If I had one word to describe fitness trends in 2016, it would be “extreme.” Which, ironically, isn’t new; the fitness industry has been chasing extremes for years. Faster, stronger, leaner, bigger, bolder, funner (you know it’s a word) -- the fitness industry has made outrageous promises for years, all while claiming to support small steps and lifestyle changes.
I admit it, I’m a fitness-loving cynic. But it’s the fitness trends that made me this way. So go ahead and jump on the next bandwagon. Just don’t go too extreme, because there’s no reason to put the “over” in “overdoer.”
Smarter technology-supported training
It’s one thing to monitor your steps throughout the day and keep an eye on your heart rate during exercise with the help of a Fitbit. It’s an entirely different thing to follow a training program based on your DNA profile, or receive real-time feedback on your exercise form based on wearable fitness apparel.
Fitness is getting smarter, and tech companies are rushing to provide the next wearable product that provides feedback on some elusive biological marker that’s going to suddenly make it “easier” and “faster” to see results.
I use quotes because the reality is, unless a tech company discovers how to create a wearable band that taps into long-term internal motivation, receiving real-time feedback on your foot placement during exercise, while super cool, may not actually be the push you need to get off the couch and get moving.
Extremely personalized diet plans
Not personalized as in "a registered dietitian meets with you and provides you with a diet plan based on your conversation." No, I’m talking personalized as in, "you send your DNA sample to a lab and receive dietary recommendations based on your specific DNA profile." Research from the University of Toronto in late 2014 found that people are more likely to try and adhere to this type of specialized plan, and nutritional genomics companies are poised to explode into the mainstream by capitalizing on the brave new world of DNA-based diets.
First it was quinoa, the superfood pseudograin featuring complete proteins. Then it was kale, the superfood vegetable purported to be like spinach on crack. In 2015, it was bone broth, the, well, broth, made from the aftermath of bones simmered for hours with vegetables. (Why you wouldn’t just eat soup made with the broth is beyond me, but whatevs.)
I could get behind those trends for the mere fact that the sight, smell, and texture didn’t instantly make me want to vomit.
This year’s trend? Not so much. Two words: insect protein. Specifically, crickets.
Now, I know eating insects is normal in many cultures. I also know using crickets for protein is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than raising cattle for beef. I also know crickets contain lots of beneficial nutrients, including two times the iron of spinach.
And yet, gross. If I actually wanted to eat crickets, I’d try to find the one that’s been chirping in my house for the last two weeks. At least eating it would solve the chirping problem.
It used to be that the fittest people bragged about how long their workouts were. Think The Biggest Loser-style marathon sessions at the gym -- two, three, four, seven hours of training to sculpt a craveable body.
Not so much anymore. Long workouts are out, short workouts are in, and the biggest braggarts are killing themselves to prove you, too, can get a craveable body in less than 10 minutes. The trend toward shorter workouts isn’t necessarily new, as 30-minute, 20-minute, and even 15-minute workouts have gained popularity with the rise of high-intensity interval training.
Just don’t assume this means you can get the body of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with a daily 15-minute walk. Yes, short workouts can be incredibly effective, but generally only when they’re also incredibly intense... which isn’t always an appropriate workout for the general population.
As people continue killing themselves during short, high-intensity workouts, they’re beginning to acknowledge the necessity of post-workout recovery. And I’m not just talking about stretching (although that’s a great place to start). No, it’s the growth in the market for foam rolling, myofascial release, and ART therapy. Add to that the rapidly growing market for performance pillows, mattresses, drinks, and supplements, and it becomes clear that recovery is the new Zumba, albeit with less hip-shaking.
Excessively hot and cold classes
You’ve probably heard of hot yoga -- yoga performed in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit -- but what about hot cycling? Or the reverse: aerobic-style classes held in an unusually cold rooms?
From a calorie-burn standpoint, both trends have some scientific merit. When you exercise in a hotter- or colder-than-usual environment, your body has to work harder to maintain temperature homeostasis (you know, the preferred 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). This leads to an increase in calorie burn to maintain homeostasis, which, theoretically can speed weight loss.
But while there's some support for increased calorie burn at abnormally high or low temperatures, the overall benefits of exercise performed in hot or cold rooms are less clear, and there are actually some safety concerns to consider. Namely, how do you prevent your body from overheating during hot classes, and how do you get sufficiently warmed up in cold classes? Not to mention the fact that both styles of class sound like a form of self-flagellation.
Exercise is already going to be hard -- why make it completely uncomfortable, too? And if you’re really interested in trying hot or cold exercise, don’t spend $30 on a class. Just walk outside. Mother Nature generally complies with one form or the other.
This is possibly my favorite trend, and one I hope has a long life. New York Health & Racquet Club nutrition coordinator Debi Zvi explains agrihoods like this: “They’re neighborhoods centered around a farm. More and more people will further embrace farm-to-table living and look to agrihoods as a source for healthy, fresh foods.”
It’s not that community gardens themselves are new, but by developing neighborhoods around a farm or community garden, the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables becomes a focal point. There’s not a person in this country who couldn’t benefit from a central focus on fresh fruits and veggies.
The ketogenic diet
It was just a matter of time before the ketogenic diet became a thing, and with the 2015 dietary guidelines expected to ease up on the vilification of fats, it’s no wonder this high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet is gaining popularity.
This diet forces the body into a state a ketosis, where instead of using carbs as a primary fuel source, the body must burn fats for fuel. It was originally developed as a treatment for epilepsy, and more research needs to be done on the potential ramifications of sustained low-carb intake, but early indications show it can be an effective weight-loss strategy, and can even help endurance athletes burn significantly more fat while training.
Just keep in mind the diet is hard to adjust to, hard to maintain, and may not be a lifestyle you want to commit to long term. Don’t feel obligated to try it when there are other, more balanced and reasonable ways to approach diet and weight loss.
Boutique fitness classes on crack
Not literally on crack (although some instructors make me wonder), but boutique fitness has taken a turn for the borderline absurd. In an effort to create buzz and play to the ever-shorter attention spans of clients footing the bill, boutique fitness classes can’t just offer group cycling. Now they're offering group cycling with an open bar after class, or yoga with a side of snowshoeing (Snowga, anyone?). It’s not enough to take a barre class -- to stay “with it,” you need to take Antigravity Airbarre.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to try every single amazing new class that’s offered, but I get exhausted thinking about how hard these poor instructors are working to come up with the next new idea. Sometimes it’s OK for a workout to just be a basic workout -- fireworks and fiasco be damned.
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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who would jump off a cliff before volunteering to join a cold exercise class. Share which trends you wouldn't try with her on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.