Fit to Be Tried
Fletcher Pilates instructor Kimberly Schmitz reports on some of the trends in the world of fitness.
Vibrating belts, hula hoops, Thigh-masters, Sweatin’ to the Oldies, shaker weights, Jazzercize — the list of fitness fads is long and distinguished. Sometime in the 1980s our favorite celebs got into the fitness game, flexing and demonstrating on daytime and late-night TV. Most people likely watched infomercials and thought seriously about a Bowflex or working out like Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley on the Total Gym. (Work with us here, Millennials and Gen Z!)
The point is that every year we bear witness to new fitness trends, some of which have little efficacy or longevity. Bruh, CrossFit is so last decade, amiright? Perhaps some trends are a bit … out of our comfort zone (we’re looking at you stripper pole aerobics and nude yoga). But we love them. Sometimes those off-the-wall trends bring newbies to exercise, and once hooked, the wide, wide world of modalities to get that body moving, toned up, and tuned in is their oyster.
This year we watch some insanely cool, never before possible trends emerge while also seeing what’s old re-surface as hip and trendy. To plug in or to unplug, that is the question. Turns out, there’s an option for just about every answer.
Let’s Get Digital
One of the currently most talked-about trends for the techno-savvy is the smart exercise mirror home gym system (such as Mirror or Echelon). The apparatus looks like, and serves as, a near full-length mirror that can be propped or hung on a wall. A little electricity, strong WiFi, a heart-rate monitor, room to move and a monthly membership to access hundreds of live and pre-recorded sweat sessions are all one needs to plug in and work out with this buzz-worthy trend. Users can access “world-class” trainers that display on the screen to demonstrate and motivate several exercise techniques. The mirror systems allow users to view their own form and easily snap selfies for social media posts. During live classes trainers can see users’ heart rate effort and encourage them to step it up or cool down as appropriate. Yoga, boxing, weight training and other classes are available with a variety of
experience-level appropriate options. The systems are marketed toward busy people longing for boutique gym-quality workouts in the comfort and convenience of their own homes. Multiple users can have separate accounts for each subscription, which makes it nice for families and co-habitators. Reviews of the product seem to skew positive. They’re sleek, cool, about as plugged in as plugged in gets, and super hot in the fitness world right now. Depending on the brand, users will drop at least $1k on a mirror system plus the $40ish/month subscription fee.
For a slightly old “old school” approach with an updated twist, indoor cycles, rowing machines and treadmills can now take you just about anywhere without leaving home, thanks to WiFi and a little creativity. The technology isn’t brand new but plugged in single-modality equipment fandom is reaching a feverish pitch.
A few years ago, Peloton made quite the splash for spin (stationary cycling) enthusiasts craving the competition and encouragement of a class setting with the convenience of not having to wear pants (not suggested, BTW). A screen mounted to the front of the bike allows riders to be part of pre-recorded or live spin classes with on-demand instructors. Robert Medler, VP of government affairs at Tucson Metro Chamber, is an avid cyclist for whom family and work priorities supercede hitting the road on his bike. Last year Medler convinced his wife Bonnie (an avid runner), to get on board with a Peloton. “It took me a couple of months to lobby but now she uses it more than I do,” he says. “It’s helped with my road cycling as I’m riding more consistently. On the weekend it’s easy for us to hop on during our child’s naptime, to make sure we are taking care of our bodies.” With regard to the subscription service, Medler explains, “The classes make the bike. Hands down. The interaction and the variety are awesome. There are thousands of options for whatever mood you are in. You really don’t have an excuse not to hop on the bike and have a good time. If you want to exert yourself, there are those options, too.”
Not a cyclist? Not a problem. Treadmills have joined the virtual reality exercise game. Tracey Junker, an Oro Valley wife, mother of four, middle school teacher, and owner/president of Healthy Wife/ Healthy Life, LLC, received a NordicTrack T-series treadmill as a gift from her husband. The accompanying subscription allows users to take live and recorded classes as well as virtual tours around the world. Even the tours can add a competitive edge with leaderboards populated by other users also online. “Yesterday I hiked in Iberia. There were 800 people doing the same thing and I was in 82nd place. It’s cool because you can compete,” Tracey comments. “The biggest thing is the scenery. I can hike in Costa Rica, then the next day be in England taking a Jack the Ripper tour. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m doing a workout. The elevation and speed changes. I’m really learning a lot about different places. It’s an educational workout!” Tracey also appreciates that her kids are experiencing health- centered online activities. Her tween son, Coen, hops on to hike through the Grand Canyon a couple nights a week when his mom and high-schooler sister aren’t touring the world on it.
There is now a healthy array of brands and apparatuses available to plug in and work out at home. Stationary bikes, treadmills, rowing machines,
different price points and with varying options. There are myriad smart phone/tablet apps that can be used with less tech-y equipment to offer similar sensory experiences with varying levels of interactivity.
