I asked ChatGPT, the staggeringly fluent AI chatbot that has been wowing the internet since its November launch, to predict the biggest fitness trends of the coming year.
Its answers were decent, if not particularly fresh: virtual fitness, wearable technology, high-intensity intervals, functional fitness, and mind-body approaches. But it missed a big one, perhaps out of modesty: itself.
I don’t mean that ChatGPT will emerge as the fitness guru of 2023, dispensing workout plans and diet advice. It’s certainly willing to do that, but for now its training guidance is like its trend predictions: a warmed-over mishmash of previously digested ideas culled from the giant text databases it was trained on.
Instead, it’s the underlying advances in machine learning that are making waves in the fitness world. Already, companies such as AI Endurance and Athletica.ai offer smart training plans that automatically adapt to your progress and results. AIKynetix is using similar tools to analyze biomechanics and body motion, and other applications as yet undreamt of are sure to follow.
Will such tools really make a difference to our fitness goals? The problem with predicting future trends, as Globe and Mail fitness columnist Paul Landini highlighted in a recent column, is that you risk validating the latest fads regardless of whether they actually represent an improvement on the status quo.
With that in mind, here are four emerging (and fully human generated) fitness trends that I hope will continue to gather steam in 2023.
Sports scientists are already grappling with the effects of climate change – for example with research into heat adaptation prior to mega-events such as the recent World Cup, which increasingly take place in stifling heat. Now the industry is turning its attention to the ways in which our fitness habits contribute to the problem.
Most of the big shoe and apparel companies have introduced green product lines that aim to reduce their carbon footprint. For some newer companies, such as trail-running upstart NNormal, that’s a primary imperative – not just in the materials and production process, but in the goal of durability to reduce overall consumption.
The opportunities for change are everywhere – from finding alternatives to disposable cups at marathons to rethinking travel-heavy competition schedules. And there’s growing recognition that the pursuit of personal fitness is doomed to fail without a healthy planet to live on.
A quarter century ago, the movie There’s Something About Mary famously lampooned the Eight-Minute Abs franchise by having a crazy hitchhiker propose … Seven-Minute Abs.
Extrapolate from there, and you end up at the review published earlier this year by researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan and McMaster University about the benefits of “exercise snacks,” which they define as “isolated bouts of vigorous exercise lasting less than one minute and performed periodically throughout the day.”
In one study, hurrying up three flights of stair three times a day, three days a week produced measurable fitness gains. These protocols fit into a broader move away from the idea of exercise as something that only happens when you go to the gym or change into workout gear. If life presents you with an opportunity to raise your heart rate, take it.
Sports stories and advice tailored to women
It’s no secret that fitness researchers have mostly studied men, and that the extent to which their conclusions can be transferred to women is unclear. It’s also no secret that the efforts of sports companies to market to women have often defaulted to “shrink it and pink it.”
Actual change has been slow to arrive, but there are signs that the tide is turning. Two forthcoming books – Christine Yu’s Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes and Lauren Fleshman’s Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World – offer a good overview of what’s changing and why it matters.
Admittedly, “relentless self-tracking and self-optimization” would probably be a smarter bet for the final prediction. There’s no doubt that the techno-utopian vision of gadget- and supplement-enabled perfect health remains seductive and popular, despite a glaring lack of evidence.
But I sense a subtle shifting of the winds in my conversations, in my social-media feeds and in the press releases that flood my inbox every morning. Sure, I still hear a lot about potions and trackers and radical morning routines. But I’m also hearing more about softer outcomes such as mental wellness, and lower-tech ways of getting there: good sleep, regular physical activity, healthy foods, time with friends and time outdoors.
Happiness isn’t usually considered a fitness trend, and your smartwatch won’t track it. But if enough of us take it seriously, maybe the next iteration of ChatGPT will take note.
Alex Hutchinson is the author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. Follow him on Twitter @sweatscience.
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