The good, the bad and the too-good-to-be-true
Since beginning to teach group fitness in 1999, Jessica Crandall has seen some progress: Fewer exercisers today are striving for skeletal figures and thigh gaps, and more are embracing body positivity and strength. "Some of those idealistic viewpoints are being pushed to the side," says Crandall, also a registered dietitian in Denver. But with each lunge forward comes a squat jump back. After all, one human truth is constant: "People want to believe that they don't have to do anything to maintain their level of fitness," and thus buy into baseless, even harmful, fitness gimmicks, Crandall says. Here are eight trends she and other pros advise you avoid:
1. Aqua spinning
Cycling and swimming are both great forms of exercise, so cycling in a pool must take the (protein) shake, right? Pump the brakes, says Kelly Coffey, a personal trainer in Northampton, Massachusetts. "Aqua spinning ... is prohibitively high-maintenance, making it hard to stick to and almost impossible to do outside of the context of class," she says. Still, if you enjoy and can access regular aqua spinning classes, and you incorporate them into a wider repertoire of physical activities, you have Coffey's blessing to pedal on and splash away. "There's nothing wrong with getting hooked on complicated, site-specific exercise," she says, "so long as you have other, simpler activities to fall back on."
2. YouTube training
It's fitness's form of "fake news," says Brian McGee, owner and head training coach of FIT360DC, of all of the "non-certified, questionable training practices" found on YouTube. "With so much material [available online], it's hard to discern qualified information that's appropriate for specific populations from some random person with a camera and a lot of energy," says McGee, whose District of Columbia studio focuses on functional movements with tools like kettlebells. "Many [videos] can promote exhaustion over foundation." If you're sold on online training, minimize your risk by seeking someone who comes with references, is credentialed through an established certification organization and who works with you to develop a personalized plan.
3. Infomercial fitness
Those infomercial stars with rock-hard abs, bronzed skin and radiant smiles sure make it look like that belly-blaster or rear-raiser or muscle-molder is working. But here's the not-so-secret secret: "[Those] models most definitely did not use the products they're promoting to get that look," McGee says. More likely, they've been sticking to a grueling exercise and diet regimen for years. Sayco Williams, a personal trainer in New York City who also offers online training, agrees that "get fit quick schemes" are bogus. "Getting into the best shape of your life ... never happens overnight," he says. Your money is better spent on a certified fitness professional who can customize a plan for you.
Crandall's mom's generation swore by long bouts of cardiovascular exercise like aerobics classes and videos. "The purpose of that exercise was to get your heart rate up and keep it high for a long period of time," says Crandall, who dubs followers "cardio bunnies." But more recent research has shown such programs aren't so effective. "What we've found is that high-intensity interval training is more beneficial and probably more tolerated," since it's less time-consuming and gives gym-goers time to catch their breath, Crandall says. One study, for example, showed that exercisers perceive repeated 30- to 60-second intervals to be easier than 20 minutes of exercise straight, despite being similar intensities in reality.
If for you, working out is the new going out, bravo. But be careful: Bingeing on exercise morning, noon and night is unhealthy, too. "The idea that more is better with fitness isn't necessarily true," Crandall says. In reality, appropriate rest is necessary to avoid injury and allow muscles (and your sanity) to repair. "It's good when we focus on ... other ways we can engage socially outside of the gym walls," Crandall says. Instead of hitting the gym hard and sitting the rest of the day, try being more moderately active day-long. "That gym mentality of 'I got it in so I don't have to do anything' [is flawed]," Crandall says.
5. Super heavy lifting
Lifting 40 pounds overhead makes some sense: You might need to do just that when, say, hoisting a suitcase in the overhead bin. But hurling hundreds of pounds overhead doesn't have much purpose for most people, and is more likely to injure you than whip you into shape, Crandall says. "If [your routine] is adding to your ability to engage more in walking or hiking or biking, that's a good thing," she says. Lifting excessively heavy objects just for the sake of it is not. McGee agrees that functional fitness training better "supports how the body moves in everyday life, as opposed to composite, hypertrophy training that mainly supports bodybuilders."
6. Excessive, unscientific 'gear'
Look around: You'll see as many fitness trackers as watches on people's wrists. While the devices have merit if they motivate you to move more, "some people overanalyze the use of data from [them] instead of putting in the hard work needed to be successful," says Nathan DeMetz, an in-person and online personal trainer based in Goshen, Indiana. Other "gear" like shoes claiming to tone your calves and belly wraps promising to shape your waist are worse, he says. "[They] have no science behind them -- or at least no credible science -- and users waste time as well as money and can end up frustrating themselves" and stopping exercise altogether, Demetz says.
7. Anything you're doing for the wrong reason
Peer pressure, a good deal, an exceptional promise -- all aren't great reasons to exercise, even if it's an effective, legitimate program. Enjoyment, accessibility and ease of sticking with it -- these fitness "trends" are always in fashion, pros say. "As long as you like it and you think it's fun ... that's fantastic," Crandall says. As Coffey puts it: "How you exercise is much less important than how regularly you exercise." And DeMetz's take? "From bodybuilding to calisthenics to CrossFit, many different training methodologies work," he says. "Pick one you like and stick with it."