Fitness seekers searching for live and über-personalized virtual training experiences now are able to access trainers and master teachers from afar via live video chat. Jonathan Marshall, NSCA-CPT, DVRT, CST, holds 26 national titles, six world titles, and a third place Mr. Olympia Pro title in powerlifting, and is co-owner/president of Unbreakable Gear. He is a personal trainer at Power and Exercise Fitness Center who also virtually coaches 15-20 lifters across the country. Every week he sends virtual clients personalized regimens and has them send him videos of their lifts so he can help analyze and guide progress and form. Kyria Sabin, Master Pilates Instructor and owner/operator of Body Works Pilates and Fletcher School of Pilates, travels the world to offer workshops and training to Pilates practitioners and instructors. When she isn’t guiding clients in private sessions at Body Works/Fletcher Pilates World headquarters in Tucson, she offers video call private sessions. She personally works with 5-10 virtual clients a week (from the U.S. Midwest to India, Dubai, Spain, and Brazil) while other Fletcher master teachers guide another 15 (or so) through Pilates practices. “These clients must have a solid base in the work to really understand the cueing since we can’t offer hands-on guidance. For those who do, this process works very well,” Sabin observes.
Plugging in for some precisely personalized training is certainly an option. Yet it’s important to note that Sabin strongly suggests clients have moderate to intensive in-person experience to be able to progress with virtual instruction. Similarly, Marshall offers a caveat to thoroughly vet online trainers to ensure competence and capability. He stresses the importance to, “Interview someone first. A lot of people have certifications, but you want someone who has real background and good references. I see that with online coaching now. Someone does great in a competition and the next week they are online as a coach.”
For those who like to plug in publicly, boutique multi-modality gyms continue to trend hotter by the moment as competition develops. OrangeTheory isn’t really new, but its popularity is surely growing. OT clients make appointments to get into one-hour classes through which they are guided by a live-and-in-person trainer on a treadmill, a rower, and floor-based strength training for 20 minutes for each form of exercise. The motivating factor is that each participant wears a heart rate monitor and has their effort broadcast to the entire class via a leaderboard. Company marketing states that workouts can be adjusted for fitness level/abilities, i.e., speed walking vs. running.
Speaking of competition, Tucson will see the arrival of SPENGA on the Northwest side near Oracle and Magee Roads in April. SPENGA offers a 20/20/20 minute combination of spin, strength training, and yoga. After the boutique club’s initial opening, there will be specialty single and combination classes, featuring one or two of the modules on the schedule. The Chicago-based franchise is giving OT a run (or ride)
were avid OT-goers). “Our family has been part of the Tucson business community for 20 years and we are excited to bring SPENGA to our hometown,” states Maria. “[It’s] an uncomplicated and unrivaled approach to fitness. We look forward to continuing to create deeper and meaningful relationships within the community through a positive, high-energy atmosphere using spin, strength and yoga. Ride, Rep and Revive!” Whether you’re into run/row/ strength, or spin/strength/yoga, there is a hot, trendy, competitive boutique multiexercise fitness experience designed to elevate the heart rate and feed that competitive drive available in the Old Pueblo.
Why Weight to Get Fit?
There are still many traditional big box and 24-hour gym goers. And with good reason. These affordable, community-creating, multi-amenity options remain hugely popular, steadfast players in the fitness industry, and some are covered by insurance plans. Today, within many of these mainstay gyms, trending fitness options are offered. Jonathan Marshall notes that functional fitness equipment is being added in most gym settings in addition to traditional free weights and machines. “Things like kettlebells, sleds, turf, tires and ropes are being made available,” he notes. Many of these apparatuses are not exactly new. “Kettlebells have been dated back to the 1600s.” Meanwhile, in his genre of training, Jon sees two key trends. In the competition arena, he notes growth in the raw lifting sector (power lifting with minimal equipment). “A lot of people are getting into this type of lifting from CrossFit. With this training you can build strength with fewer reps of exercises so you can maintain form to avoid injury.” The age of gym goers has begun to skew younger, with youth athletes turning to cross-training. This makes the raw lifting workouts trend toward older participants. “I work with several 70- to 80-year-olds looking to work on balance, bone density, and strength to stay active and hang with their grandkids. My grandma lived to be 105 years old. She was very active to the end.”
Speaking of age, it’s hard to find a form of exercise more ancient than 4,000-year-old practice of yoga. Yoga was first introduced to Americans in the late 1800s at the Parliament of Religions by Swami Vivekananda, who presented on the concepts of body, mind and spirit at the gathering. It stayed a relatively low-key concept until the late 1960s when it began to emerge as a “new” trend. The 1980s saw aerobics and jazzercise eclipse the practice in mainstream exercise circles. But since the late 1990s, popularity of the physical practice has reemerged with steadfast forward motion, until social media fueled an explosion of interest in the ancient movement techniques and spiritual practice.
