If your get-in-shape plan for 2020 relies on the transformative power of some new piece of fitness gear – the latest high-tech running shoes, say, or a $3,000 internet-connected spin bike – then it’s worth recalling the cautionary words of Henry David Thoreau.
“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” he warned, a century and a half before yoga pants and other sports apparel became a $4.7-billion-a-year industry in Canada, “and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
In other words, the essential steps on the road to fitness – getting out of your chair, moving your body with at least moderate vigour and repeating several times a week – will be the same in the new year as they were in the old one. But the trappings of how we tackle those steps will continue to evolve. Here are five topics that will obsess the fitness world in 2020:
Peloton, the high-end indoor bike that streams live and on-demand spinning classes to your living room, launched an IPO in September that valued the company at US$8-billion. That’s a lot of money, but an even more telling indicator is the number of “Peloton for X” start-ups joining the fray: Tonal for strength training, Mirror for cardio, Hydrow for rowing and even FightCamp for boxing.
The “together but alone” vibe of these new platforms makes some traditionalists – okay, me – a little uneasy. But there’s no denying that they offer something genuinely new in the fitness space. “We’re not trying to compete with riding outside,” Zwift chief executive Eric Min, whose company has signed up more than a million indoor cyclists and runners to its virtual worlds, told an interviewer. “We’re trying to compete with not riding.”
Training for women
When former U.S. elite runner Mary Cain broke her silence about a disastrous stint with a Nike training group that left her physically and mentally shattered, she didn’t just blame the coach. “I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls,” she said.
Cain’s revelations sparked a flood of discussion about the differences in how women and men respond to training. There’s lots to be done, including more fitness research that includes female subjects and bringing more women into coaching and leadership positions. But awareness is a good place to start: apps such as FitrWoman, which athletes use to track the duration and effects of their menstrual cycle, are taking off.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t let you do that workout.” That’s the sort of training advice many of us need, protecting us from our own worst impulses. But so far, wearable fitness tech has been better at recording what we’ve already done than telling us what we should do.
A host of apps such as Aaptiv Coach, FitnessAI, and Run With Hal – named for veteran running coach Hal Higdon, not the sinister computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey – aim to harness artificial intelligence to provide interactive training guidance that responds and adapts to your individual needs. The open question: Will these apps ever pass a version of the Turing Test by matching the fitness gains you’d get with a human coach?
When Nike launched its ungainly-looking Vaporfly running shoe in 2017, most observers dismissed the company’s improbable claim of a 4-per-cent efficiency boost – even though runners wearing early prototypes of the shoe had swept the previous year’s Olympic marathons.
Now it’s clear that the shoe, which features a curved carbon-fibre plate and a thick, springy midsole, actually lives up to the hype. With newer iterations promising greater gains and other brands scrambling to come up with competing models, pressure is mounting on international track and field regulators to step in and ensure a level playing field for athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s not just elite athletes who are concerned. Age-group podiums at local races are now dominated by Vaporfly-wearers, and qualifying standards for races such as the Boston Marathon may need an overhaul owing to the flood of unusually fast times. The deeper debate isn’t just about the shoes; it’s about what role technology should play in our hobbies and personal quests.
The definition of insanity, to paraphrase an old cliché, is publishing yet another study showing that exercise is good for your health and expecting that this time, finally, everyone is going to start hitting the gym.
In other words, it’s not a knowledge gap –it’s a behaviour gap. That’s why groups such as the Canadian Network for Health Behaviour Change and Promotion are trying to untangle the complex mix of personal and contextual factors that influence whether someone decides to get active and how likely they are to sustain that new behaviour pattern.
It’s a daunting riddle for researchers to tackle. And it’s also something to keep in mind as you formulate your own resolutions for the coming year: The precise details of what you decide to do are less important than choosing something that will still fire your enthusiasm in six months and beyond.
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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