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Monday, February 22, 2010

Fitness Trends

I thought I'd devote a whole post to the topic of fitness since I promised to share my knowledge in this area on the blog but haven't done much of that yet. Here's my commentary on fitness trends.

Fitness, like any other commercial industry, is subject to trends. Unfortunately, I have found that this leads people to fixate on one type of activity, and in order to attain optimal fitness, you need to participate in a variety of activities. There are several main components of fitness: muscle strength and endurance, cardiovascular ability and flexibility. Any fitness program should contain elements of each. But, unfortunately, too many people will jump on the bandwagon of the latest fitness craze and focus on one element, to the exclusion of others.

In the 70's and 80's there was an obsession with high impact cardiovascular activities which ended up taking a toll on enthusiasts joints. With the advent of the STEP in the 90's, group exercise classes became more balanced, encorporating low impact activities and muscle conditioning. At the beginning of this decade, when yoga and pilates became all the rage, however, too many people threw away cardiovascular activity altogether, to pursue these new gentler, "mind-body" activities. While I love both yoga and pilates, and believe they each have tremendous value, they do not sufficiently improve cardiovascular ability or muscle strength. And in a time when obesity is a growing concern, they are not efficient means of burning fat or losing weight.

Spinning is another big trend in fitness. It has added a wonderful alternative for people looking for an intense cardiovascular workout that is non-impact and doesn't require participants to learn complex choreography. Unfortunately, devotees often use it as their sole form of cardiovascular activity. Spinning is wonderful, but it lacks the variety of movement that makes other cardio classes so valuable. Aerobics, STEP, Zumba and other forms of group fitness utilize a variety of muscle groups and force participants to move in all planes of motion (front and back, side-to-side, etc.).

Essentially, the ideal fitness regimen includes activities that focus on all the major components of fitness. In addition, you want to mix it up as much as possible. Keeping your body guessing is the best way to get stronger and make progress. Work your body in as many different ways as possible. This could mean always changing the weight exercises you do, or the amount of weight you lift, or the number of repetitions or sets of repetitions you complete. You should also encorporate as many different cardiovascular activities as possible.

Fortunately, the industry, recently, seems to have diversified. People are now flocking to Zumba (Latin dance inspired classes) or BodyPump classes as often as they are to spinning and yoga. There seems to be a growing understanding that it is important to address all the components of fitness. Let's just hope this continues, no telling what the next fitness trend will be or where it will take people...

Next time I'll give you my two-cents on cardio machines.