If you've ever thought about trying one of these workout routines, we've got all the information you need — from tips to the perfect gear — to get started and become a pro.

By Alyssa Shaffer

Time to Try ... Running a 5K

Natalie Dunbar, 52, never considered herself a serious runner. But nine years ago, in search of a challenge, the Pasadena-based writer signed up for a local half marathon. Since then she has completed 18 more, finished one full marathon and helped other women go the distance as a coach for Team in Training, a fundraising program of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. "Racing has made me much more accepting of my curvy body," says Dunbar. "Every time I get a medal, I know there isn't much I can't accomplish if I put my mind to it." Every day more women are hitting the road (or treadmill) to burn major calories, blow off stress, complete a race and just catch up with friends. Make this the year you join them.

Pick Your Path

Committing to train for a race is just the first exciting step. Put more fun in your run by making these three decisions.

Treadmill or outside? Whenever possible, choose the great outdoors, says Dunbar. "When you're on a treadmill, you start to depend on the belt moving you forward, rather than your own energy." If weather, darkness or safety concerns take your workout indoors, stay engaged by doing run/walk intervals and/or inclines every few minutes. Also, keep the incline set to at least 1% to mimic the variation in terrain and wind you'd get outside.

Solo or with a partner? Having someone to run with is more than just a good way to help pass the time. It's almost a guarantee that you're going to get out the door. That said, be sure to choose your partner wisely. "It can be frustrating to run with someone who is a lot faster—or a lot slower—than you, or who's just not dependable," says Kelly Flynn, a Boston-based coach for Team in Training.

Stretch before or after? Pre-workout, take a few minutes to do active or dynamic stretching like marching in place, kicking your feet forward or lifting your heels toward your butt for about 30 to 60 seconds each. Post-run, when muscles are warm, take a few minutes to do static stretching—the kind where you reach and hold for about 20 to 30 seconds. Focus on quads, hamstrings, hips and calves to improve flexibility and reduce your risk of injury.

Three Things Every Runner Needs

Running sneakers: They're your best bet against injury. Buy ones that address your footfall (some people turn their feet inward or outward as they stride) and prioritize function (like cushioning). Check out the lightweight Asics Gel-Synthesis (asicsamerica.com, $110), which has a removable inner bootie for conditioning workouts. It's like getting two sneakers in one.

Sports bra: Some women prefer compression bras (the stretchy kind that you slip on) while others like individual-cup designs (think wider straps and a lot more support). Try a few styles to find the one that best minimizes bounce. We're a fan of The Girls Best Friend Bra by Lucy (lucy.com, $59).

Digital watch: You don't need bells and whistles. A basic device helps if you're doing run/walk intervals or want to run for time rather than distance. Look for a model that has an interval function, which can signal when to speed up or slow down. We like the Timex Ironman 10-Lap, (timex.com, $43).

10 Weeks to Your First 5K!

We've got a plan that anyone can follow, created by Rob Stuart, a trainer and running coach with Sports Club/LA in Washington, D.C. He recommends using a combination of walk/run intervals to help you increase distance and speed in just 10 weeks.

For the first four weeks, walk 30 to 60 minutes three times a week at a brisk pace; focus on breathing through your belly. For the last six weeks, alternate the three interval workouts below.

Note: Beginner—Concentrate on brisk walking or a light jog during the speed intervals. Advanced—Do an easy jog or fast run during the intervals. For the last two weeks, take your intervals to a run.



Workout 1

Workout 2

Workout 3

Warm-up: Walk 10 minutes

Warm-up: Walk 10 minutes

Warm-up: Walk 10 minutes

Intervals: Increase speed slightly for 2 minutes, then return to a comfortable pace for 2 minutes. Repeat 10 times, going a little faster with each interval.

Intervals: Increase speed slightly for 5 minutes, then return to a comfortable pace for 3 minutes. Repeat 4 times.

Intervals: Jog or run hard for 30 seconds; walk for one minute. Repeat 10 times.

WIN IT! One lucky reader will get a year's subscription to Netflix and an Apple TV box so she can stream her favorite shows while working out or stretching at home. Go to familycircle.com/Netflix to enter! For entry details, click here.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

Time to Try ... Pilates

There's a group of women at the gym who hold themselves a certain way. They appear tall, confident and enviably lean. Their secret? Most likely it's Pilates. The popular workout uses your own body weight to build core strength and flexibility through a series of floor-based exercises. It helps you develop abs that any mom would envy and requires a concentration and focus that push out any nagging thoughts of that C your kid got in math class. "After I do a session, my head is totally calm and I'm energized!" notes Claire Danese, a Pilates instructor at Equinox Fitness in New York and mom of two. Take a class once, devotees insist, and you'll feel a difference almost immediately. Get svelte with our insider tips.

