Feature Article - February 2017
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Workout 2017

Making Americans Fit Again

By Rick Dandes

Fitness programs have come a long way from the days of Richard Simmons' enormously popular "Sweating to the Oldies" group exercise program. That was 25 years ago. In the time since, "The landscape of fitness, in general, has changed with the increase of boutique studios, small-group training programming and more convenient methods of getting your sweat on," said Shannon Fable, health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The pace of that change is accelerating. Now, even those joyous, fun Zumba workouts, which were all the rage in recreation facilities and private commercial health clubs just a few years ago, have begun to fade in popularity, giving way to more extreme activities like high intensity interval training (HIIT) and group-oriented programs like boot camps.

That's partly what the American College of Sports Medicine's 11th annual survey of fitness trends reported, said Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, the lead author of the survey and associate dean in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta. What the survey revealed, he said, is that while Americans will continue to use traditional exercise routines such as indoor cycling, interval training, group fitness classes and other calorie-burning activities, in 2017, body weight training and high-intensity interval training will be huge.

Fitness needs to be more than just a popular social lifestyle choice. It's much more important than that. Programs need to be effective in promoting a healthy lifestyle that shows results. With 69 percent of American adults now classified as either overweight (33 percent) or obese (36 percent), and with the annual healthcare cost of obesity now estimated to be up to $210 million, according to the latest data released by the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association (IHRSA), "the entire American medical establishment is emphasizing the necessity of regular exercise as never before," said Meredith Poppler, IHRSA vice president, communication and engagement.

Let's face it, said Beth Taylor Mack, director of health behavior and wellness at YMCA of the USA, "Up until this point, we've all been failing, if you look at the national obesity rate. Really, none of us, whether it is a fitness club, the YMCA or the medical community … we're all not doing our jobs the right way because we still have these obesity rates."

A Fitter America: Programming Trends in Transition

The fitness-program community, from private health clubs to nonprofits like the YMCA to public facilities like park district fitness centers, have their own ideas on how to deal with this problem, and attract membership.

Fitness programs have come a long way from the days of Richard Simmons' enormously popular "Sweating to the Oldies" group exercise program.

Certainly technology, connectivity and interactivity dominate discussions about fitness trends these days. Digital products, mobile applications and wearables may still be in their infancy, but will continue to grow in both sophistication and selection.

"Make no mistake about it, though," said Shawna Doerksen, health behavior consultant with SDC Insights, of State College, Pa., "technological advances really do help, and they're here to stay. People can use technology to help track behaviors and goals."

Organizations that offer fitness and wellness programs should seriously consider having a technology component, Doerksen contends. "If an organization has a mobile application, they can use it to help consumers track the schedule and add classes, and organizations can use that tool to increase motivation. The health data collected by wearable technology can be used to inform the user about their current fitness level and help them make healthier lifestyle choices."

That can be especially helpful once people start to lose interest and drop out, often in the first weeks to months of joining a club, Thompson said. "There are many motivational tools that can be effectively implemented using technology, including goal-setting, self-efficacy and planning. Pairing these health promotion techniques with health/fitness offerings is a winning combination."

The ACSM's annual trend report clearly rates wearable fitness technology as the top trend in 2017. Beyond that, Thompson said, "the second biggest trend we're looking at in 2017 is body-weight training." This is the most popular form of exercise regardless of location, whether commercial for-profit club, community-based, such as YMCA, JCC, recreation centers, corporate wellness centers, and clinical programs, he explained.

Types of body-weight activities can include the jump squat, various forms of pull-ups, dips, crab-walk, forward and backward sprints, burpees and leg raises—any activity that uses the body's weight itself as the form of resistance.

Thompson was surprised to see this so high on the ACSM trend list. "My guess is that clubs, particularly commercial for-profit facilities, are interested in driving revenue," he said. "They want to capture more members, but they also want to develop programs that are fun and capture the imagination of folks who want to pay for memberships."