Get ready to sweat in the new year. Topping the list of fitness trends for 2014 are two of the most active workouts available—high-intensity interval training and body weight training.
But if maximum effort isn’t your idea of fun, the rest of the list—pulled from an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) survey of over 3,800 fitness professionals worldwide—has something for everyone. Just don't expect any Zumba, Pilates, or barefoot running—sadly, these hot trends of recent years seem to be on the decline.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
The biggest surprise on the ACSM list was high-intensity interval training, which showed up for the first time this year and took the top spot. This type of exercise alternates short bursts of maximum activity with brief periods of rest or recovery. Most of these super-intense workouts are under 30 minutes, which is about all most people can handle.
Although it has been around for decades, HIIT has been surging in popularity thanks to the fitness industry's ability to repackage it into programs such as P90X and CrossFit. HIIT is well suited to young people who have been going to the gym for a long time and are looking for a challenge, but it’s not for everyone.
“For older people or those who are not accustomed to exercise—who think they can jump into a high-intensity interval training program—it’s probably not a good idea,” says Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, the author of the ACSM study.
Along with aerobic exercise and flexibility, strength training—number four on the ACSM list—is an integral part of a complete physical activity program. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days each week.
With the wide range of free weights and resistance exercise machines available, strength training is very popular in gyms, helping people to build and tone their muscles. But strength training is not just for young people. Increasingly, programs for seniors or people living with chronic conditions include some form of weight lifting.
Small Group Classes
Small group classes are “good for clients who are looking for personal training sessions but don’t have the money to continue with their personal training,” says Thompson. Several fitness trends in ACSM's list fall into this realm between one-on-one personal training sessions and overpopulated classes.
At number two is body weight training, a back-to-basics workout that requires minimal equipment, but now includes more interesting moves like Spiderman push-ups and lunge-to-dragon squats. Further down the list are small-group personal training and the military-inspired boot camp, both heavy on motivation and light on cost.
Exercise for the Rest of Us
Walk into most commercial fitness clubs, and you’ll see the typical gym demographic—20- to 30-year-olds. What you don’t see are people 55 years or older. And you don’t see children. This may change in the near future, says Thompson, as smarter fitness clubs tap into these segments of the population.
Already, specialized programs targeting these groups have popped up among the top fitness trends—such as fitness programs for older adults and functional fitness classes, which focus on exercises to help people accomplish everyday activities. Also included on the list are fitness classes for children—with an eye toward obesity prevention—and exercise incorporated into weight-loss programs for adults.
Qualified Fitness Professionals
While not an exercise by itself, this entry on ACSM's list highlights the importance of educated and experienced fitness professionals in helping people achieve their goals. Several states recognize this, as well, and are looking at licensing personal trainers, a move that should standardize their training.
“Whenever you’re talking about licenses for personal trainers,” says Thompson, “you have to talk about education—what are the requirements for education, what are the requirements for certification, and what are the requirements for experience?”
Although the number of fitness instructors is expected to increase 24 percent by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, finding qualified professionals will take a little more research. The ACSM suggests looking for instructors certified through programs that are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
Many Kinds of Yoga
Unlike Pilates, the stability ball, and Zumba—which dropped off ACSM’s list in previous years and have yet to return—yoga's influence remains strong. Thompson credits this to the yoga industry's ability to reinvent itself. Yoga is based on an ancient tradition of postures, breathing, and meditation, but has exploded into a wide range of styles—flow yoga, hot yoga, power yoga, yoga for athletes…even naked yoga and marijuana yoga.
“The point is, they change yoga so it retains its customer base,” says Thompson. “Where if you go into a Zumba class today, it’s the same as it was five years ago.”