challenging event on the planet, was coming to Northern California for the first time. The Squaw Valley event wouldn’t be just another mud run or triathlon joining the region’s crowded lineup of endurance races (no offense, Muddy Buddy or Escape from Alcatraz), but all of those events combined and on steroids.
     “The word going around was death race,” says Matt Goyne, 26, a Cow Hollow resident who trained for the September event with friends.
     That was part of the appeal, of course. Tough Mudder—in case you haven’t recently met a finisher with the words literally tattooed on his or her body—is the brainchild of Will Dean, who worked in counterterrorism for the British government and turned his old boot camp training into an endurance event for survival-of-the-fittest types. The Squaw Valley version includes a mountainous 10-mile course with a 2,300-foot elevation gain (imagine running up 230 flights of stairs) and 20-plus obstacles, such as running through fire, climbing a rope wall, and slithering through drainage pipes into the Chernobyl Jacuzzi (a pool of ice water).
     Sound fun? Oddly, it is, in that brotherhood-makes-warrewarding sort of way. But in this social era, the reason Tough Mudder attracts so many Bay Areans (the Squaw event sold out; register for upcoming races online) is because we want something more than competition or meeting our fitness goals; we want working out to be group fun, too. Willow Harrington, community coordinator for Purplepatch, an endurance-coaching group based in San Francisco, describes the new social workout ethic this way: “Training together is like happy hour, only you sweat and drink sports drinks and end up feeling better about yourself when you’re done.”
     Tough Mudder takes the principle to extremes. It’s a big, raucous party in hell—think Bay to Breakers meets Band of Brothers meets the Castro Street Fair—where people are encouraged to come in costume (Goyne conquered the course in neon zebra shorts), no winner is anointed, and no one is expected to complete the course solo. If someone needs a boost to get over a 12-foot wall, you lace up your fingers, squat down, and provide it—and rest assured that you’ll get the same in return.
     But there are lots of new, less extreme ways to pair fitness and fun. Instead of hitting the gym after work, you can join the growing number of communal workouts springing up or head to the fields and courts for recess-like play (even the right kind of scavenger hunt can wipe you out). Then head off with your exercise buddies for a bite to eat. Now go get in shape, like the social animal you are.


Rough guess: About 98 percent of men on a casual jog through an urban landscape have imagined themselves as Jason Bourne. So it’s no surprise that the first San Francisco Men’s Health Urbanathlon attracted more than 1,100 participants, mostly of the Y chromosome variety. The 10-mile bayfront race joins the growing list of endurance obstacle-course events tailored to the CrossFit (a high-intensity circuit workout) crowd. Though there are no hit men on your heels, you’re required to leap police barriers, crawl under jeeps, and navigate good old-fashioned monkey bars.
     Not all endurance courses are run on foot. If you’re not familiar with the exploding sport of cyclocross, or CX, think of it as the crusty punk party of bike racing. (Local cyclocross team Dead Fucking Last hosts an event where everyone wears drag.) Cyclists maneuver mud, sand, grass, and roots and are frequently forced to hop off their bikes and bear them over logs or up a muddy incline.
     “If people want to have fun, race their brains out, and down a beer at the end, then they should do cyclocross,” says Murphy Mack,
founder of Sheila Moon Racing and producer of many local events. Cyclocross races are now held every weekend in the Bay Area from August to January, and true to the sport’s fun-first ethos, devotees have started organizing the occasional unsanctioned weekend race, where bikers can skip a chunk of the course in exchange for downing a shot of whiskey.
     There’s also a women’s only event in Golden Gate Park, the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championship. Its pre-race party comes complete with beer, tutus, and a mini-bike race. 


Just when spinning was threatening to become old hat, in rode CompuTrainer, a combination hardware-software that ensures that you work out at your optimum intensity. It has long been a go-to device for professional riders, but more recently, cycling studios like VeloSF and Endurance Performance Training Centers in Mill Valley have started using the technology in their indoor classes. Rather than hopping on a gym’s spin bike, you hook CompuTrainer onto your own bike’s back wheel, and its “load generator” works like an allknowing coach, adjusting the resistance based on your fitness level. The result: a cycling workout that’s so personalized, you could train alongside Lance Armstrong. - Olivia Martin


Just a guess, but ancient yogis probably didn’t practice in a stuffy studio where you kick your neighbor’s fanny every time you flow through a vinyasa. Which is why San Francisco–based yoga teacher Eric Kipp took this inwardly-directed practice outside—and pulled us outside of ourselves—with the launch of Hiking Yoga, an instructor-led trek that includes brisk walking and conversation between poses. Kipp bills the hikes as a “social outdoor experience,” and groups often share a meal at the end. The idea has caught on. Since launching in 2009, Hiking Yoga has garnered more than 20,000 participants in 14 cities across the country, including 3 others in the Bay Area. And why not? Fresh air and stellar views are more pleasant than the back ends of the front-row down dogs.


The intrepid Ice Chamber Kettlebell Girls, the world’s first all-women kettlebell-lifting team, is lending some glam to a sport that continues to gain more and more of a following around here. The ancient Eastern European regimen of lifting and swinging what look like bowling balls with handles (and weigh up
to 53 pounds) is super efficient, boosting strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance all at the same time. Kettlebells have been in weight rooms for a few years, and now a growing number of gyms and personal-training studios, including Juno Fitness in Berkeley and Body Mechanix in San Francisco and San
Leandro, have started using kettlebells in their group exercise classes.
     The Ice Chamber’s cofounder Steven Khuong learned the sport from one of the most revered Russian champions and turned the innovative gym into one of the nation’s de facto leaders in kettlebell lifting. Now, the Kettlebell Girls routinely show off their prowess at national and international competitions, usually bringing home gold, silver, or bronze medals. The team recently drew the attention of Google and Athleta: The two corporations each hired the team to teach workshops to their employees, and now both offer their own kettlebell classes. Next stop, Ed Lee’s office?


