10 hot workouts
Nothing beats training in thin air for improving aerobic capacity. London's Altitude Centre offers simulated mountain training from the comfort of a chair. "Intermittent hypoxic training" (IHT) involves breathing lower-oxygen air via a mask. The best part is, the less fit you are, the more you'll benefit (tel: 0870 950 4479, www.altitudecentre.com).
Run for it Fashions come and go but, for basic cardiovascular fitness, few things are better than training with your local athletics club. A regime planned by a knowledgeable coach will also prevent injury. Most clubs run both midweek and weekend sessions ( www.ukathletics.net).
Method Putkisto was developed by a Finnish yoga teacher, and is a series of deep-stretching and breathing exercises designed to improve the posture and strengthen bone density. It's also an effective calorie burner and advocates claim regular sessions improve energy levels (tel: 020 8878 7384, www.methodputkisto.com).
Le kick, c'est chic
Savate , also known as French kickboxing, is an elegant European martial art that emphasises grace and technique over impact. Excellent for developing flexibility and muscle tone, it draws on both fencing and ballet and as a result, bouts resemble elaborate dances as much as punch-ups ( www.savate.org).
Fit as the Norse
By using poles to work the arms and upper body as well as the legs, Nordic walking is said to engage 90 per cent of the skeletal muscles (running uses 70, swimming 35) and burns much more calories than normal walking. Classes are available nationwide ( www.nordicwalking.co.uk).
Climbing the walls
For working major muscle groups and reducing body fat, rock climbing is as effective as it is demanding. Supervised indoor climbing walls are an excellent way to learn the basics with less risks. Clubs cater for all abilities and most offer cheap gear hire. The British Mountaineering Council can find you a suitable club in your area (tel: 0870 010 4878, www.thebmc.co.uk).
Pump up the volume
Body pump, a studio-based, non-impact workout, uses adjustable weights to improve muscle tone and endurance. Sessions last from 45 to 60 minutes, and come complete with a booming soundtrack and barking instructors. Fitness First (tel: 0870 898 80 80; www.fitnessfirst.co.uk) and Holmes Place (020 7786 7300; www.holmesplace.co.uk) both offer classes.
Swim like a fish
Total Immersion has been teaching people the art of "fishlike" swimming for nearly 20 years. The patented range of techniques promises to give you better stroke efficiency in just a few hours, speeding up the process by concentrating on three skills: swimming "downhill", swimming "taller" and learning to "skate" on your side. Workshops take place throughout the year and around the country (tel: 0800 389 9913, www.totalimmersion.co.uk).
Let's get personal
A personal trainer is the ulimate accessory for any self-respecting gym bunny. Prices start from around £15 per hour and using the National Registry of Personal Trainers ensures instructors have relevant qualifications, insurance and a first aid certificate ( www.nrpt.co.uk).
Work your booty
Boot camp pilates is the latest craze from the US, and boasts Liz Hurley and Nicole Kidman as fans. It is a gentler form of the many military-style exercise classes available, and combines pilates stretches with a series of interval training drills (tel: 020 7524 7510, www.beautcamppilates.co.uk). Mark MacKenzie
10 best bits of kit
If your goal in 2005 was to do a 10km run or half-marathon, maybe in 2006 you should try a triathlon. Most people find the swim the hardest stage, but an Aquaman Metal Cell Triathlon Wetsuit will help. Lightweight and flexible, it absorbs hardly any water and the neoprene helps buoyancy, keeping you flatter and faster. But the main reason to wear one? It keeps you warm (£299, from www.wiggle.co.uk).
Sight for sore eyes
Top racers use goggles such as Speedo's Speedsocket, but they can be pretty uncomfortable for the less dedicated splasher as they fit very close to the eye. Fortunately, the same company's latest offering is made more for comfort than out-and-out speed. The Xframe goggles don't have a fiddly nose piece, but have sliding eye cups instead. They look kinda cool too (£13, tel: 0115 910 5267).
