The 6 Biggest Trend Shifts in Fitness

Future of fitness teaser_0

CrossFit. Spinning. P90X. These days, the new, new thing in fitness seems to pop up faster than you can say “Fitbit.” Meanwhile, working out has never been so scientific, technologically sophisticated, and just plain engaging. And that, of course, is a good thing: The more workout options you have, the better those options are, the lesser the chance you’ll burn out from boredom. (Just one…more…mile.) To help you make sense of this new, new world, we compared where fitness has been with where it’s headed. Here, we present the most innovative workout trends and technologies most likely to succeed and help take your game to new levels—in 2014 and beyond.

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Movement—simply, being able to move athletically and without restriction—is becoming one of the biggest buzzwords in fitness. The better you can move, “the more likely you are to have less fat, more muscle, better cardio, and impressive flexibility,” says Mark Cheng, Ph.D., a human performance specialist in Los Angeles. Of course, all exercise involves movement, but most people have lost the ability to move correctly. Sitting at desks in front of computers causes muscle imbalances, poor posture, and, subsequently, bad movement patterns during exercise. As a result, you won’t get as much out of your workouts and can injure yourself. “Self-limiting” exercise is the prescription. These are movements that require “complete engagement,” according to Gray Cook, the founder of Functional Movement Systems, a group that educates trainers on movement pattern screening and assessment. Think about pushing a sled or performing an inverted row (where you hang underneath a bar, body parallel with the floor, and pull yourself up). If you can’t do the exercise with near-perfect form, you won’t be able to do it at all. If your hips are too high pushing the sled, you won’t be able to move it, and if your hips sag on the row, you can’t pull yourself up far enough. So what happens? You recognize your weaknesses, work to correct them, and customize your training. Movement-focused exercise is already popular in adventure races and mud runs, and in the obstacle courses you see on hit TV shows like American Ninja Warrior. These courses aren’t just great tests of fitness, but look like something out of Spider-Man. On a novice level, exercise classes are prescribing more movements associated with children’s games: Bear crawls, tree climbing, and carrying logs are all functional ways to build strength, stamina, and mobility while making training feel less like work and more like play.

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If the supplements you take aren’t working, it may not be their fault. Your body could just be incapable of absorbing them and letting them work as intended. Two kinds of molecules—polyphenols and triterpenes—form part of the natural defense mechanisms that exist in plants (to discourage insects and bacteria from eating them). They’re abundant in nature and impossible to avoid consuming in a normal diet, and they block the absorption of many of the nutrients we eat or supplement with, decreasing their potency. Savvy supplement makers are combating the problem by adding phytosomes to their formulas. “Phytosomes are molecule carriers that form a small layer of fat that encapsulate molecules,” says Sol Orwell, founder of, a site dedicated to evidence based information on supplements. This lets the supplements you consume get absorbed to a greater degree, since many beneficial compounds (like polyphenols and triterpenes) are large and end up being eliminated without benefit. The phytosomes allow the supplement molecules to be taken right into your blood stream, making them more usable in the body. Take curcumin, an anti-inflammatory ingredient, for example. On its own, curcumin, whether eaten or taken as a supplement, is poorly absorbed. But phytosomes assure delivery of its nutrition. “Phytosomes are a cheap, natural way to circumvent this problem,” Orwell says. “And they may even cut supplement costs over time, if less of the molecule is required by the manufacturer [to achieve the intended effect in the body].”

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People who feel isolated by personal training—or simply don’t want to pay high prices for it—often sign up for boot camps so they can work out with others who have similar goals in a more playful group setting. But boot camps, which boomed through the past decade, are now on the wane. “We’re already seeing the death of the fitness boot camp on every corner,” says Pat Rigsby, CEO of the Fitness Consulting Group, a company that helps fitness professionals build their businesses. “The model isn’t providing the best results possible, and those trainers providing low-quality programs are slowly disappearing.” The problem with boot camps is the onesize- fits-all approach. When everybody in the class more or less does the same workout, individual weaknesses are rarely targeted. That holds clients back from achieving their goals. “It will be replaced by a blending of more thoughtful and specific evaluations and programming while still taking advantage of the group format,” says Jonathan Fass, P.T., a physical therapist and strength coach who has lectured at Rutgers University. What’s next is a new, hybrid fitness approach that offers individualized group plans. The boot-camp format of big-group training will remain, but participants will work on their individual weaknesses within it. It’s a system more akin to what martial arts dojos have done for hundreds of years already. Everybody trains in the same room practicing punches, kicks, and holds, but the white belts work with one another while the black belts do more advanced training.

