This article is part of a series about getting fit in the new year. Check out the entire Man up! feature here.

So you’ve decided to finally lose the gut, get off the recliner and get in shape. But walking around in the gym in a daze, wondering what all those machines do and how to use them, is, well, not exactly your idea of a productive workout.

So you decide to follow a pre-designed routine, maybe take a group class. But which one will give you the results you want? With so many of them out there, everyone has their own opinion…and their own favorite.

To help you hit your fitness goals, we’ve broken down the three most popular into their core elements, so you’ll know what to expect when you sign up and can learn how to tell which is best for you.

P90X Home-Fitness System

Photo: Beachbodies

Training style: The Lone Wolf

This is for you if: You don’t like crowds, and want to work out in the privacy of your own home.

Photo: Beachbodies

What it is: A set of 12 “highly diverse and intense” workouts on a dozen DVDs, each designed for a different muscle group.  Also includes Ab Ripper X for abs, and a Kenpo-based kickbox aerobic workout and some yoga mixed in. Host and trainer Tony Horton motivates you through each one, and it comes with fitness and nutritional guides.

READ MORE: Tony Horton talks fitness

Claim to fame: P90X is a home fitness juggernaut. It has sold millions of copies and has transformed countless former flabby, lazy people into chiseled gods.

What to expect: Horton’s upbeat motivation, mixed with expert training that will kick your ass and whip it into shape. Sure, Horton can be corny at times, but you get used to it. I treat him like that drinking buddy who gets drunk before everyone else. Eventually I get there with him.

My take: I’ve been doing P90X for a few months now, and I’ve actually suspended my gym membership. I’m getting better workouts from it, in a lot less time. And I’m a former personal trainer and fitness director who hates working out to a video. Sure seeing the same routine over and over, and hearing Horton’s jokes again and again can get old, but the workouts are solid and the results are incredible. Plus, the new P90X2 is out, and promises to challenge those of us who are bored or peaking with the original.

Photo: Beachbodies

The Bottom Line

Pros: Work out at home. And there’s no need for a lot of equipment — a pair of bands and a chair can do it for you. Ability to watch and rewatch for proper form and to get familiar with the routine. You can also build up to it if you’ve had a few too many supersize meals. If you need to pause the DVD and take a breather for a second, you can. Routine becomes familiar and easier to follow.

Cons: Routine becomes familiar…and can lead to boredom. There’s no one there to tell you if you’re doing it wrong, or if you’re about to bust a ventricle.


Photo: cnolan011 @Flickr

Training style: The Animal

This is for you if: You live for competition, and think puking is a badge of honor.

Competitors at the CrossFit Games (Photo: CrossFit)

What it is: For “committed individuals,” CrossFit aims to make you all-around fit, as opposed to specialized fit. According to CrossFit, specialists are punished by combat, survival, many sports, and life.

The workout of the day (WOD) is performed in a “box” (that’s what they call their gyms) with one of their certified trainers, or done at home. The WODs are usually named after girls. For today’s WOD you could choose between the “Cindy” –completing as many rounds as you can in 20 minutes of 5 pull ups, 10 pushups, 15 squats — or the “Mary” — completing as many rounds as you can in 20 minutes of 5 handstand pushups, 10 one-legged squats (alternating), and 15 pull ups.

Sound easy? Give one a shot and see how easy it is. Then, after you’ve huffed and puffed your way through a half dozen or so rounds, know that some woman named Nadia did 13.

Photo: CrossFit

Claim to fame: Rumored to be the fitness program that got the Spartans so chiseled for the movie “300.” And also the “principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.”

What to expect: Just know that CrossFit is famous for a healthy dose of peer pressure. And questioning of your masculinity if you don’t keep up. Oh, and their mascot is a clown vomiting.

My take: I have not yet personally done CrossFit in a box, and have only half-heartedly tried a WOD. (With a herniated disk, there’ll be no high-energy clean-and-jerks for me.) I’ve spoken to many people who have trained in a box and they are pretty well split between those who love it and those who hate it. Those who love it say they’ve never been pushed harder or achieved more. Those who hate it claim it’s injury inducing, and they thought they were going to die.

The Bottom Line

Pros: You’ll push harder than you ever have before and possibly exceed your wildest expectations.

Cons: Injury. There are some Olympic style exercises included in the WODs, so if you aren’t familiar, you can do some damage. The focus is typically on going heavier, faster, and for more reps…not form.

Boot Camps

Photo: OrangeTheory Fitness

Training style: The Recruit

This is for you if: You’re a lazy maggot and need to get your mamby-pamby ass in shape.

Screen grab: EvolutionFitnessNow @YouTube (Video below)

What it is: Gaining in popularity, it’s a group interval workout in a gym, parking lot, beach, etc., run by an instructor or group of instructors. You’ll perform several different exercises at several different “stations,” from running sprints to doing push ups to using free weights,  doing crunches, flipping tires, and hitting stuff with a sledge hammer or bat.

You can find boot camps either at a specific gym, such as OrangeTheory, or run by a trainer who hosts groups in public places. Many have weight-loss challenges that give awards to those who lose the most weight, body fat, etc.

Claim to fame: It gets our troops in shape, doesn’t it?

What to expect: A lot of variety aiming to get you in overall shape, including some unusual exercises. Different ones you may never have thought of yourself.

My take: I’ve done several different boot camps over the years and I’m a fan. It’s good to get out of the house and out of the gym once in a while and run through a number of different exercises designed for overall fitness. Especially when you can do things like flip a giant truck tire around a parking lot. It’s got a World’s Strongest Man feel to it. You’re also likely see people with a wide variety of fitness levels, so if you’re just starting out, you won’t be intimidated.

Screen grab: EvolutionFitnessNow @YouTube (Video below)

The Bottom Line

Pros: Lots of variety so you don’t get bored. Great for overall fitness. Group support from the people around you as well as the trainers. Did I mention you may get to hit stuff with a sledge hammer?

Cons: You won’t always hit your own weak areas, because you’ll follow their routine overall. You don’t usually get individual coaching. Quality of the class depends entirely on the trainer and their plan.