Trendy, traditional, or specialty yoga studios abound with classes offered in many gyms as well. In 2020, you can’t swing a cork mat without hitting a Yogi. Goat yoga, puppies and poses, beer yoga, hot yoga, aerial yoga, power yoga, yoga in the mall, yoga down the hall, couples yoga, gentle yoga, chair yoga, yoga therapy — every level of effort, healing, and movement can be found within this old-is-newagain “trend.” Whether people are lured to a practice by free beer, cuddly mat mates, or patchouli-loving friends, or come to it due to injury and community that can be developed on the mat.
The much younger sister practice to yoga also experiencing boosted popularity among practitioners is Pilates. German-born Joseph Pilates developed the practice to empower his own ailing body through the study of selfdefense, yoga, and other ancient exercise regimens in his youth. He later refined and employed it to rehabilitate fellow internment camp prisoners during WWI. The practice took root in the U.S. from an NYC studio that shared space with a boxing gym and dance schools. Joseph and his wife Clara became widely known in the dance community for leading practices that would strengthen, rehab, and correct injuries and imbalances. Pilates disciples began to disseminate the practice throughout the world. As a “craze” the practice has experienced its ups and downs and is assuredly on an upswing as we enter a new decade.
Discussion/controversy/debate on similarities and differences of Pilates and yoga continue to this day. There may be more similarities than differences, yet the differences are enough to allow them to stand alone. One of the primary points of departure is the use of equipment developed by Pilates himself to aid in movement, alignment and positioning. Although many movement pieces may be executed on a mat, or simple braided towels and foam rollers, more complex apparatuses such as the Pilates Reformer and Cadillac are used help able, or recovering, bodies reach their highest potential of movement. Suffice it to say that Pilates has a loyal fandom because it works wonders for dedicated practitioners, many of whom practice as adjunctive work to enhance performance in other sports, and others to simply enhance quality of life.
So why the resurgence in popularity? Some attribute it to the online presence of practitioners and marketers. Jenny Constenius, licensed physical therapist, certified Pilates instructor and owner of Sage Therapeutic Pilates, partly credits the “Silver Tsunami.” She says, “There is a growing number of baby boomers who want to stay active and strong in their later years. Some come to Pilates through physical therapy after surgery or an injury. Others are simply attracted by the ability to get a full body workout in one session. They enjoy the high-quality, low-tech Pilates equipment.”
Perhaps the most effective way to unplug for fitness also is the most ancient. Meditation. Having ridden similar waves of popularity in the U.S. as yoga, meditation — referred to at some levels as mindfulness — is the singular, most effective unplugged practice that offers benefits across all modalities of exercise and daily living. Amanda Freed, certified yoga and meditation teacher and owner of Align Tucson Meditation, asserts that every person can and will receive physical and mental gain through regular meditation practice. She explains, “Since the ’80s, which is when exercise started to get popular again, we started to look at fitness as only physical. We haven’t looked at mental and emotional fitness as an important part of our wellness regime until recently. We’ve forgotten that this is a key component beyond and before the physical aspect.”
She says that whole fitness — body, mind and spirit — is ideally begun with meditation and mindfulness rather than using the practice as an add-on to activity. Approaching the physical before paying attention to the mental and emotional can turn what should be self-care practices into selfpunishing and self-defeating ones, leading to stress, anxiety and failure in reaching goals. “When I teach intention workshops and people say they want to eat less and exercise more, I teach them to translate that into, ‘I want to treat my body and my spirit with the most love and respect that I can.’ We’ve got to start with the self-love piece. That’s where the meditation and mindfulness move in. Through this practice it becomes second nature to ask, ‘Is this nourishing my body and soul? Is this going to align with the self-love intention?’” Freed suggests that people tend to hurt themselves when they make decisions from old patterns of deprivation and punishment. And with regular meditation people begin to see results of improved health and performance from a positive, compassionate approach.
Freed maintains that we don’t need to spend hours on end trying to silence the mind or repeating lengthy ancient scripts from memory. Nor is it necessary to invest thousands of dollars to be assigned a personal mantra. She teaches that no one is unable to learn to meditate and reap the benefits in their fitness/life journey. We just have to be willing to show up, be present, and gently redirect mental energy and physical to compassion and self-love. This practice will lead to becoming more present in daily life. “That’s where the exercise thing comes in,” she concludes. “We begin to perform exercise for the enjoyment of it, not for punishment. This presence leads to all-around benefit.”
Whether you’ve resolved to move more or just change things up in a workout regime, trendy options abound. Choose from high- or low-tech options or any combination of the two. A little healthy virtual competition can be great fun while keeping the mind solely on your own body and thoughts can be universally beneficial as well. Experiment, play, test, research and enjoy. (And please, always consult a physician to ensure a new activity is safe and viable for your current health condition.)