Fit to Be Hip

A Look at the Latest Fitness Trends

By Dana Carman

Like most things, the business of fitness is an ever-evolving marketplace with new trends replacing old fads as quickly as you can say step aerobics. Some trends stick around long enough to become staples, but each year brings exercise machines and fitness techniques touted to be "the next big thing."

This year proves no different, except the next big things are a return to the basics—simple equipment or no equipment at all, a concentration on functional strength and group exercise, among others.

Regardless of what's hot and what's not, there emerged a clear message for 2008: Exercise itself is in. Getting healthy is in. With an emphasis on obesity often cited as the reason, fitness has changed from something only the fit do to something everyone can do, with a focus on fun programming to inspire the masses.

Get Out of the Box

The same old routine just isn't cutting it this year for a lot of people. According to Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), "It's not enough to just tell people, 'you're going to be healthy.' They want to enjoy the process."

What's more enjoyable than dancing? Dance classes are popping up all over the country—at both clubs and in smaller boutique studios, hearkening back to the days when aerobics was sweeping the nation. Though it may hurt to hear, yes, "Dancing with the Stars" has increased the public's interest in dancing for fitness. "The popularity and attention of 'Dancing with the Stars' and weight loss and improvements in fitness in that event have people looking at dance," Bryant said.

Executive Director of IDEA Health and Fitness Association Kathie Davis agreed, "'Dancing with the Stars' has been a huge influence," she said.

IDEA's annual Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey for 2007, which tracks equipment and fitness trends using a Web-based survey, has seen a consistent increase in dance offerings from the respondents. In the 2007 survey, 34 percent of the 225 respondents offered dance clubs, up from 31 percent the previous year and 27 percent in 2005, which was the year "Dancing with the Stars" launched. Perhaps the more telling figure according to the survey is that when asked if a program or activity was growing, staying the same or declining, 53 percent of respondents checked off that dance is growing.

At the Almaden Valley Athletic Club in San Jose, Calif., and in many others across the nation, Zumba is the name of the dance. Zumba combines high energy and a fusion of Latin and international music with dance routines that are a combination of aerobic and fitness interval training. According to its Web site (, it's designed to "maximize caloric output, fat burning and total body toning" and follows the principle that "a workout should be fun and easy to do."

While not all are gifted with grace of movement, club members don't have any reason to be intimidated by Zumba. "The neat thing about it is that it's fairly basic choreography so it's not that difficult to follow if you're new to it," said Becky Smothermon, director of group fitness and activities for the Almaden Valley Athletic Club. The club's Zumba class is so popular, 106 people attended it on Christmas Eve.

Maggie Walls engaged her passion for dance and fitness by starting what was a belly-dancing studio and now incorporates many types of dance—Latin, jazz, belly dance, ballet-inspired workouts—along with yoga and Pilates. "I think a lot of it is growing out of boredom," she said. "We have a lot of people who are seasoned workout people who like trying something new."

Walls' studio in Lawrenceville, Ga., aptly named Studio, has a class roster featuring more risqué options like Caliente (the "hot, hot, hot salsa workout" and PoleLaTeaz (pronounced like Pilates) which rents space from Walls and gives ladies the opportunity to try out the popular pole-dancing workouts. She noted that the edgier it sounds, the more people want try it.

Crunch Fitness, which practically invented edgy class-based workouts, like Strip Bar, offers an antigravity yoga class where yoga positions are performed on a hammock, along with a long list of dance classes, such as Ballroom Blitz, Broadway Dance or Awesome 80s Dance.

Dancing isn't the only group and cardio-based workout that's hot to trot, according to ACE, which also surveys its industry experts and predicts yearly trends, one of which was the increasing focus on "out of the box" workouts. Outdoor boot camps are also seeing numbers climb. Forty-six percent of the IDEA survey's respondents felt outdoor boot camps are growing, while 30 percent currently offer them.

"From a facility standpoint, it's great to take people outside," IDEA's Davis said. "Then they're not taking up space in the actual health club and you can run a boot camp and yoga at the same time."

Davis also noted that for personal trainers or fitness instructors who don't own a facility, offering an outdoor boot camp means they're up and running, literally, just like that.

Lastly, and not unimportant, Davis said, "People who are in an office all day really want to spend some time outside."

In addition to the great outdoors, boot camp classes take advantage of something many people find refreshing—nothing at all. Often boot camp classes take participants back to basics—pushups, running, drill types of workouts—and don't utilize much, if any, equipment.

