Feature Article - March 2008
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Fit to Be Hip

A Look at the Latest Fitness Trends

By Dana Carman

Putting the Fun in Functional

"Core" has been the fitness buzzword of the past few years. Core strength, core training—everyone has been working on their core to improve their posture, boost their performance in specific sports and as part of the Pilates and yoga craze. Core is still big and continues to be a fitness focus, but it's now sharing the spotlight.

In 2008, the words du jour are "functional strength."

"Functional strength training is really to train for the purpose of transferring whatever improvements you get in the gym effectively to performing better in daily living, work activities or whatever sport activities you're in," Bryant said. He cited the examples of a golfer looking to improve his swing or a tennis player improving her serve. But he also cited the example of a stay-at-home mother chasing after a toddler while hauling a bag of groceries and running to grab the phone as someone who can benefit from functional training.

The focus of functional training isn't on isolating muscles, which trains muscles, not movements. In functional strength, it's important to train for specific movements, not just the muscles involved in the movement. It can increase one's range of motion and help prevent injury.

Several manufacturers make functional strength equipment, but there are contradictory opinions on whether or not users should just walk right up and start pulling. Some feel personal training is necessary to truly take advantage of the equipment and to ensure proper usage.

One manufacturer, however, feels placards placed on the equipment can educate a user enough to begin without assistance. Regardless, new equipment is always going to have a learning curve, so members will determine on their own if they want to try it, but having resources available to assist may be a factor in determining if they want to stick with it.

One population that will see a lot of benefit from functional strength training is the baby boomer generation. According to Rosemary Lavery, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), "Baby boomers are the fastest-growing demographic of health club members."

"The boomers of today, versus yesteryear, have a different expectation," Bryant said. "They expect to be more active. They are looking for fitness opportunities and experiences … so they can enjoy a greater quality of life."

Defined as the generation born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomers are more independent, said Anthony Deluise, senior manager with AARP media relations. In surveys conducted by AARP, 74 percent of respondents exercised at least three days a week; 33 percent exercised at least five days a week, and nearly half had been exercising for more than five years.

Another study focused on the baby boomers turning 60 in 2006 revealed that when asked about personal goals, 87 percent of those who responded plan to make changes to take better care of their physical health.

To that end, the AARP launched a health and fitness Web site as a resource to help its more than 39 million members meet their health and fitness goals. Not only is it a resource to find more information on health and fitness, but through partnerships, members are eligible for discounts to Gold's Gym and Curves as well as on ACE personal trainers (www.aarpfitness.com).