There are two main types of yoga: one places the chakras at its core, while the other concentrates on fashion. Among the profusion of cult yoga clothing brands (Nuala, Asquith, Calmia, Om Girl) the most obscure, and desirable, is Great China Wall. Handmade in that cultural heartland of all things spiritual, California, each unique garment is bejewelled and beaded lovingly by hand (£185 from Calmia, tel: 0845 009 2450, www.calmia.com).
Just think what Roy of the Rovers could have done with the Nike Mercurial Vapor III. Or, for that matter, what Ronaldo and Thierry Henry will do with them at this year's World Cup. The latest hi-tech football boots weigh just 200g - about the same as sprinters' running spikes. Selected stars already have them, but you'll have to wait a week as they're launched on 1 February (£120, www.nikefootball.com).
Sock it to 'em
When running or walking, blisters can be a problem. Good socks help, and the Bridgedale X-Hale has cushioning where you need it. They're shaped to prevent them bunching up under your arches (£9.50, www.bridgedale.co.uk).
Nike's new Air Max 360s are being touted as the first trainers with no foam in their soles. That's right - it's air only, pressurised to 15psi for men and 10psi for women (because they tend to be lighter). Touted as the ultimate cushion soles, they are well-suited to those who run heavily or have joint problems (£120, www.nike.com).
It's a simple marriage: one of the world's best-known designers does the look, and one of the world's biggest sportswear giants does the techie stuff. The Adidas by Stella McCartney collection (available from March) includes apparel for court, gym and pool, but the running gear is the most practical. Perfect for a few laps round the more fashionable parks (£95, tel: 0870 2404204).
Running in heavy, sweaty jogging bottoms is a pain, so why not give proper running trousers a try? Ronhill's not-too-revealing Elite Winter Tight running pants will keep you at just the right temperature on cold winter mornings (£35, www.ronhill.com).
Cycling to work is a great way to exercise but a bit chilly at this time of year. The Altura Nevis will keep you dry, warm and not too sweaty. It also comes in high-visibility yellow for dark evenings (£50, tel: 0870 165 1108, www.evanscycles.com).
Trainers with built-in microchips? Well, it had to happen sooner or later. The Adidas_1 measures the impact of each step and then alters its cushioning. They have recently been "upgraded" to a 1.1 version (£175, www.adidas-1.com). Christian Broughton
10 special spas
You're Worth it
The Mayr Spa (tel: 00 43 4273 2511) on the shores of Lake Worth in Austria is the ideal detox location. It offers specially devised programmes, while its restaurant will keep you on the straight and narrow. 360 Travel (tel: 08700 360 333; www.360travel.co.uk) has packages from £1,300 for seven nights.
The Hotel Royal is set in the Royal Parc Evian between the Alps and Lake Geneva. It offers a vast array of treatments and La Cuisine Synergique, a low-calorie nutritional programme based on Chinese medicine (rooms from €145 per person, tel: 00 33 4 5026 8500, www.royalparcevian.com)
The Eugénie Les Bains resort in the Landes region of France was frequented by royalty in the 19th century. The chic factor still remains thanks to Les Prés d'Eugénie and its La Ferme Thermale spa. The house speciality is a White Kaolin Mud Bath, while Michel Guérard's Michelin-starred healthy cuisine takes the pain out of dieting (rooms from €77 per person, tel: 00 33 558 050 607; www.michelguerard.com).
Whatley Manor, set deep in the Cotswolds, features an elegant Roman-themed Aquaris spa replete with tepidarium, camomile grotto and hydrotherapy pool. The La Prairie beauty centre and a gastronomic restaurant complete the sybaritic picture - but you can walk any excess off in the surrounding 12 acres of woodland (doubles from £275, tel: 01666 822 888; www.whatleymanor.com).
Chewton Glen is one of the UK's original country house spas. Set on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire, it allows you to be as active as you choose, with an exhaustive list of treatments as well as a golf course, swimming pools and tennis courts (tel: 01425 275 341; www.chewttonglen.com).