"The old callisthenic-type things that we did as kids are still very effective conditioning options," Bryant said. "Some of these boot camp classes have helped remind people of these simple equipment-free types of workouts."

Keeping Your Fitness Club Fit

To keep up with all the latest trends in fitness
and exercise, visit these industry sources:

IDEA Health and Fitness Association:

American Council on Exercise:

International Health, Racquet
and Sportsclub Association

Time Is Money

Dance classes and outdoor boot camps offer new spins on older routines, but novelty is still very much "in" when it comes to fitness.

When a restaurant describes its cuisine as "fusion," you can assume it'll be a hip, long-wait-for-reservations hot spot in no time. The same can generally be said for fusion classes at health clubs and studios. Termed "hybrid programming" by ACE classes that fuse together two very different types of activity continue to draw participants.

Spin and yoga fuses together cardio and strength training for an hour of power that Dawnelle Arthur, owner and founder of Denver-based Seasons Mind and Body Fitness, said provides participants with the best of all worlds. "You have your cardio, strength, composition, stretch, endurance," she explained.

More, you also have time. "No one has time to do a 45-minute Spin then finish with a yoga class," Arthur said. Combining both into a half hour each for a one-hour full-body workout is perfect for busy lives.

This is also why rowing classes have gained in popularity. The rowing machine, once a tool only for the dedicated rower, has seen a lot more use in the form of organized classes, such as Rowbics, which is an indoor rowing program for clubs and studios. And studios dedicated to indoor rowing have popped up too, such as RowZone in rowing-centric Philadelphia.

Long thought of as an "arms only sport," it's actually a full-body cardio and strength workout. The rowing machine provides another benefit that equipment users like to see—low impact, which means joints can breathe easy.

Incorporating classes and equipment that provide full-body benefits offers members ways to fit through great workouts that take a lot less time—a win-win for everyone.

Tech-Savvy Kids Get Fit

Used in schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, family-oriented fitness centers and parks and recreation facilities across the nation, in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as in state-wide initiatives in North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana and Virginia, the HOPSports Training System marries physical fitness for kids with technology that suits their love of "screen time."

A multimedia, technology-driven physical education program, the HOPSports system is designed to entertain and engage both teachers and students, while encouraging them to get active and healthy. The system involves multiple screens and music, with presentations delivered via a projection system. Participants can get off their duff and exercise along with the presentation in sports-specific activities like baseball, tennis, swimming and more, while getting a dose of education on topics from anatomy to nutrition and more. And with the recent addition to the system of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), kids will be learning about heart health as well.

The American Heart Association estimates that 40,000 lives could be saved annually in the United States alone if AEDs were more widely available and could reach victims more quickly. While the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) has analyzed the research and concluded there is not a legal standard of care requiring AEDs to be present in all fitness centers, the association does encourage health club operators to consider the advantages of installing AEDs. What's more, some states—including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan, California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Louisiana, New York, Arkansas and Illinois—have passed legislation mandating placement of AEDs in health clubs, though the rules vary from state to state.

It isn't just baby boomers working out at the gym who are affected by cardiac issues necessitating the use of an AED, either. In the United States, an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 children die due to sudden cardiac arrest each year.

By including a defibrillator in each of its training systems and providing additional training content, HOPSports is helping kids learn about the prevalence of sudden cardiac arrest, as well as training them in CPR and defibrillator use.

"Including these defibrillators in our training system will help prepare students from across the country to respond to a sudden cardiac arrest emergency," said Cindy Sisson Hensley, CMO of HOPSports Inc.

For more information on the HOPSports Training System, visit

To learn more about AEDs in health clubs and the laws that apply in your state, visit IHRSA at

—Emily Tipping

One Size Does Not Fit All

In the old days, it was the gym was the gym was the gym. But no more. Gyms are health clubs, spas, social clubs, family clubs—often attempting to wrap all those things into one. With more niche markets, it's a natural progression to see clubs and studios catering to those markets popping up.

"There's a big underlying theme that we're calling customization," said Jim Zahniser, public relations manager for a leading equipment manufacturer. "Even within the type of clubs there are, there's a much more diverse mix of offerings."

Zahniser lists a few: 24-hour clubs, women's-only clubs (e.g., Curves), teen clubs, high-end clubs, no-frills clubs. And the list goes on.

"You're seeing a lot more individualization of the experience," Zahniser said. "We're seeing the large chains develop products or niche services to meet different needs."

