7 Fitness Trends

Make 2018 the year your commitment to getting fit sticks.

January/February 2018

By Linda Melone

If you want to start an exercise program but aren’t sure which would work best for you, try one of these currently popular training plans.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

The most popular trend, according to a survey by the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org) of more than 4,000 fitness professionals, is high-intensity interval training. HIIT combines short periods of all-out effort with short bouts of active rest (low-intensity activity); one example would be running full-speed sprints followed up with slow jogs.

Because HIIT sessions take typically less than 30 minutes, people with busy lives gravitate to this type of activity. “You can get more results in a shorter period of time,” says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University. “HIIT elicits an after-burn effect in which you continue to burn calories even though you’ve finished exercising.” Olson adds that HIIT has been found to be effective for decreasing deep abdominal fat. What’s more, a recent study conducted in Finland showed that the release of “feel good” brain chemicals called endorphins during HIIT may play a role in increasing exercise motivation and maintenance of regular activity.

Keep in mind you get out of HIIT what you put into it, says Olson, who notes, “If you push yourself you get results.” She recommends using a heart rate monitor; your heart rate should run about 90% of your maximum heart rate during the high-effort parts of your workout. (You calculate your maximum rate by subtracting your age from 220; for a 50-year-old, that would be 220 - 50 = 170, so 90% would be 153 beats per minute.)

Group Training

Whether you’re talking about dance, aerobics or stationary biking, any class or session with five or more participants is considered group training. Its biggest advantage is that working out in a room full of other exercisers helps you stay motivated. “You have a built-in support system of like-minded peers to keep you on track,” says Olson. “You’ll want to keep pace with the group and will keep going and not be ‘the one who quits,’ etc.” In addition, a group dynamic increases the fun factor.

Cindy Sewell Hohman, 47, Boulder CO, marketing I liked that HIIT is a short workout. I can take my running shoes anywhere and do a quick Tabata workout [a type of HIIT] and be done. I definitely felt about the most fit I’ve ever felt when I was doing HIIT regularly. Hohman did HIIT two days a week, alternating with strength training three times a week.

Benefits of group exercise go far beyond fun, however. According to research from the American Osteopathic Association, working out in a group was found to lower stress by 26%. Participants reported improvements in three different life-quality parameters: mental health improved nearly 13%, physical health by 25% and emotional health jumped by 26%, compared with individual fitness participants.

For best results from a group class, mimic the trainer as much as possible, Olson recommends. “Copy his or her form and effort level. Get up in front of the class near the trainer and ‘draft’ off the trainer’s energy—do not hide in the back!”

Strength Training

Resistance training, also known as strength training, remains popular among exercisers. “It’s trending now, particularly with women, as we understand more about how being strong helps us in everyday life,” says Mark Nutting, CSCS, owner and master trainer at Jiva Fitness in Easton, Pennsylvania. “The exposure of strong men and women in CrossFit, high-intensity exercise videos, American Ninja Warrior and other venues has shown how strength not only helps us in our activities, but can help us look good, too.”

Strength training attracts younger people, and both men and women. Resistance training may also be included as part of an overall exercise routine for those with cardiovascular or metabolic diseases.

The first key to proper strength training is to start with the largest muscles and work down to the smaller ones—legs before biceps, for example. Strive for two to three total body strength training workouts a week, 12 to 15 repetitions per exercise, and always use proper form, never sacrificing precision in the movement just so you can lift a heavier weight.

Mary Theobald, 55, Raymore MO, association executive Theobald turned to yoga after experiencing upper back pain that was not relieved by physical therapy. “The yoga helped much more than the physical therapy, and it also stretched out my hip muscles, which felt awesome. I am also much more flexible. I play volleyball one night a week and I’ve found that the yoga has improved my ability to move for the ball.”

To determine the amount of resistance you need, pick a level at which the last three repetitions are a challenge. If you cannot complete 12 reps in good form, decrease the weight; if you’re breezing through 15 reps, increase the resistance. Increase weight by no more than 10% a week until your muscles adjust to the added load.

Yoga

Yoga’s variety of forms enables nearly any exerciser to find a style in line with his or her fitness goals. From Power Yoga, Yogalates (a hybrid of yoga and Pilates) and Bikram Yoga (performed in a hot room) to more traditional styles, choices abound. “With benefits of increased flexibility, mind-body connection and stress reduction, it cries out to the highly stressed, sitting all day, out of touch with my body, working society that we have become,” says Nutting.