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Until recently, if you wanted to work with a great trainer, you had to be geographically close to one and have ample funds to pay his rate. But now talented trainers from all over the world are bringing their workout programs to the digital universe. You can get access to training (and nutrition) that’s real-guy tested as well as research approved just by going to their websites. Being trained digitally, it seems, might even be more effective than doing it in person. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, compared Web-based health and fitness programs with non- Web-based ones. The Web plans were more effective at teaching new information and creating behavioral change, which resulted in clients maintaining their weight loss, and even improving their own perception of their bodies. Instead of being forced to select a trainer available in your area, which can be quite limiting, depending on where you live, you’re free to find the best resource for you. While an elite coach might cost you as much as $300 per session face-to-face, online you’re usually charged about half as much per month, with discounts for early enrollment, referral of friends, and other circumstances offered regularly. Of course, training remotely puts a greater onus on you to actually get the work done. You don’t have weekly appointments at the gym to meet a guy with a clipboard who will count your reps and hold you accountable should you miss a session or cheat on your diet. Furthermore, some online coaching programs could make you feel like a number rather than a client and can be impersonal. However, many include access to forums where other coaching clients—and sometimes trainers—share their experiences and exchange inspiration, advice, and recipes for healthy food. If you’re self-motivated and don’t need anyone looking over your shoulder in order to get the work done, online training may be a great option for you.

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There’s a good reason why the much hyped home-gaming fitness revolution never took off: “Fitness” video games suck. Studies show that they burn only slightly more calories than playing conventional video games, which is less than taking a walk, says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., director of the Bariatric Medical Institute. In fact, research published in Pediatrics Digest showed that gamers burned a measly 91 calories per hour—not enough to have any significant impact on one’s physique or health. Freedhoff sees the future of fitness gaming heading toward augmented reality; one new approach, called the Omni, by Virtuix, is a virtual-reality device that allows you to play a video game more actively than ever before. About the size of a La-Z-Boy chair, its special 360-degree treadmill fits easily into a living room and syncs with your game, allowing you to live within it— whether you’re hunting down aliens, climbing a mountain, or following a virtual workout. You can run, jump, pivot, and crouch, and the sensors on the platform will interpret your movements through the accompanying pair of sneakers the Omni comes with. You can move through different landscapes, battlefields, and worlds, getting your heart rate up as effectively as you would in any body-weight or running workout. Or, if you just want to take an easy stroll (or scenic run), you can visit exotic cities you wouldn’t be able to afford to travel to in real life, or ancient ones you could only imagine up till now. The Omni will let you take a virtual, and startlingly realistic, tour through them. The Omni is due out in March 2014 and will retail for $500.

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Remember when you found out you could download an app that would tell you “exactly” how many calories were in your food? Yeah, that was in 2008—and it’s not cool anymore. Newer fitness apps are so advanced it may not be long before they chew your food for you. Fooducate ($5, fooducate. com) revolutionizes grocery shopping by placing the power of a nutritionist in the palm of your hand. Simply snap a picture of the UPC (bar code) on the food you want to buy, and the app will provide you with every bit of information on it you could ever want. Does this food contain gluten? Is it vegan friendly? Will it provide enough protein to be suitable for my diet? Fooducate does all the work for you. “The beauty is that the app shares the ingredients within the product,” says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., owner of, a nutrition consulting company. “Awareness about foods is certainly helpful, though too much can confuse a consumer. This app does a good job balancing both.” And if you want to find, say, the best brand of yogurt for your nutritional preferences, you can use the app to compare products and then build the ultimate shopping list for your next trip to the grocery store. But what if you’re eating out at a restaurant where you can’t see any bar codes? That’s where Meal Snap ($3, mealsnap .com) comes in. Like Instagram but with calorie counts, you take a picture of your food and it will immediately estimate (with impressive accuracy) what you’re about to put into your body. The app does have some limitations, though, as larger platters or foods with questionable serving sizes (such as beans) won’t always be recognized perfectly. But Meal Snap does provide a caloric range, so you’ll always know if your food choice is a giant mistake or in the ballpark.

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