One of those needs can be found at higher-end clubs that offer spa-type services and atmosphere. At Almaden Valley Athletic Club, the locker room is "incredibly luxurious," according to General Manager Sue Davis. It features Italian tile, Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas. The club also offers several types of massage. "For our demographics, it's very important," she said.

On the other end, Zahniser said no-services clubs and anytime fitness clubs are seeing growth. "People can come in and do what they want," he explained.

In all settings, however, one approach that has become universal is offering users a side of entertainment and/or technology with their fitness. While seeing televisions in the clubs is nothing new, it's becoming more and more common to find single pieces of equipment with televisions mounted on them for more personal viewing. Some new equipment is iPod-compatible, while other machines, such as a new line Almaden just purchased, can be programmed to a user's individual workouts and stored on a "Smart Key."

ACE reports that technology-based workouts are big with "consumers choosing to use downloadable programs to iPods, PDAs, etc."

Utilizing technology to assess current health and fitness levels is also a popular tool. "People can take advantage of various levels of technology," Bryant said. "Like in the area of weight control, where many people are motivated by body fat and can get better estimates of metabolism so they can come up with a plan for how many calories they should consume so they can maintain caloric balance."

But it's not just technology that people crave—they want to get lost in the movement, literally.

Nothing serves as a better distraction than television. Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming for Crunch Fitness, said that for its demographic, which tends to skew on the younger side, entertainment is huge.

"We like to merge entertainment with fitness," she said. In addition to Cardio Theater, Crunch has stationary bikes that feature virtual environments, where riders can ride side-by-side with a friend, race against a "ghost," change terrain and more. Another bike launches the Internet when you pedal. These options, says Cyrus, "make people feel like they're managing time and have the fun factor."

New equipment options may increase the exercise-meets-entertainment value even more. One stationary bike that made its debut in the fall of 2007 allows riders to play an interactive video game, racking up points as they ride—and sweat. Alternately, riders can simply pedal their way through dozens of different landscapes, ranging in level of difficulty.

Some Like It Hot
Popular Programming Picks

No matter how sizzling the design and decor, no matter how smoking the latest equipment, it is ultimately great classes and programming that keep patrons interested and coming back for more. The hottest fitness trends still include the ever-popular Pilates and yoga, while sport-specific training, weight-loss programs and packages including advice on nutrition, specialty classes like self-defense and group cycling, group personal training and spa treatments are also in the favorites lineup.

According to research conducted by Jan Schroeder, Ph.D., for the 12th IDEA Fitness Programs and Equipment Survey, fitness facilities are continuing to offer a wide range of fitness options, and that's a good thing. With the needs of consumers ranging from weight loss to addressing hyperkinetic disease, variety will provide something for everyone.

The hottest trends to note from the survey are the following:

  • Outdoor Exercise: Boot camps as well as standard classes like yoga are taking their members to the great outdoors for a fresh-air experience. Of facilities responding to the survey, outdoor sessions are reported to have increased from 26 percent to 60 percent since 2004. With more and more people confined for hours working in the office or at home, the desire to experience wind, sunshine and nature while getting in shape is a big attraction.
  • Personal Training: This ranks as the most frequently offered program, with personal training being most popular, followed by a growing number of small-group sessions to provide clients a more affordable alternative, while maintaining a personal touch.
  • Pilates & Yoga Fusion: These still highly popular classes are getting a slight makeover with the combination of mind-body formats like Pilates and tango, or yoga and ballet. Fusion is ranked among the top programs expected to grow.
  • Small Equipment Is Big: Stability balls, resistance tubing or bands, and balance equipment are all up dramatically since 2005, possibly due to their variety of uses in both personal training and group exercise.
  • Baby Boomer Loom: While only 53 percent of respondents said their facilities offer classes geared specifically to older adults, more savvy clubs are recognizing that this fastest-growing demographic will be attracted to "senior-sensitive" programs that can accommodate all ages. Programs that attract older patrons include yoga and Pilates, exercise for chronic conditions, senior classes and water fitness.
  • Group Fitness: The most frequently offered group exercise classes in order of popularity are strength training, Pilates, core conditioning, abdominals and yoga, with special attention being paid to growth in core-conditioning classes, indoor boot camp and dance-based classes.

—Kelli Anderson

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 (

Child's Play

Fitness for kids isn't a new idea, but it's increasingly an important one.

