The hottest fitness trends of 2015

Based on ancient tradition, yoga utilises a series of specific postures practised for health and relaxation.
PHOTO: The hottest fitness trends of 2015

If you are searching for the newest workout fad for this year, look no further than your body.

Bodyweight training, using your own weight as a source of resistance, is hot, said a survey on fitness trends this year by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It climbed from second spot to top the list.

On its heels is high-intensity interval training (Hiit), which had topped the list last year.

This is followed by the rising demand for educated and experienced fitness professionals, a trend that has remained steady.

The survey was completed by more than 3,400 health and fitness professionals worldwide.

Mr Christian Mason, director of Virgin Active gym in South-east Asia, believes that the first two exercise trends are still gaining momentum globally and will definitely be popular in Singapore.

Zuu, a high-intensity workout that mimics animal movements and uses only one's bodyweight, has remained popular since it was introduced at Virgin Active here in October 2013, he said. Attendance rate is 90 to 95 per cent for each class, which lasts 30 to 45 minutes.

"Singaporeans are similar to the Westerners in their health and fitness habits - they are short of time and eager for results," observed Mr Mason.

That is why Hiit training, with its ability to burn calories and produce results in a shorter time span, is generally well-received.

Thirty Hiit, a 30-minute high-intensity, circuit-training workout, has been such a "phenomenal success" at Virgin Active Singapore that the gym was inspired to devise and launch a new Hiit programme worldwide, he said.

The new workout, called Grid, will be offered at its Raffles Place club next month. The 30- to 45-minute session features six primal movement patterns - push, pull, bend, twist, squat and lunge.

Indeed, it is not just about the workout, but also about its duration.

"We are seeing a greater demand for 'express workouts' that deliver results in a short period of time," said Mr Percy Reynolds, head of fitness at Fitness First Singapore.

He forecasted that 30-minute classes would continue to be a hit in Singapore, given the growing pool of fitness-conscious working professionals with busy lifestyles.

IN WITH THE OLD

It is no surprise that new programmes typically attract more attention, but bodyweight training actually has a long history.

"People have been using their own body weight for centuries as a form of resistance training," said said ACSM in its press release for the survey last October.

"But new packaging, particularly by commercial clubs, has now made it popular in all kinds of gyms."

Mr Nelson Chong, founder of the Functional Training Institute, a fitness centre in Queen Street, said bodyweight training has long been practised by martial arts experts.

These include the single leg squats, hand stands, clapping push ups and plyometric jumps.

Today, this form of training can be seen in various exercises, such as yoga, pilates and gymnastics.

However, trends which were hot not too long ago, such as pilates, indoor cycling and the Latin-inspired dance workout Zumba, failed to claim a spot in the top 20 of this year's list of 39 exercise trends.

WHAT IS TRENDY HERE

Fitness technology, which is missing from the ACSM's top 20 list, is likely to see continued growth here, predicted Mr Mason and Mr Reynolds.

In Mr Reynolds' view, fitness measurement metrics, especially mobile tracking tools that enable people to keep tabs on their fitness on the go, will be big.

Fitness First is, for instance, developing more ways for their members to track their fitness levels, including an assessment tool that uses a series of fitness tests to determine a person's biological age, which they can then compare with their actual age, he said.

Mr Mason said apps or wearable technology that give feedback about one's lifestyle habits will be popular.

"It's not just how many steps you take, but (something) more holistic in nature, such as looking at your sleep, mindfulness, stress and nutrition, for example," he said.

With more people embracing fitness, Dr Roger Tian, a consultant sports physician at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and Changi Sports Medicine Centre, is predicting that more people will be going on "sporting vacations" to participate in overseas sports events, such as marathons, triathlons and bike races.

Functional training workouts, mimicking the way we move in daily life and targeting multiple muscle groups at one time, are also likely to be trendy here this year, he said.

Mr Chong said functional training has been gaining popularity over the last five years, with both boutique and mega gyms riding on the trend.

At his gym, his client base has risen from 200 about five years ago to more than 1,000 now.

A functional trainer with a deep knowledge of movement dysfunction can help one to achieve optimum health and fitness through good body balance and alignment. This helps to keep musculoskeletal issues - such as knee pain, frozen shoulders and slipped discs - at bay, said Mr Chong.

On the flip side, while there are many qualified and experienced fitness professionals, not many are adept at designing age-appropriate exercise programmes for different groups of the population, said

Ms Tong Yuyan, an exercise physiologist and trainer from Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.

For instance, there is a lack of fitness programmes tailored for the elderly, she noted. Such workouts may focus on boosting one's muscle mass and flexibility, as these qualities diminish with age.

"In addition, there is a need for fitness professionals and doctors to collaborate closely to provide holistic health care for people with chronic conditions; to ensure that a training programme is safe for them to carry out," she added.

Work that body

Here are the top 10 fitness trends according to the American College of Sports Medicine's worldwide survey for this year:

1 BODYWEIGHT TRAINING

What it is: As the name suggests, one's body weight is used as the source of resistance. Little or no equipment is used, making it convenient and affordable.

Why bother: Performed correctly as part of an all-round health and fitness programme, it improves muscle strength and coordination, helping to improve one's quality of life and prevent injuries, said Dr Roger Tian, a consultant sports physician at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre and the Changi Sports Medicine Centre.

Take care: Exercises done in a position where the head is lower than the body greatly increase blood pressure in the head and should be avoided by those with hypertension, diabetes, eye disorders or people who have had a stroke.

Be aware of great stress on the shoulders and knees, said Dr Tian.

