Whip Your Butt into Shape with the Red Rocks Fitness Challenge

Red Rocks is an inspiring backdrop for working out.
Red Rocks is an inspiring backdrop for working out. Denver Parks and Recreation
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Just about everyone on the Front Range knows that Red Rocks is a breathtaking music venue. But can you imagine using those stairs for a full-body workout? Picture getting your sweat on with more than 350 other folks each week, music blasting out of the amphitheater speakers and the giant screen broadcasting your workout buddies in action. It can’t get more motivating than that.

Each year, Denver Arts & Venues hosts a 12-week Red Rocks Fitness Challenge, with weekly workouts on the Rocks. The fifth annual challenge starts April 18 and continues until July 11, with Saturday morning workouts from 7-8 am. During this time, the park is closed to everyone but those ready to bust their buns. You can sign up for a season pass, buy a four-pack, or drop in as you please. No matter what you choose, you’re guaranteed to get a good burn tailored to your fitness level in the inspiring company of others.

Don’t think you’ll just be running stairs. Sure, that’s part of it, but the venue is also a mighty fine backdrop for pushups, bench dips, jumping jacks, planks, and a whole host of other exercises that work your body from head to toe.

There's no better motivator for busting out lunges than the company of others.
There's no better motivator for busting out lunges than the company of others. Tommy Karaffa

Take it from Tommy Karaffa, fitness program coordinator for the City of Denver, who leads the program and thinks it’s one of the best fitness offerings in the Denver Metro Area. “The cool thing about this is that each workout is designed for each person’s fitness level. We give different modifications [to tone it down] and up levels for more advanced fitness enthusiasts. Everyone is going to go home feeling like they got a great workout,” he says.

Each week your whole body will get worked, with cardio and strength training. After an initial warm-up, expect to break into six stations, with two trainers each. One will demonstrate exercises and coach you through them; the other will watch your form, offer modifications for different fitness levels, and cheer you on.

Participants rotate through stations that work small and large muscle groups.
Participants rotate through stations that work small and large muscle groups. Denver Parks and Recreation

In order to maximize the fitness potential, the program also includes twice weekly workouts at other city parks, as well as take-home exercise programs to do the rest of the week. There’s also a lifestyle coach on hand, who is available throughout the 12-week period to answer questions about exercise, diet, and healthy living.

The challenge also includes pre- and post-testing to measure your progress, including weight, body fat analysis, and measurements. This provides a benchmark, not to mention a major motivator.

“Our goal is to really see people finish it and see how they feel after,” says Karaffa. “This is a life-changing experience.”

It certainly changed things for Charlene Branch-Hester, who lost 25 pounds during one 12-week challenge and completely altered her outlook on life. “I’ve never experienced anything as great as the Red Rocks Fitness Challenge. It is such a motivating atmosphere. It’s empowering beyond empowering,” she says. “I just can’t say enough about Denver trainers. They change things every week, always challenge you, always motivate you, always inspire you.

The infamous stairs at Red Rocks lend themselves to plank holds and pushups.
The infamous stairs at Red Rocks lend themselves to plank holds and pushups. Tommy Karaffa

The hardest part of the challenge? Getting out of bed in the wee hours. But once you’re up, you never look back. Trainers and participants agree that there is something magical about Red Rocks in the early morning.

Since the program started five years ago, more than 1,000 people have flocked to the Rocks to jumpstart their fitness routine or continue their healthy habits.

Karaffa sums it up best: “This is one of the best challenges out there, hands down. It's just a special event because it’s for everyone—all fitness levels, every walk of life—from people who smoke a pack a day to that fitness enthusiast that is running marathons. It’s pretty to cool to see all those people coming together.”

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