Celia Kibler says she's a big kid, which is part of the reason she started Funfit Family Fitness Center in 1987 along with her sister, Maddi Cheers. The other, much larger, part was that the sisters identified a strong need for a different kind of exercise program for kids.

The program originally started through Baltimore County Recreation where Kibler and Cheers were already fitness instructors for adults. Working with a cardiologist, orthopedic surgeon, speech pathologist and early childhood educator, Kibler and Cheers created Funfit, an exercise program for kids, but one that uniquely incorporated families. "We really wanted to create a program, not just for kids," Kibler said, "but to also include the parent so it would be a family program and so that they worked together. Parents are their strongest role models, so if parents are sitting around, there go the children. Our programs were created to counteract that effect."

Kibler was also concerned with making sure her exercise programs incorporated the element of fun. Not only are physical education classes being cut, leading to a more sedentary—and therefore more obese, less healthy—lifestyle for kids, but Kibler feels that most physical education classes aren't all that much fun and are designed for kids with sports ability rather than to encourage fitness habits. Regardless of their level of fun for most kids, she feels strongly that those along with arts classes should not be among the first to get cut when budgets get tight. "Children learn better when they're able to exercise and learn creatively," she said.

Enter Funfit. Classes are available for infants up to kids age 13. Babies start at 6 months in "Crawlers" classes that encourage movement, socialization, coordination and cognitive development, and incorporate music and stories. Toddler classes or "Tots," utilize hoops, streamers, parachutes and lots of movement and games to bring the heart rate up and keep it up for 20 minutes (after a warm-up), then cool down with a march or game, followed by a story-timed stretch.

"The majority of classes are 45 minutes long and are based on an interval training concept," Kibler said. "They go slow, get themselves warmed up, do a high-activity section, then cool down."

As the children age, the structure of the classes is basically the same, so that kids get the proper warm-up and cool-down. Older kids' fitness games include some of the more traditional, such as dodgeball, tag, stick hockey and soccer play, but all are integrated within the framework of a non-competitive, stress-free, fitness-encouraging environment.

Funfit also offers a yoga program, Kung Fu and a weight circuit, which utilizes hydraulic equipment so there is no fixed load against kids' muscular or skeletal systems. (In other words, it won't put pressure on their joints or growth plates, which is why kids aren't allowed to work out in health clubs until they're fully developed.) Music and arts class are also on the roster, and special needs children are encouraged to participate in all activities.

The "Circuit" is always open and parents can take advantage of it as well. While the emphasis at Funfit is on fitness mixed with fun for a high-energy yet entertaining workout for kids, parents are a big part of the recipe for success. For the toddler classes, parent participation is required. In the older age groups, parents are encouraged to join.

Kibler said that parents get their workouts too, as well as socialization—for both groups. "It's just a lot more fun," she said. "And you fit in your workout."

She noted that in the older kids' yoga class, no parent is required, and every parent in the class participates. Another unique spin to Funfit: Families pay per child not per child plus additional cost for a parent. "I really believe it's good for them," Kibler said, "and good for their kid."

For more information, visit

Your Workout or Mine?

Utilizing personal training services, often a first stop on the "how to start getting fit" train is still a top way to go for many, but the larger trend in personal training is group sessions. It's a bargain for both the trainer and the clients.

"What the personal trainers are realizing," Bryant explained, "is that they can expand their reach by making it more affordable to a wider range of people by offering semi-private lessons, while it's less expensive for the individual. It's still very worthwhile for the trainer from a revenue standpoint, so it's letting them attract and appeal to a much broader range of individuals based on economics."

While it's a less expensive option to train together as a group, clients also get to spend (precious) time with the person or people they're training with. IDEA's Davis used to train with her husband, and now she trains with her daughter. "It's more fun to do it with someone else," she said. "Not only are you saving money, but you have the added benefit of that camaraderie."

Fitness enthusiasts will dance through the year and possibly into next (depending on the success of a certain television show perhaps). They'll continue to zone out to the tube on equipment (and therefore spend more time working out). Building strength for better living is all the rage, and more people will partner up for personal training.

The thread woven through the fabric of this year's trends is: People don't want to be bored with the same old workout. Clubs and studios need to offer participants fun and engaging fitness opportunities—even if it's not necessarily a new fad. If it's new to them, they want it. "We in the fitness industry really have the challenge of coming up with activities that are engaging and effective strategies," Bryant says, "because the reality is people will find the time to do those things they find fun and engaging."

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