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Future of Fitness

How will we train, eat and recover in the decades to come? Consider these seven bold predictions from our panel of high-performance experts.

This past March, Nike introduced a pair of self-lacing athletic shoes, the HyperAdapt 1.0. It’s a technology that was envisioned in 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II,” and fittingly, the company sent its first pair to the star of that blockbuster film, Michael J. Fox.

Of course, Hollywood doesn’t have a monopoly on picturing the future of fitness. To find out what else we might expect besides smart sneaks, we polled our experts in the fields of training and nutrition science to discover what trends are destined to rule the way we get fit. Here are seven insights into tomorrow that will keep you one step ahead today.

1. It’ll be fragmented.

Whether you bow to the workout god of CrossFit, Bikram yoga, SoulCycle, OrangeTheory, Insanity Workout or “the next big thing” that comes our way, know this: There is no “best” training mode, just a best one for you.

“We are seeing a trend of people enjoying the workout experience — whatever that may be,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., a principal researcher at the Auburn University Montgomery Kinesiology Laboratory. So if you enjoy a particular workout, great. If not, know that you have plenty of other options to choose from.

“Truth is, there is no ‘best’ and there are no ‘secret’ programs or exercises,” says John Cissik, MS, CSCS, president and founder of Human Performance Services, LLC, and the author of 10 books about speed and strength training. “Everyone, whether you are an overweight, middle-aged homemaker or an elite athlete, needs to figure out what works for you based upon your likes, dislikes, economic spending power, access, and training and health history.”


2. In many respects, it’ll look very familiar.

What’s old is new again. And in fitness, that will lead to a lack of boredom and greater program adherence.

“I think that a combination of interval training and ‘unconventional’ implements such as tires, kettlebells, bands, chains and the like is here to stay,” Cissik says. “A lot of this has been around for a long time, but the Internet has helped make it extremely popular. It’s gaining traction because it’s not boring, it’s a little unusual and it’s fun.”

3. It’ll go digital.

The idea of hands-on, in-person training and coaching will always be a part of fitness, but it won’t be the only choice.

“We’ll continue to see growth in online training and there may be a major shift to remote coaching,” says Lee Boyce, CPT, a Toronto, Canada-based strength and conditioning coach. While he cautions about knowing the credentials of who you’re following online, whether you’re watching exercise clips on YouTube or Instagram or shelling out money for a trainer’s e-book or video program, Boyce recognizes one very key benefit: The Internet has made training knowledge accessible to more people, especially those who can’t necessarily afford a traditional gym membership.

4. It’ll get extremely individualized.

“Your musculature, frame, skeleton, attachment points, hormones and other personal attributes are going to determine what exercises provide the desired effect for you,” Boyce says. With that in mind, advancing technology — in its infancy now with gadgets like the Fitbit and the Apple Watch — will allow for an ever-deeper dive into your unique physiology, thus allowing trainers to devise programs suited just for you. In the meantime, trial and error still rules the day.

“Training is a case-by-case situation, so there is an investigative process that everyone should go through to some degree to find out what exercises you respond to and which ones you don’t,” Boyce explains.

As for diets, they’ll get much more personalized, too, notes Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD, a professor in the kinesiology program in the department of human sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus. “Everyone needs to find his or her own path,” he says. “Scientists are slowly making discoveries that are moving us closer to individualized diets, but for now each person should determine what foods work best for them.”


5. It may get less intensive.

“Based on what we know about human psychology and behavior, asking someone to overhaul their diet or whole lifestyle overnight is nearly impossible for them to maintain, even for the most dedicated individuals,” says Molly Galbraith, CSCS, co-founder of Girls Gone Strong. “Instead, giving them one small habit they can change at a time allows them to focus and be successful, rack up small wins over time and feel confident in their ability to make a change.”

Boyce adds, “In the future, I hope to see the need to animalize fitness go away,” referring to the workouts, races and other fanatical fitness events where participants finish completely depleted. Olson agrees, noting that she has very fit clients who do such an event and can’t return to their regular training for a month due to injury or extreme fatigue. “It really takes away the health benefits of exercise, which are so incredibly proven,” she says.

6. It’ll be hard on carbohydrate lovers.

Pasta dinners and other carb-loading techniques the night before a marathon and other ultra-endurance events may still be relatively commonplace now, but not for long. “There’s a paradigm shift,” Volek points out. “Carbs are not required for optimal performance, and athletes are re-examining the role of carbohydrates in their diets and abandoning carb loading.”

Volek has studied this idea for decades, and more endurance athletes are taking notice and experimenting with low-carb plans. “High-carb diets attenuate many of the beneficial effects of exercise,” he explains. “Low-carb is a healthier way to go, especially when you consider that 50 percent of the population is carb-intolerant or insulin-resistant.”

7. Recovery will become a buzzword.

It has been important since training began, but an attention to recovery methods is increasing — and well beyond the simple advice of “rest and eat well.”

“People have more of an understanding now that there are things happening in our bodies after exercise, and we should pay attention to them,” Olson says. Of course, supplement science continues to press forward into new frontiers, while other methods play an ever-larger role as well, including deep-tissue massage, self-myofascial release (foam rolling), hydrotherapy, yoga, visualization and various nutritional protocols.

Fitness Pros: The Next Level

Nearly all the experts we spoke to believe fitness trainers will one day be licensed, much like doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

“With the rise of celebrity and Instagram trainers, I think we’ll see a push for more regulation of the fitness industry,” says Lee Boyce, CPT.

“On the one hand, this is a positive, as it will require a certain level of education, knowledge and maybe experience,” explains John Cissik, MS, CSCS. “On the other hand, this will limit the scope of a fitness professional’s practice and could severely limit job openings.”

In the meantime, if you’re streaming workouts to thousands of followers on the web, you may want to consider getting some credentials if you don’t have them already.

“In some states, personal trainers are already being required to be licensed, like physical therapists,” says Michele Olsen, Ph.D.