Glad to be Gray
Grayshott, the grande dame of the UK spa scene, has just been refurbished. New facilities include two swimming pools and a wider range of therapies and classes including yoga and pilates. An army of fitness experts, dieticians and medical staff is on hand to coax you gently into a healthier way of life (two-night spa breaks from £365, tel: 01428 602 020; www.grayshottspa.com).
Since it opened two years ago, Samas at the Park Hotel in Kerry (above) has established itself as one of Ireland's leading spas. It combines state-of-the-art facilities with hikes in the dramatic mountains right on the hotel's doorstep (rooms from €158, tel: 00 353 6 44 12 00; www.parkkenmare.com).
The Asian-inspired Serenity spa at Seaham Hall, County Durham scores high in the style stakes. The spa menu borrows therapies from Thailand, Bali, China and India, the TechnoGym stores your exercise regime on a personalised digital key, and there's also pilates, yoga and Thai kick boxing (doubles from £195, tel: 0191 516 1550; www.seaham-hall.com).
The soothing waters of Terme di Saturnia in Tuscany may have been first discovered by the Romans, but still attracts a devoted following today. The refurbished resort has access to the four outdoor sulphurous pools (which maintain a constant temperature of 37C) and also offers a range of programmes dedicated to wellbeing including diet, fitness, stress management and beauty (rooms from €185, tel: 00 39 564 600 888; www.termedisaturnia.it).
Get some altitude therapy at Therme Vals in the Swiss Alps. Designed by architect Peter Zumthor, this ultra-chic thermal water spa and hotel contains a series of mineral-rich pools framed by dramatic mountain scenery. The treatment rooms also offer a range of massages as well as lymphatic drainage (from €67, tel: 00 41 81 926 89 61, www.therme-vals.ch). Aoife O'Riordain (omega)
10 books & DVDs
If you can't stand Davina McCall, you won't like her Power of 3 workout DVD (£18). But if you like her slightly nutty approach then this is a good choice, and better than her more recent My Three 30 Minute Workouts. The workout is well taught and effective, and is divided into legs, arms and abs segments, but all have cardio intervals to get your heart rate up. And it has real music, and not just annoying musak.
Ministry of Health
Chillates (Ministry of Sound, £20) is better than its dubious name suggests. While most pilates and "mind-body" videos are presented in an annoyingly solemn way, this one is simple and classy. The challenging 60-minute workout has moves from yoga, pilates and ballet, all set to a groovy soundtrack from MoS.
Not so stupid
Once you have stopped laughing at the presenter Gay Gasper's name, you might appreciate this 15 Minute Workouts for Dummies DVD (£10, Anchor Bay). In terms of content, information, presentation, and, above all, structure, it shines like a beacon. Each workout is geared towards a different body area (thighs, arms, bum and abs), with its own warm up and stretch so that you can do them on their own if you wish.
A real stretch
As its name suggests, the Yoga Conditioning for Sport DVD (Gaiam, £17) is aimed at toning the body for other activities. "In some cases, sports activities teach the body to move in a direction it wasn't really designed to do," says presenter Rodney Yee. "Yoga can help redress the balance, enhancing performance and reducing the risk of injury."
Pilates at Home written by Kellina Stewart (Carroll & Brown, £11) is a great introduction for beginners, but equally useful for those who attend classes to use at home. It has a fold-out base so you can stand it on the floor while you work. Each exercise is explained so comprehensively, there's little chance of getting it wrong, and it suggests visualisations to ensure you get the move spot on.
Make a stand
The Core Programme (Vermillion £9.99), written specifically for women by the physical therapist Peggy Brill, addresses bad posture by tackling the "hot spots" of weakness, tightness and overuse in the female body, then sets about redressing the balance with 15-minute-a-day workouts.
Hall or nothing
Joanna Hall knows her stuff when it comes to nutrition and exercise, and her 28 Day Total Body Plan DVD (£16) encourages rather than patronises and informs without being boring. She leads you through a series of three different 30-minute workouts: Cardio Can-Do, Sweat'n'Sculpt to Success and Cardio Yoga.
