Year after year, the new and hot comes out in the fitness world, but it’s the proven and popular that gains enough traction to be deemed true trends. This year’s crop, observed by experts in the field, may already be in your workout plans, or may be news to you. Unsurprisingly, tech takes a central role, though in a few cases, the tried-and-true shows yet again that it’s here to stay.
These wrist-worn gadgets aren’t going anywhere as a trend, but in the past, for a lot of people, they often ended up relegated to a drawer once the novelty wears off. The latest generation trackers from Fitbit, Garmin, and others have a slew of features designed not just to get you moving but keep you going. They’re not only step counters but have move alerts to get off your butt when you’ve been still too long. They don’t only have exercise timers you can start when you’re about to work out but auto-tracking of workouts that log right into the apps. And their next-level fitness tools such as GPS and swimming lap counters encourage walkers to become runners and casual exercisers to become athletes. Plus, with smartwatch-like features, like those on the Samsung Gear Fit2, they can become integrated more fully into your life. And that doesn’t include all the new fitness-focused features on the latest Apple Watch and other smart watches.
Looking like an athlete has always been a desire of many, but actually training like an athlete hasn’t necessarily been on the fitness menu. After all, while it would be nice to hit more jump shots or improve race times, employing a coach to do that wasn’t something the recreational participant sought out. Not to mention, the same resources for the pros weren’t necessarily available to the masses. Not anymore. “Weekend warriors come to the lab to not only improve their performance, but to decrease the risk of overtraining,” says Matthew Reicher, MS, CSCS, the head athletic trainer at the NY Sports Science Lab, a facility that offers the same performance testing and coaching utilized by the pros. “Our individualized method that incorporates objective data into each session maximizes each athlete’s efficiency without beating them into the ground,” adds sports scientist Juan Delgado.
The cool bonus: actually ending up looking like an athlete, too. “People are also realizing that while they work out for their sport, it also counts as a traditional workout and has similar ‘side’ effects, such as weight loss and increased muscle tone,” says Franklin Antoian, founder of online personal training website iBodyFit.com, who’s seen an increase in requests for sports-specific workouts from his clients.
Not only are sports-performance facilities like the NY Sports Science Lab thriving among weekend warriors, but the big club chains are getting in on the tech-fueled assessment game for anyone looking for a personalized plan to meet performance or weight-loss goals. Many of the big-name chains—LA Fitness, Life Time Fitness, Equinox—offer techie assessment tests that go well beyond holding onto one of those (pretty inaccurate) body-fat measuring monitors for 30 seconds.
“Assessments are the best way to personalize a member program that is specific and effective, and avoid just doing ‘a’ program,” says Dan Hubley, Senior Program Manager of Metabolic Assessments and Health Technology at Life Time Fitness (yes, it’s that big that they have a guy whose entire job is to do it). “There’s no way better way to provide a more perfect plan than to understand an individual’s personal metabolism. Our Active Metabolic Assessment (AMA) determines your specific heart rate zones, how your body burns fats and carbohydrates during exercise, and how you can exercise smarter, not harder.”
Training isn’t the only area where pro-grade tools have become available to everyone. Recovery is becoming a big business, with gyms large and small offering tech-fueled treatments such as cryotherapy and infrared saunas to reduce post-workout soreness, improve muscle blood flow, and even ease injuries to get better faster. CryoUSA, which supplies recovery equipment to gyms, saw a 40% increase in cryotherapy unit sales in 2016, and projects another 40% increase for 2017, says Mark Murdock, its managing partner. “We’re also expecting an explosion in NovoTHOR whole body light-therapy beds, which has FDA approval for multiple recovery benefits,” he says. In the Dallas area, the company even operates two thriving Phoenix ReGen Centers that specifically cater to the recovery market, offering cryotherapy, light therapy, compression therapy, and much more, on a membership plan.
When it comes to getting results, consistency is key. Some people are self-motivated to do it on a basic gym membership, while others shell out the big bucks for a personal trainer several times a week. The in-betweeners are no longer forgotten, with the burgeoning popularity of value-added programming that costs a bit more but offers both personalized attention and a set schedule (often up to three times per week, plus homework). Sometimes called “group personal training,” these programs, like Snatched by Marc Fisher Fitness in NYC and Small Group Training at DC-area Vida Fitness are held seasonally or on a rotating 6- or 8-week schedule, so they have a progressive aspect that simply joining regular group fitness classes doesn’t have. Larger gyms are also in on the game, such as Life Time Fitness with its T.E.A.M. (Training, Education, Accountability, and Motivation) programs for weight loss, fitness, and boot camp.
