NEW YORK (Reuters) - From mud races to sweat parties to CrossFit competitions, workouts turned smarter, shorter and more social in 2012, experts say, as fitness was sweetened with a little help from smart phones and friends.
"Everything is about making fitness fun," said Jenna Autuori-Dedic, senior fitness editor at Fitness Magazine.
Even those grueling indoor cycling classes were a chance to mingle.
"I truly think that spinning was one of the biggest things to come out of 2012," said Autuori-Dedic. "They (fitness studios) made it fun. You can go with your friends, match your workout to the music. When you work out with friends, you don't realize you're working out."
She said 2012 also saw the rise of the sweat party.
"Instead of hitting the bars for that bachelorette party or night out with the girls, women are going in groups to fitness studios," she explained. "You don't have to choose between working out and meeting your friends, you can do both."
Working women have begun treating clients to boot camp classes in lieu of happy-hour, she added, and more co-workers host conference room workouts at lunchtime.
Mud runs were another 2012 trend that Autuori-Dedic expects to grow in the new year, along with fun obstacle-type races in general, during which participants can get blasted with paint or chased by "zombies," often for charity.
Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming at the Crunch national chain of fitness centers, said dance classes and short, results-driven workouts dominated group fitness.
"Going into 2012 everybody was looking for the next Zumba," said Cyrus of the Latin-based dance fitness craze. "We find that people are looking for fun easy-to-follow dance moves."
Crunch created 2FLY, a dance class based on music of the '80s and '90s that strives to feel more like a house party than a workout.
The other big trend from 2012, according to Cyrus, is the 30-minute workout.
"Everybody is realizing that you can get results in 30 minutes," she said, so this year was also about hard core, body-sculpting, CrossFit-type classes.
CrossFit is an intense, constantly varied, strength and conditioning program.
Autuori-Dedic said the CrossFit games, which are competitions that grew out of the workout regimen, mushroomed from only 4,000 participants to nearly 70,000 this year.
Richard Cotton, national director of certification programs for the American College of Sports Medicine, said 2012 signaled a welcome shift back to the basics of training people to be prepared for daily living.
"We're finally getting smart about what functional exercise actually is," Cotton said. "Simpler and basic, easier to do at home, there are fewer silly ball exercises, (such as) balancing on a ball while doing bicep curls."
Cotton said personal trainers increasingly apply troubleshooting, motivational interviewing and coaching techniques to their sessions with clients.
Autuori-Dedic said 2013 will see more trainers displaying their wares online.
"Trainers are live-streaming workouts and putting things on Twitter, iTunes, everywhere," she said.
And sophisticated tracking apps are here to stay.
Autuori-Dedic cited a study showing that people lost an average of 15 pounds and kept it off for at least a year just by tracking their statistics with an app.
"It used to be that stepping on a scale once a week would tell you how far you've come," she said. "Now with our smartphones we can log in at any time and see how we're doing every step of the way."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Vicki Allen)