Predicting a fitness trend can be an unpredictable business.
You might have thought, for example, that 2012’s biggest hit would be something related to the endeavours of our all-conquering Olympic heroes. Pentathlon, perhaps, or track cycling and long-distance running. But no, 2012 was actually the year we all decided to embrace Crossfit, the hardcore strength and conditioning programme held in enormous warehouse-style gyms.
Or what about 2013 when, after seven decades of waiting, we finally had our male Wimbledon Singles champion. Did we all dust down our tennis rackets? Or did we, instead, traipse to dance studios and seek fitness guidance from a Miley Cyrus-inspired ‘Twerk-out’?
What might seem like a maze of contradictions to us, though, comes as little surprise to fitness experts. At the end of every year, industry insiders use their knowledge and experience to judge what will be capturing the public’s active imagination in the coming 12 months, and what we all be enjoying - or enduring - at gyms, parks and dance studios across the country when the New Year resolutions finally kick in. Here’s a look at some new trends for 2014.
:: Small group training
The normal, ‘30-odd people jammed in a studio’ format of most gym classes can feel impersonal to your needs, difficult to book, and daunting if you’re not a regular. But next year there’ll be a move towards ‘small group personal training’, where personal trainers lead groups of only three to five clients. Combating the ‘one size fits all’ approach, small group personal training gives a more tailored programme for your body and fitness levels than the larger classes, but you still get the competitive motivation from working out with others, which gives it an edge over one-to-one personal training.
“People still want that personal service, but with the ability to share their experiences too,” explains Lee Matthews from Fitness First gyms (www.fitnessfirst.co.uk).
Exercises in a typical session tend to take the form of paired activities or small group games - which can be “tremendous fun as well as team-building”, adds John Williams, an expertise coach at David Lloyd Leisure (www.davidlloyd.co.uk).
“Calorie burn is dependent on the session,” says Williams. “But most small group training is designed in a circuit fashion, making it an effective way to burn calories. Other key health benefits include improved flexibility, strength and endurance, and cardiovascular fitness and stress reduction.”
:: High intensity interval training
In our time-poor modern world, lengthy workouts are falling out of favour. Very few of us have the spare hours, or the inclination, for endless trudging on the treadmill; we want to fit an effective workout in our lunch-break instead. Cue the unstoppable rise of ‘high intensity interval training’ (HIIT) - several short intense bursts of exercise, followed by periods of rest, contained in workouts of 10-30 minutes maximum.
“It is far more effective at burning calories both from carbohydrates and fat than low intensity, steady state exercise,” says Williams.
“Not only does it burn high amounts of calories in one short session, it also has a significant post workout calorie burn (or EPOC, Excess Post Oxygen Consumption) so you get double ‘bang for your buck’.”
This interval training has been on the radar of dedicated fitness followers for years, but it is now making its step over to the mainstream, with most personal trainers advocating it to their clients, and some gyms will now offer specific classes.
For example, Fitness First, will hold Tabata classes, “an intense four-minute workout, scientifically proven to be the most effective way to increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness”, while Virgin Active health clubs offer their new ‘24 MAXercise’ class - 24 high intensity exercises in 24 minutes.
While HIIT has its benefits, experts do advise that it should be approached sensibly, and not every workout session should be HIIT - Williams advises aiming for two to four sessions per week if you train regularly, and building up slowly if your body’s new to it.
:: Body weight training
Depending on your sex and the diameter of your biceps, the traditional weights area of a gym can be a terrifying place to linger. Thankfully, fitness experts are not only realising this, they’re also doing something about it. Body weight training is a new, but essentially very old and back-to-basics, concept of toning by using the most powerful tool we have - our own bodies.
“High-tech gadgets are getting pushed to one side,” says Matthews. “Body weight training means you use your own body as a form of resistance.”
Think ‘old school’ exercises; push-ups, press-ups and planks, which you can do in the comfort of your own home, garden or nearby park. Or, if you need someone telling you what to do, gyms are beginning to offer ‘minimalist’ classes too, like Virgin Active’s 30-minute GEAR3D.
If you’ve become too swayed by fancy gadgets and don’t think these simple exercises will work, take heed from a recent survey by The Gym, a budget gym operator. They interviewed 1000 of their members, asking what the best way to banish a belly was - 30% said crunch sit-ups, 23% said normal sit-ups and 22% said the plank - and the best way to tone glutes - 40% said the humble squat.
:: Playground style fun
Most of 2014’s fitness trends have a theme of simplicity and ‘back to basics’, and never is that clearer than in the emphasis on good, old-fashioned fun.
From tribal dance classes to specifically-designed ‘fitness playgrounds’, 2014 looks set to be the year we start smiling, instead of grimacing, when we exercise.
Take the new ‘freestyle’ areas at selected branches of Fitness First gyms, complete with monkey bars and primary coloured boxes, where you can follow a special ‘playground workout’.
“It replicates how we moved as children,” explains fitness expert, Tom Eastham. “Swinging across monkey bars not only brings the fun back into fitness, it’s also guaranteed to improve muscle tone, definition, and cardio fitness.”
In a similar way, the addictively enjoyable TRX Suspension Training is set to take the fitness world by storm next year - bright straps you attach to a high point, then use as a support to balance, lean and pull, using both gravity and your own body weight to build resistance.
The ultimate smile-raiser - dancing - is back with a vengeance too. Billed as ‘the next Zumba’, the phenomenally successful Latin American dance craze of 2012, comes Fierce, a South African tribal dance class, where participants are encouraged to “let loose as they tap into their warrior energy”.
If that sounds a little too embarrassing, FitSteps (fan.fitsteps.co.uk)is a new ‘fusion’ dance class blending Latin and Ballroom dances, and claims to burn up to 600 calories in one 45-minute class. Launched by Strictly Come Dancing stars Natalie Lower and Ian Waite, and former contestant - and world champion swimmer - Mark Foster, FitSteps wholly believes in the power of dance to make you feel good - “and because you’re having so much fun,” says Lowe simply, “you don’t even realise that you’re working every part of the body.”