Around a decade ago, opening a gym was ka-ching. They kept cropping up at every nook and cranny. Fitness was in and along with it all things related to health and wellbeing.
Gyms were where people went to sweat out and socialise and stay in shape. Ghee was replaced with olive oil, grandma's breakfast with granola, and with each fashion season came a new fad diet.
Circa 2016, the fitness and health and wellness industry has come full circle. Gyms are passé and so yesterday. They are shutting down even before you can finish your Burpee.
So what changed during the decade? With so many diet fads and gyms, we should have been a fitter nation. Truth is nothing changed for the better. We continue to be the diabetes capital of the world, and obesity and heart disease are on the rise.
While I am not denouncing the gym and its purpose, truth is, going to a gym is not only very boring, but also not functionally effective. None of the movements performed in a gym is one that mimics your daily life or is a universal motor recruitment pattern, involving the whole body. You are working the muscle in one angle, direction and in a supported position day in and day out for years. You are more likely to end up injured. It is not long before you plateau and that is when you need to quit the gym.
Running on a treadmill is very different biomechanically than running on the ground, and again not the way you would move in your daily life. The monotony, the injuries, the lack of functionality and the fact that you have to drive to a gym to run on a treadmill is what drove people back to the streets, parks and outdoor gyms.
Anytime and anywhere fitness is the new wellness mantra. In a day of instant gratification, instant results and greater benefits out of your workout routine is critical to optimising client base.
Functional training and performing movements that use the whole body are all the rage now. Making use of the equipment provided by nature and the environment is finding more takers. People would rather climb a rope instead of doing a lat pull down on a machine. They would rather do a chin-up instead of a bicep curl and a squat instead of a leg press.
Functional movements that require more muscle recruitment allows for greater neural and hormonal adaptations, hence its increasing popularity. Skill-related workouts, which also by default build innate fitness, are on the rise. The increase in number of mixed martial arts (MMA) and fight clubs is proof. Parkour and free running is also trending right now.
Will they be fads, only to go back to gyms in ten years?
I say not. The reason being that workouts like CrossFit, Boot Camp, Parkour and MMA not only improve all fitness markers, but also help train you at certain skills that require practice and technique. The other key factor that makes these programmes successful is the sense of community they foster. Working out in a group engages you very differently than working out by yourself in a gym. Above all, the only constant in these workouts is the fact that they change daily. No two workouts are alike and the stimulus is broad and wide and deep. From running, rowing, cycling, skipping and rock climbing to Olympic lifts, carrying buckets of sand or logs, climbing ropes and jumping over railings in rain or shine or heat or snow—your body is constantly being stimulated with different modes, motor patterns, climates and terrains.
So, say goodbye to the gym and its fixed machines and AC environment and say hello to the outdoors and fresh air and sunshine. Say goodbye to fad diets and stick to grandma's diet. A diet is for life and should not have an expiry date. It should be balanced and sustainable and should make you feel good.
After all, you should be able to get fit anywhere and anytime. And, grandma may not be able to operate a smartphone, but she is way smarter than one!
The writer is a certified trainer from the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (USA), American Council on Exercise and Reebok University Master Trainer.