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Fitness trends of 2012

Which will fizzle and which will sizzle in 2013?

By Virginia Betz

fitTo call it the “fitness industry” is no misnomer; fitness professionals are continually challenged to come up with new product – new ways to get fit. Fitness junkies get bored with the same old-same old, while exercise resisters require the lure of the chic and unique. Belly dancing has had a fairly long run, but nowadays seems on the decline, whereas a pole dancing-derived aerobics class went “splat” almost before it started. LPM takes a look at some of 2012’s successful exercise innovations, and leaves it to you to predict their likely longevity.

Hot yoga

It would seem to defy common sense, but here in the Valley, where saunas are largely absent from your average fitness facility, hot yoga has been warmly embraced. Hot yoga is simply a 60- to 90-minute yoga class conducted in a room kept at a temperature between 95 and 100 degrees F, and sometimes a bit higher. Various class formats can be followed, although most usually a vinyasa (flowing) style is emphasized that consists of a predetermined sequence of poses, such Bikram or Moksha yoga. The result is, not surprisingly, a very warm body and profuse sweating. Devotees of hot yoga claim that the program leaves them highly energized, while others report numerous therapeutic benefits, such as relief from chronic muscle and joint soreness. You’ll have to give it a try to find out what wonders it will do for you. A long list of studios offering some form of hot yoga in the Greater Phoenix metro area can be found at healyoufirst.com/hotyogaclasses.html

Zumba sentao

Begun in 2001, Zumba Fitness®  has been the 21st century’s most successful exercise program, the one that incorporates dance moves and Latin rhythms. No “phenom” lasts forever, however, and no one knows that better than Zumba founder, Beto Perez, who is constantly finding new ways to make it fresh. There’s Aqua Zumba, Zumba Toning, Zumbatomic for kids, and Zumba Gold for the getting-on-in-years. The latest addition to the “party fitness” line-up, Zumba sentao, is translated as “Chair Zumba” – and what  could sound duller? But, the chairs aren’t for sitting; they are used as supports so that participants can perform strength- and stability-building exercises using their own body weight in order to activate muscle groups in a way not possible with “standing” routines. Zumba sentao is completely choreographed and high in cardio. You’ll never dance with a lampshade again!

Pound aerobics

If a pas de deux with a chair doesn’t strike your fancy, pound aerobics offers another way of integrating upper and lower body exercises. Participants grab a pair of sticks and those over-sized, inflatable body (or resistance) balls do double-duty as drums. The beating of balls and clacking of sticks are combined with calisthenics and dance moves; these classes are a guaranteed high-calorie burn. Interacting with others is also part of the fun. Instructors rave about the bonding power of group drumming and the psychic benefits this brand of stress relief bestows. 

Barefoot running

A few years back, the clownish “toe shoes” began to appear, a seeming affectation of the Birkenstock crowd – a proclamation of their wearers’ “naturalness.” Quite rapidly, however, serious runners started to take the shoes seriously, and, in 2012, “barefoot” running shoes became ubiquitous in fitness settings. Their rapid adoption begs the question – is there a “right” and a “wrong” way to run? 

Converts argue that it can be difficult for the uninitiated to appreciate the advantages of barefoot running, especially its superior biomechanical efficiency, because shoes have spoiled us, weakening the foot muscles as well as encouraging runners to maximize the landing force on the heel (heel striking), the primary source of running-related injuries. According to the Harvard University’s Skeletal Biology Lab website (barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu), it is true that barefoot runners land with a midfoot or forefoot strike, which allows them to run on hard surfaces with little discomfort. Shoe-less running would seem to lead to lower impact forces, but, advises the Lab’s director, Daniel Lieberman, “this hypothesis has yet to be tested and … there have been no direct studies on the efficacy of forefoot strike running or barefoot running on injury.”

The more obvious danger of barefoot running, however, is not repetitive stress injury, but the plethora of ouch-y objects and ick-y substances with which the unshod foot is likely to come into contact. “Minimal shoes” are the answer, designed to mimic the contour and flexibility of the foot’s actual sole while offering a modicum of protection. Numerous options are on the market, from the “foot glove” that resembles a more traditional lace-up trail shoe from above to the “five-finger” models that definitely make a statement. Unfortunately, the “minimal” stops at the price; you pay as much for no padding and no support as you would for a high quality running shoe.

One website describes barefoot runners as “a fundamentally different group of people … laid back and open-minded, … [who] prefer light-hearted runs.” One safe bet is that, if the trend gains momentum, this stereotype is bound to change.

Neon

Neon is one of those style trends that never seems to go away, but never really takes off either. But, in 2012, neon finally found its fashion home – in the gym. Perhaps in an environment in which most people are in motion most of the time, the glaring brightness of neon is less visually painful. Even the men, in the aggregate ever so slow to change their dress code, are sporting neon, especially in the footwear department. Orange, yellow and electric blue seem most popular with the boys, while girls favor lime green, coral and hot pink.

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This Article appears on the January 2013 issue of LPM under Fitness

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