It’s not new. It’s not techie—heck, some trainers are happy with a bit of PVC pipe. And yet, self-myofascial release, or self-massage using foam rollers, rubber balls, and other tools, is hugely popular and only getting more mainstream. It used to be that the only people who foam-rolled regularly were serious athletes (especially runners) or had been injured and were doing under doctor’s orders. “It’s at the point now where it’s commonplace in every gym, and you wouldn’t have seen that a couple of years ago,” says Michael Fredericson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford University Medical Center who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation sports medicine and is the author of Foam Roller Techniques for Massage, Stretches and Improved Flexibility. “People realize that myofascial release is very important to overall health and athletic performance, and while it would be nice to go to a special massage therapist who can do that, it’s not practical to do for everybody and all the time. The foam roll, particularly combined with stretching, is a good way to release your own fascial system. It’s like your own deep tissue massage.”
It’s kind of a throwback, if you think about it—to use your smartphone, with its big beautiful screen, exclusively for an audio-guided workout. But in some cases, especially for cardio, it just makes sense. “In both the app store and on Daily Spot, the biggest trend at the moment is for audio workouts,” says Scott Levy, the founder of Daily Spot app, which is updated every day with new fitness challenges. “Over 20% of our user base immediately incorporated our audio workouts after they were launched, and this number is increasing quickly.” What’s the appeal of audio-only? They provide guidance from an instructor atop a music playlist to keep you motivated—and don’t require you to keep your eyes on anything but the prize. In fact, Aaptiv, which exclusively offers audio workouts, is a top 10 grossing app—yes, people are paying a monthly fee for it!—according to App Annie, an industry analysis website.
The most common workout options are to join a gym or to take classes at a studio. That line is getting blurrier and blurrier, however, as companies figure out how to offer the best of the other in order to stay competitive. “Boutique studios have completely disrupted the health club market because they offer a unique, more upscale experience in terms of the classes offered,” explains Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, an expert with the American Council on Exercise. “As a result some health clubs are redesigning their studios and programming, offering barre, yoga and group cycling options in a setting that rivals the independent studios.”
On the other hand, the studios, which may at first have not offered the amenities of the gyms, now have clientele that expect shiny new locker rooms and high-end spa products. “Despite the boutique workout experience, changing in a poorly lit room without shower access is simply not appealing,” McCall says. “As a result studios are having to expand locker rooms and changing facilities to offer more club-like environment.”
Even more impressive is that some have figured out how to do it all on a budget. Fast-growing Chuze Fitness, which has locations in California, Arizona, and Colorado, takes the high volume, low cost model and offers branded classes like P90X plus amenities like water massage beds, cardio cinemas, and infrared saunas, for about $20 a month.
Why should you have to find a gym or studio near your hotel, when your hotel can bring those to you? A slew of big-name and boutique lodgings are seriously upping their fitness game, forging partnerships with health clubs and studios alike to offer guests a workout worth writing home about. For example, at the W New York, recent partnerships include cardio classes offered by 305 Fitness Studios, while Kimpton Hotels, which have a rep for a focus on fitness, can even have full-on gyms in the same building, such as the brand-new Glover Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., which shares space with the swank full-service Urban Athletic Club.
No one disputes the mind-body connection when it comes to wellness. What’s interesting about what’s happening now is that meditation practices are showing up in everywhere from the expected (yoga and pilates) to the unexpected (HITT). For the latter, options like Equinox’s class HeadStrong and NYC-based Studio-B’s Lifted combine high-intensity interval training with meditation-like focusing exercises. As for the former, you no longer need to go to a dedicated yoga studio to channel your chi: Mainstream fitness clubs like 24-Hour Fitness have a number of meditative movement classes on their schedule, and Crunch, known for its high-energy sweat sessions, has a just-hanging-out meditation class, Antigravity Cocooning, in which participants chill out in yoga hammocks.