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TORONTO — It’s that time of year again. Many people are trying to make that popular New Year’s resolution — getting to the gym — a reality in 2016. And when they do, they will encounter a myriad of fitness trends. But do these actually work?
The number one fitness trend in this year’s Canadian fitness survey is what’s called functional fitness.
Instead of the traditional approach of working one muscle group at a time, functional fitness involves doing exercises that mimic everyday activities like shoveling snow, carrying groceries, or running the vacuum.
In fact, doctors have been recommending functional exercise routines to elderly patients for years now, as a way to train and develop muscles to make it easier and safer for them to perform their everyday activities. Studies show that this improves balance, gait, lower extremity strength and overall mobility , and may prevent falls.
More recently, this has entered the mainstream as a way of making exercise feel less abstract and more directly relevant. It often requires fitness balls, kettle bells and weights.
The idea is to integrate muscles rather than to isolate them, so most of these are multi-joint and multi-muscle exercises, and they help to build core stability.
Last year’s most popular trend was high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
This consists of intense bursts of anaerobic exercise at near maximum intensity alternating with short periods of less intense exercise.
An example might be 30 seconds of hard sprinting alternating with 15 seconds of walking.
This regimen has been studied extensively and shown to be one of the fastest ways to increase maximum exercise capacity in sedentary or moderately active individuals.
Several studies now also show that compared to usual training, this regimen preferentially burns fat, and leads to changes in muscle structure and enzymes that improve energy use.
HIIT is becoming particularly popular because it yields results with relatively short workouts.
That being said, people who are not used to exercising can develop muscle breakdown, called rhabdomyolysis, if they push themselves too hard in a high intensity session.
The other hot trend you should know about is body-weight training.
As the name implies, this involves exercises that rely purely on one’s own body weight for resistance, such as push-ups, squats, or chin-ups.
Although the load doesn’t change, exercise can be made harder by changing your centre of gravity or the duration or complexity of the movement.
The major advantage of this approach is that it doesn’t require equipment – you can do it anywhere, any time.
If you do want to try one of these routines, it matters less which one you try, and more that you actually commit to exercising regularly.
Regular exercise reduces the risk of everything from heart disease and strokes to colon and breast cancer, and even improves mental health.
So the key is to find something you like, and to stick to it.