One may face a higher risk of shoulder injuries, such as rotator cuff tendinosis and tears, as well as trauma to the cartilage and menisci - the areas of cartilage tissue that act as shock absorbers - in the knees.

2 HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (Hiit)

What it is: Short bursts of activity followed by a short period of rest or recovery. These workouts are usually performed in 30 minutes or less.

Why bother: It can be an adjunct for those seeking to improve their sports performance, or who want to optimise whatever scant time they have for exercise, said Dr Tian.

Take care: As one's heart rate can easily reach 90 per cent or more during Hiit, those with underlying medical conditions or who are unfit should avoid it. Participants aged 35 years and above, or those with a family history of heart disease and metabolic disorders, should first seek clearance from a medical professional, he added.

3 EDUCATED AND EXPERIENCED FITNESS PROFESSIONALS

What is it: Demand for such fitness professionals continues to climb.

Why bother: Having a sound understanding of what, why and how an individual responds to certain exercises will enable the trainer to set realistic training goals for you and to help you achieve those goals through an individualised exercise programme, said Ms Tong Yuyan, an exercise physiologist and trainer at Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.

Take care: Fitness professionals should always keep abreast of the latest research and fitness trends to provide better advice to their clients. Most importantly, they should be able to demonstrate and guide their clients on proper exercise techniques to minimise the risk of injuries, said Ms Tong.

4 STRENGTH TRAINING

What it is: An essential part of a complete exercise programme for men and women of all physical activity levels.

Why bother: It prepares the body for the rigours of sport. It not only improves performance, but can also reduce the risk of injury, said Dr Tian.

Take care: Avoid holding your breath and straining yourself when lifting weights, he advised.

When done excessively and ignorantly, it can result in neck and shoulder pain or injury.

Flexibility training, such as stretching or yoga, should be incorporated into the routine, as well as regular cardiovascular exercise, to prevent one from becoming stiff and clumsy, said Mr Nelson Chong, founder of the Functional Training Institute.

5 PERSONAL TRAINING

What it is: Education, training and proper credentials for personal trainers are increasingly important to the health and fitness facilities that employ them.

Why bother: Trainers can empower clients to take charge of their lives, said Mr Chong.

Take care: Do not hire one randomly. Nowadays, trainers are expected to have at least a recognised certification - for instance, by the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the American Council on Exercise. Some may hold a degree related to exercise or sports science, said Ms Tong.

6 EXERCISE AND WEIGHT LOSS

What it is: Providers of weight-loss programmes are increasingly incorporating regular exercise and calorie restrictions for their clients.

Why bother: Losing weight and keeping it off requires one to expend more calories than one consumes. Exercise is an important part of the equation.

Regular exercise can also help one to maintain muscle mass during a weight-loss programme, said Dr Tian.

Take care: Those who are grossly overweight or who have joint problems should avoid high-impact exercise such as running, skipping and jumping, he said.

7 YOGA

What it is: Based on ancient tradition, yoga utilises a series of specific postures practised for health and relaxation. There are many schools.

Why bother: It involves some functional-training components and it trains the mind, body and spirit. You can practise it any time and anywhere, said Mr Chong.

Take care: Many yoga asanas or positions involve the knee being placed in a flexed position, putting a great load on the knee's menisci and cartilage. Asanas that involve the hyperextension or flexion of the spine can damage the facet joints and discs in the lumbar spine, said Dr Tian.

8 FITNESS PROGRAMMES FOR OLDER ADULTS

What it is: Age-appropriate and safe fitness programmes to keep older adults healthy and active.

Why bother: Regular physical activity is an important part of active ageing, as it improves one's quality of life. It also reduces the risk of falls and slows the rate of loss of both muscle and bone mass, which occurs during ageing, said Dr Tian.

Functional training may be useful here, as it can help the elderly regain qualities that make daily living easier, such as cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility, said Mr Chong.

Take care: Proper footwear is all the more important for the elderly. If they wear the wrong shoes, they may trip and fall. Some older adults like to wear loose-fitting shoes, but shoes should have a snug fit.

Before embarking on a new exercise programme, elderly folk should undergo a proper movement screening - to determine their flexibility, for instance. This will help the trainer customise the programme for them or advise them on what exercises to go for, said Mr Chong.

9 FUNCTIONAL FITNESS

What it is: Using strength training to improve one's balance and ease of daily living. Closely related to special fitness programmes for older adults.

Why bother: It is aimed at making one stronger and more able to perform activities in daily life, said Ms Tong.

Take care: A certain level of fitness is required. Before performing explosive exercises - such as sprinting, jumping, twisting and lunging - that mimic everyday movements, build up your strength or address any muscle imbalance to ensure the workout's effectiveness. This can also reduce the risk of injury, she added.

10 GROUP PERSONAL TRAINING

What it is: Training two or three people at a time makes economic sense for the trainer and the clients.

Why bother: You get mutual encouragement, support and other benefits, which improve compliance with an exercise programme, said Dr Tian.

Take care: Group members may have different fitness and exercise levels. This makes it risky for the weaker members too who may try to match the performance of their "stronger" peers, said Dr Tian.

Some may also have specific musculoskeletal or medical conditions that require an exercise or technique to be modified, which may not be possible in big groups, he added.

Besides, there is no "one-size-fits-all" regimen, said Ms Tong. As training goals, fitness status and skills differ from person to person, there is a need to apply some individualisation to group training for it to be effective. Before you join a group, speak to the group trainer about your goals and health or fitness concerns, she suggested.

joyceteo@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 8, 2015.
Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.