2004 fitness forecasts offer 'get up and go'

Programs target the time-crunched and the sedentary

Health & Fitness

January 04, 2004|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,Special to the Sun

Whether you're an exercise nut or a couch potato, the inspiration to get fit and stay fit might be found in this year's predicted fitness trends.

The annual forecast by the American Council on Exercise, one of the nation's leading fitness industry groups, surveys personal trainers to find out what their customers want.

This year promises something for everyone, an important point considering that more than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, said Cedric Bryant, ACE's chief exercise physiologist.

"People are looking for alternatives to the time pressures and stressed environments in which we are living," Bryant explained. "The emphasis is on time-efficient strategies with meaningful results for people of all fitness levels."

Is your schedule too crunched for crunches? Look for health clubs that offer 30-minute or on-the-go workouts for hotel rooms and airports.

Too stressed to clear your mind? Try yoga or Pilates. Or take a hybrid class that blends a traditional sweat-drenching workout with new techniques, like a cool-down meditation.

And for those who are ready to peel themselves off the couch, there are more tracks, trails and fitness Web sites than ever before.

"The message this year is, get up and get moving," Bryant said. "Any little bit helps."

Here are some of the ACE fitness forecasts for 2004:

* More time-starved Americans will find quick, efficient exercise programs.

"Lack of time is the most popular excuse for not exercising," said Luth-erville trainer Stephen Holt, ACE's 2003 personal trainer of the year.

Trainers and health clubs will design short, high-intensity workouts such as interval training, which is a 20- to 30-minute mix of high- and low-intensity bursts of movement. Clubs are also creating quick, portable programs for hotel rooms and offices that use chairs, stairs or walls for strength building.

* Clubs and trainers will fuse traditional workouts with mind / body programs, because more people are seeking both spiritual and mental fitness.

"People are looking for a more intellectual level to working out," said Wallis M. Mason, director of Studio 1 Pilates n Movement in Towson.

The hottest classes continue to be yoga and Pilates, which focus on proper posture, deep breathing and body awareness for strength, relaxation and flexibility.

Even hard-core gyms are adding some kind of relaxation or stretching element to their traditional offerings. This month, for example, Gold's Gym in Frederick will offer Bodyflow, a class that blends Eastern and Western strength-training techniques.

* Functional fitness will become more important. The term refers to working muscles in groups rather than in isolation. Functional fitness focuses on movements that help people perform everyday activities rather than simply bulk up muscles.

"It's about time that we all stopped training like bodybuilders," Holt said, "especially since most of us don't want to look like bodybuilders."

At Brick Bodies clubs in the area, for example, clients can use a Bosu ball -- a plastic dome -- to help stabilize muscles and joints, which provides better posture, flatter abs and a stronger back.

* "Smarter" fitness equipment will appear on the market. Look for high-tech machines that gives sophisticated feedback -- from lactic acid build-up measurements to tailored workouts for stress reduction or event training, Bryant said.

Much of this equipment is still being designed, he noted, or is expensive if you can get it. But high-tech is available. For example, Fitsync (www.fitsync.com) offers a Palm- and Web-based workout and "results-tracker" for about $40.

Manufacturers also will respond to the need for short, portable workouts by providing equipment that can be unfolded in airports and offices, Bryant added.

* More programs will be geared toward getting the sedentary moving. Take advantage of your community fitness center or outdoor bike trail, Bryant suggested.

Holt advises clients to consider online fitness programs, such as www.allwalks.com, that design tailored walking regimens.

* More people will turn to coaches and trainers to help overcome stress and anxiety, or to increase fitness levels.

Barbara Fox of Fox Performance Coaching Institute in Greenbelt coaches executives who feel that if they don't play golf well with a client, they won't succeed at anything in life. "Business is booming," she said.

ACE also predicts that:

* Health clubs will focus on fitness that accommodates baby boomers.

* More Americans will tire of diets and weight-loss gimmicks and will return to nutrition basics.

* More health care providers will pay for club memberships as part of preventative lifestyle programs.

* More clubs will offer more pay-as-you-go pricing rather than lengthy contracts.

How to get started

If you're one of the millions of Americans who vowed to get fit this year but aren't sure how to accomplish your goal, some of the country's top fitness gurus offer advice to starting and sticking with a workout routine:

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