The long run
If you're in the running for a marathon but training isn't going as planned, Sam Murphy's book Marathon: From Start to Finish (A&C Black, £13) is an essential purchase. With tips on how to fit training into your life, mental tricks for when the going gets tough, race-day tactics and three separate programmes for different levels of commitment, it'll help you all the way.
Why and how
Joanna Hall's Exercise Bible (Kyle Cathie, £15) is a comprehensive, inspiring guide to becoming more active. It contains lots of mini-plans for exercising, say, at work, in the car, or at home. But what is most valuable is that it explains the why of exercise, as well as the how. You learn about the relative merits of cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility, and what to do to get them.
Bit by bit
Bone Idle to Body Idol by Cornel Chin (Hodder Arnold £10) is one of a series of "Get a Life" books that provide a 100-day plan to help you reach your goal - the idea being that the best way to eat an elephant is in small pieces. With lots of charts, questionnaires and daily targets, it takes a fun approach to nutrition, fitness, and weight loss. You can even sign up for daily text messages to help you keep on track. Sam Murphy
10 great gadgets
A metal disc, a cord and two circular handles is all there is to the Handytrim Light Pocket Gym, but it is also a very addictive way to tone upper body muscles. Best of all, it's extremely portable. It takes a little while to get used to the pull-and-release motion but, when you do, it's simple and enjoyable way to keep fit (£24.95, tel: 0870 745 2000, www.boysstuff.co.uk).
The Slendertone Active aims to tone abdominal muscles by stimulating them with mild electric pulses while you work, jog, or even watch TV. It's less painful and more effective than you might think, and also measures your heart rate and the calories that you've burned (£100, tel: 0845 070 7777, www.slendertone.com)
Sit on the 2 Balance Ball with your feet flat on the floor and bum level with your knees, then use your stomach muscles to stop you rolling all over the place. It can also be used as a chair if you want better posture and balance
(£19.95, tel: 08456 049 049, www.johnlewis.com).
The Navman Sport Tool is an electronic personal trainer which uses GPS technology to measure your speed and distance. It comes in five versions, each for a particular sport - for example, the runners' model, the R300, has an alarm to tell you if you're hitting or missing the right pace (£99, tel: 01978 729 941, www.navman.co.uk).
Gold's Gym Abdo Glider may not look much, but it is an excellent basic fitness device. A sort of roller with a spring, you kneel down, grab on to the side handles and wheel forward until you're almost lying flat, then the spring returns you to the start position. It is designed to tone and flatten your stomach while helping with your upper arms, too (£29.95, tel: 08456 049 049; www.johnlewis.com).
The Slam Man will help improve your stamina, reflexes and co-ordination. Basically, you punch it and then the lights flash to tell you where to hit it next. It's tough, and you can always use it as a coat stand when you've had enough (£260, tel: 0870 011 3206, www.paramountzone.com).
If you're training for the first time, it's good to keep an eye on your heart rate. Oregon Scientific's HR308 monitor has a "Smart" trainer program to suggest suitable heart rate limits for individual users, as well as readings for average heart rate and calories burned. There's also a bike mount supplied for safer use if you're cycling (£40, tel: 0845 601 3964; www.oregonscientific.co.uk).
Oakley was making state-of-the-art ski goggles long before it became known for it trendsetting sunglasses. It's latest creation, the Crowbar Snow (from £75, tel: 020 7395 6070, www.oakley.com) is only the company's fifth new design in 25 years, and it has tonnes of new features, including a revolutionary strut system to distribute the frame pressure and a curved lens that extends your downward view.
Muscle weighs more than fat, so if your scales don't show any weight loss, then either you're not getting any fitter or your body is becoming more muscle and less fat. The Tanita UM-072 bathroom scales tell you your weight, but they also let you know how much of you is fat, water or muscle (£60, 0800 731 6994; www.tanita.co.uk).
PC gone mad
The new PlayStation 2 game Kinetic comes with an EyeToy motion-sensor camera that puts you "in" the game. Setting you fun tasks such as trying to dodge onscreen balls, it can even tell how well you're performing the exercises (£30, www.amazon.co.uk). David PhelanReuse content