Before you dismiss brain exercises as memory games for people who can never find their keys, consider this: Sharper mental skills may boost your physical prowess. At least that’s what the anecdotal evidence shows about devotees of San Francisco– based Lumosity’s online braintraining program, which uses
mental games (wordplay, mazes) to improve core cognitive functions like problem solving and reaction time. Word is that the ability to process information faster has led to improved performance on the field. (One Arizona Cardinal football player says that he remembered plays better after using these exercises.) Lumosity’s graphic-heavy challenges have a video game feel, which may account for the six-year-old startup’s staggering growth. The number of users jumped 400 percent in 2010 to 15 million customers, helping the company, which is widely considered the leader in online brain training, secure $32
million in new funding. - Coco Keevan


It’s ruthless. It’s fast. It often includes flashes of striped socks, headbands, and high-tops, and it’s spreading throughout the Bay quicker than a new cell phone app. The San Francisco and Oakland leagues of the World Dodgeball Society (who knew?) are about to launch a series of 10-week sessions at the Mission and Bushrod recreation centers. The society recently held the first coed dodgeball tournament in Northern California, the Keanu Reeves Totally Excellent Dodgeball Adventure. And every Friday night at the Castro’s Eureka Valley Recreation Center, a women’s league—with members ranging from college students to soccer moms—can be found grinding out a fun sub-in dodgeball game. If ordinary dodging sounds way too 1992 to you, your dodgeball team can compete on a field of giant trampolines at the Presidio’s House of Air on Tuesday nights. Field a team of 8 to 10 players for a fierce six-week season
of air sponge-ball zingers. But be aware of the official rules before entering: “No throwing wrenches. Pirates are encouraged. Chuck Norris plays for free and is never out.”


In the “old” days, there were exercise apps, food-journal apps, and sleep apps. Now there’s Up, the first health tracker that functions as your personal trainer, nutritionist, and sleep aid all in one. Up uses a motion-sensitive wristband and a smartphone app to record the number of steps you take, calories you burn, hours you sleep, miles you cover, and more. It even wakes you at just the right moment of your REM cycle, and during the day it nudges you to get out of your chair if you’ve been sitting too long. (Thank god it doesn’t tell you to sit up straight.) Released in November by San Francisco’s Jawbone, Up, like all things
web, has a community component: You can join teams, browse the forum, or take on challenges such as Every Minute Counts, in which members vow to run an extra 15 minutes every day, and Defeat Rip Van Winkle, which offers tips to help you catch more shut-eye. Twentyfour-hour fitness indeed. - Cassandra Feliciano


Forget finish lines. Skimble, the first competitive-fitness app to go viral, turns working out into a points game. Users choose a workout from the app’s vast
database—the longer the challenge, the higher the score—and earn cyber-prizes and bragging rights among fellow Skimblers. (One recent user posted on Facebook, “i’ve got 1 gold trophy 2 silver trophies and 4 bronze!!!!”) The app offers new workouts every week and recently added goal-based options (six-pack abs; better flexibility). You can also earn points for team sports like Ping-Pong, basketball, and rugby. The San Francisco–based company’s bet that our competitive animal would roar has paid off. The one-year-old Skimble leads the fitness-app pack with more than a million downloads. - Taylor Wiles


What if working out could be like fourth-grade recess: breathless, invigorating, and over only when the whistle blew? Catherine Herdlick thinks it can. Herdlick, one of the founders of the popular Come Out & Play New York festival, moved to the Bay Area three years ago and brought the weeklong series of adult recess-style games with her. Come Out & Play San Francisco features games like Journey to the End of the Night, a scavenger hunt through the city’s
darkened streets, and Undercover Capture the Flag, just like the game you used to play, only inside a mall.
     Similar just-for-fun groups are also popping up. Sunday Recess, with a roster of 700 young professionals, divides into teams that duke it out at kickball, flag football, dodgeball, and ultimate Frisbee. Each game is followed by drinks at Bar None or Irelands 32. Volleybonk, which uses a large exercise ball in a game that combines elements of volleyball, tennis, and kickball, meets Sunday nights from 8 to 10:15 at the Dolores Park tennis courts. Laughs, not points, are the objective—you don’t even need to put down your Anchor Steam. If your serve sucks, try again. Friends, dogs, drinks, and mix CDs welcome.


Could the power of positive reinforcement finally be winning out over in-your-face humiliation? Classes at places like Koi FitnessInspire Fitness boot camps, AlaVie Fitness, and VyAyr are incorporating holistic, support group–esque elements into their ass-busting routines. The new breed of boot camp sergeants is anti–Jillian Michaels (former trainer for The Biggest Loser); they’ll still command you to drop and give them 10, but they’ll also shout “Great job!” or “You can do it!”—and invite everyone to head out for coffee afterward. Nutrition workshops, retreats, cooking classes, and get-to-know-one-another luncheons are also part of the retooled boot camp sensibility. “I come to be a part of it with the other women just as much as I come to work out,” says AlaVie member Lyra Myers.


Gone are the days when getting fit meant a humdrum relationship between you, your treadmill, and your headphones. Thanks to a new wave of exercise trends that embrace the defining ethos of our culture—connectedness—working out has never been so much fun.