Pilates 101

When a workout has its own lingo, you need to decipher it to get the best results. Three terms you should know:

  • Mat class: Pilates workouts are usually divided into two categories: mat classes or equipment-based ones. Mat classes can be done anywhere, use your own body weight and have a strong focus on core strength, explains Moira Merrithew, executive director of education for Merrithew Health and Fitness Pilates in Toronto. Equipment-based workouts employ machines (like the Reformer or the Cadillac, which apply resistance using springs), incorporate more arm and leg movements, and require personal instruction.
  • Powerhouse: Almost every Pilates move involves engaging the core muscles—a group that includes the abs, lower-back muscles and pelvic floor—which work together to form a corset-like support structure. "Building strength in this area is important," says Danese. "In Pilates all movement flows from the center out."
  • Postural Muscles: One reason people who take Pilates look slimmer is because they focus on their posture. Instructors give frequent cues like "grow taller," "lengthen through the crown of the head" and "glide your shoulder blades on the back." "Maintaining good posture puts your body in its best anatomical position, so it moves and functions at its best," adds Danese.

No Gym? No Problem!

There are plenty of affordable routines to try right in your own living room.

  • DVDs: Both Mari Winsor's Beginner Pilates (amazon.com, $15) and Stott Pilates: Basic Pilates Volume 2 (merrithew.com, $16) are particularly good for beginners because of the heavy emphasis on correct form and alignment. If you're looking for more of a challenge, consider Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners (collagevideo.com, $15), which mixes in strength training.
  • Apps: The Hundred? Yep, there's an app for that, as well as many other Pilates moves. In addition to the free downloads we mentioned on the previous page, consider checking out Pilates: Day-by-Day 15-Minute Workout (iTunes, $5.99). New York City-based instructor Alycea Ungaro covers the basics with super-clear authority in a format that's sure to appeal to any time-crunched mom.
  • Web Stream: Stream top Pilates instructors straight to your computer or tablet. Pilatesology.com offers hundreds of classes for all fitness levels, with an emphasis on intro videos ($19/month or $150/year). If you have a computer webcam and want personalized attention, check out Wello.com, where an instructor will demo moves and monitor your form to ensure you're doing them correctly (starting at $10).

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

Time to Try .. A Spinning Class

The pulsing music. The intense energy. The pounds that melt away. You've heard incredible things about Spinning and you're ready to ride—or at least, you would be, if you could just find the time, cash or courage. Believe us, it's worth it: Indoor cycling burns upwards of 400 calories in just 45 minutes while sculpting your legs, butt, arms and abs. Best of all: "You'll leave class feeling like you've won a race," notes Heather Allen, a group exercise specialist at New York Sports Clubs and mom of two. Whether at the gym or home, here's how to prep for the ride of your life.

Insider Cycling Tips for Newbies

  • Show up early. "A lot of first-timers quietly sneak in at the last minute," says Allen. "But the sooner you arrive, the more time you'll have to get situated." Also check beforehand to see whether you need to reserve a bike.
  • Tell the instructor you're new. She can answer questions, keep an eye on you and help you adjust your bike. "How your bike is set up can make or break your ride," explains Rachel Buschert Vaziralli, a Schwinn master trainer and cycling instructor at Equinox Fitness in New York.
  • Move your seat. The most common mistake beginners make is riding with the seat too low, which can hurt your knees and minimize your power. If you stand next to the bike, the seat should be about hip height.
  • Stay for the cooldown. "You'll feel more energized and a lot less achy later," reveals Vaziralli.

No Gym? No Problem!

Replicate the class experience on your own with a stationary bike, Spin bike (which usually has no motor or electronic resistance controls) or trainer (a device that keeps your outdoor bike stationary and allows you to ride inside). Then cycle with one of these Spin-simulating options.

  • In your headphones: Download guided rides led by top instructors like Vaziralli, whose 60-minute Cycle Coach program is a motivating high-sweat session set to upbeat music (amazon.com, $9, or iTunes, $10).
  • In your DVD player: You can pedal along with everything from classic group-exercise programs (Cathe Friedrich's XTrain: Ride, collagevideo.com, $23) to stunning almost-there vistas (IGC World Tour: Northern Italy, collagevideo.com, $25).
  • On your tablet, laptop or Internet-ready TV: Download videos of actual classes through websites like StudioSweatOnDemand.com ($8 per download) or EMGLiveFitness.com ($8 per download).

Try a FREE Class! Go to spinning.com, enter your zip code and click on the "Class Pass" button for a facility near you.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.