Research shows yoga can help improve brain function and energy, ease back pain and improve symptoms of depression. Yoga’s appeal also includes its low risk of injury. Caution is still needed, however—especially for those 65 years and older, who are more likely to experience strains and sprains, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study.

Know your limits and look for an instructor certified by the Yoga Alliance (yogaalliance.org), the largest nonprofit association representing the yoga community. The most popular styles of yoga for beginners include Hatha, which teaches the basics in slow-moving classes; Vinyasa, which teaches how to link movement and breath together in a dance-type style; and Iyengar, which focuses on detail and precision. Iyengar works well for students of all ages and can be easily modified.

Fitness Programs for Older Adults

Today’s healthy and fit retirement generation creates a ready audience for programs geared to address the needs of this age group. Chains such as Nifty After Fifty cater specifically to the social and physical needs of the over-50 crowd.

“Programs for older adults is a trend that will continue to grow for the simple reason that we are living longer,” says Nutting. “And we’ve realized if we don’t take care of our body, it will fail us as we age. What’s the point of living longer if we are confined to a walker or a wheelchair?”

Dan Collins, 55, Towson MD, public relations
Collins recently finished a six-month functional training program with a trainer in his home twice a week. “My goal was to strengthen my core so that I could function in my sport—fencing. I had concerns about my ability to continue my sport as I’ve undergone two spinal laminectomies (2003, 2016) and a strong core is a must in
my fencing.”

The importance of maintaining fitness goes beyond simply looking good: Muscular strength may make the difference between living independently or needing to move into an assisted living facility. Exercises for older adults work best when focused on movement patterns that mimic activities of daily living. Examples include squats and biceps curls, which imitate movements required to pick up an object from a lower shelf, and overhead presses, which increase strength for loading a piece of luggage into an overhead compartment on a plane.

“We can enjoy life more and stay independent longer,” says Nutting. “So, naturally, fitness programming for older adults will be a big part of that.”

Body Weight Training

Body weight training is as it sounds, workouts using only your own body weight for resistance; pushups, pullups and squats are a few examples. Body weight training experienced renewed popularity recently and is one of the latest additions to the ACSM trends list. Requiring little or no equipment, the low (or no) cost of this workout has contributed to its increased popularity. Variations of body weight training have been around for many years, however—calisthenics is an older term for this type of exercise.

“The resurgence of body weight training has developed because it’s effective, convenient and enjoyable,” says Patrea Aeschliman, CSCS Power Pilates instructor and owner of 15 to Fit Pilates Barre & Fitness in Mooresville, North Carolina. “Gymnastics conditioning is an extreme example (most people aren’t going to do handstand pushups), but body weight conditioning develops all the muscles of the body uniformly and functionally. Many people can drastically improve their body strength without the use of weights.”

Body weight exercises can be done by exercise newbies and adapted for training suitable for elite athletes. A beginner may start with something as simple as knee-based pushups, for example, while plyometrics, which involves explosive jumps, can challenge the most seasoned athlete.

Body weight exercises may be combined with aerobic exercises for a complete circuit training and fat-burning experience. “To get the most out of this modality, find a well-qualified trainer to help you with form, education and adherence,” says Aeschliman.

Functional Training

Using strength to improve coordination, force, power and endurance—and enable a person to better perform daily activities—is what functional training is all about. It’s often linked with two of our other popular trends, exercise for older adults and body weight workouts.

“Functional fitness training encourages balance, mobility and agility over being beach-ready,” says Gina Soni, a Los Angeles-based health and wellness expert and founder of GinaThe
HappyYogi.com. “All the muscles in the body must work together to achieve the desired result.

By focusing on movements, not muscles, the benefits of functional fitness go far beyond improving an impressive one-repetition max on the bench press.”

Exercises done on one leg such as single-legged rows, where you remain balanced on one leg as you perform a row with one arm, challenges your balance and strength simultaneously.

Another popular functional exercise, the Turkish Get Up, involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell above your head while lying on the floor; you then work your way up into a standing position, all the while keeping the dumbbell above your head much like a waiter balancing a tray of glasses. Each exercise uses muscles in the upper and lower body and involve core and balance muscles in order to perform them. “Functional exercises increase flexibility, coordination, balance and posture, and are also low-impact,” says Soni.

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