Breaking Down the Fitness Fads of 2014
So, 2014 happened. It was my first year as a regular contributor to Breaking Muscle and an interesting year in the fitness industry. Fitness has always been rife with the ebb and flow of trends. This year I noticed several things I thought were awesome - coupled with some less-awesome side effects.
Awesome: Mobility Madness Is Passing
Mobility was all the rage for a bit. There was a period where people were more focused on perfecting their squat technique than adding weight to the bar. Some dudes bragged more about their healthy overhead position than how much they could bench.
A lot of the splash made by mobility was due to access. There’s no shortage of information on getting bigger, stronger, and faster. But until recently, improving joint function was the domain of orthopedists and physical therapists. Now we can analyze and design a plan to improve our movement quality as easily as we can design a workout to increase our vertical leap.
RELATED: Is Mobility Just A Fad?
Another aspect of mobility’s popularity is that it’s not hard. It’s easier to improve your squat depth and shoulder range of motion than it is to improve your max squat or overhead press. You can improve your range of motion in a few minutes. Genuine improvements in work capacity take quite a bit longer.
"In my experience, strength is the most common functional deficit. From where I’m standing, that makes the current focus on strength training pretty awesome."
Part of me appreciated the focus on healthy movement over big numbers. But many of us were simply swapping an overemphasis on one facet of fitness for another. Mobility is just another means to an end. Time has passed. The dust has settled. We’re beginning to relearn that healthy motion and ability to move under load are both important.
Less Awesome: The Anti-Leopards
I’ve seen a comical number of articles and posts decrying the focus on mobility. Many of them say things like, “[Insert old-school physical specimen here] didn’t need mobility and banded distractions, so what makes you think you do?” Believe me, I get it. I wrote an article decrying the overemphasis on mobility, too. But just because something’s over-used doesn’t make it bad.
Improved movement quality made high-level fitness accessible to a larger number of people. There always was and always will be genetic freak-beasts who naturally use proper mechanics, and even when they don’t, they magically avoid injuries. Does everyone need mobility work? Maybe not, but as one of those non-freak-beasts plagued by injuries, I’m glad mobility work exists.
Awesome: Powerlifting Is Popular
Once upon a time, gyms were places where people went to lift weights and get huge. Then things changed. Lifting-hating came into vogue along with the heyday of “functional” fitness. Trainers and gurus espoused the benefits of complex balance training while simultaneously deriding the use of heavy weight. But let’s be real. People liked functional fitness for the same reason everyone loved mobility. Compared to real training, it’s easy. Thankfully, those days have come and gone, and once more, people love to lift heavy shit.
Powerlifting has reached new heights of popularity. If you’re at all familiar with “Internet fitness,” there’s no denying powerlifting is all the rage. Many of the most popular fitness forums will direct newbs to Starting Strength, Stronglifts, or similar programs, regardless of their stated goals. Why? Strength programs are simple, fun, and effective.
"Specificity is the most important variable when designing a training program. This is a huge part of why coaches focus their athletes on precise goals."
In my experience, strength is the most common functional deficit. From where I’m standing, that makes the current focus on strength training pretty awesome.
Less Awesome: Death by #BEASTMODE
We get it. You like to put an enormous amount of plates on the bar and half-ass your way through the rep for the sake of posting your new “personal record” to your Instagram feed. Every time I read a post that says, “Still need to work on form but getting stronger,” while the athlete performs one shitty rep with 300+lbs, I’m not sure whether to scream, cry, or bash my face into the keyboard. Not only are you risking injuries, you’re missing out on gains by prioritizing testing over training.
Personal records (PRs) are earned, not given by chance. Every time you add weight too soon, your form breaks down more. Eventually the breakdown is going to be catastrophic. If you want to set some impressive, qualifier-free PRs, do this:
- Swallow your ego.
- Lose the hashtags.
- Dive into some correctly programmed sub-maximal training.
Across the board that’s how the strongest people in the world train. (Well, there is Bulgarian method, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Awesome: Understanding the Value of Variability
One thing CrossFit has done for fitness is highlight the value of different methods of training: sprinting, sled pushing, Olympic lifts, strength training, gymnastics, the list goes on.
Many people have spent too much time in the pursuit of the perfect workout. That one, elusive form of exercise that will get you exactly the results you want in exactly the time you have. It doesn’t matter that this exercise likely resides in a unicorn’s horn hidden in a dragon’s cave in the magical land of Narnia.
"Every time I read a post that says, 'Still need to work on form but getting stronger,' while the athlete performs one shitty rep with 300+lbs, I’m not sure whether to scream, cry, or bash my face into the keyboard."
Functional fitness has reclaimed its meaning. We now use functional fitness to refer to general physical preparedness (GPP). Also known as, "How well will you perform in the coming zombie apocalypse?" With GPP, it’s good to be good at everything.
Less Awesome: Loss of Specificity
Specificity is the most important variable when designing a training program. This is a huge part of why coaches focus their athletes on precise goals. You can actually create a plan to achieve them. But in the face of CrossFit’s popularity, a lot of programming has degraded to, “Do a lot of everything.” This seems like a great way to do a lot and accomplish little.
If you want to be strong, you have to train a certain way. If you want to be explosive, you have to train a different way. Endurance? Yet another beast. Lifting as much as you can, throwing as hard as you can, and then running as long as you can may sound cool, but in reality all it’s going to do is break you down.
If you’re an athlete, specificity has to underlie everything you do. If you’re not sure why you’re doing something, then ask yourself why are you doing it? “Just because,” isn’t a reason and muscle confusion isn’t a real thing.
RELATED: I Don't Do CrossFit Anymore
Even if your goal is to become really good at CrossFit, doing a lot of everything isn’t going to work. Programming is an art, not an all-you-can-eat buffet. Have a purpose. Have a plan. That’s how you achieve your goals.
Less awesome stuff aside, I have to say I feel like the industry is progressing in a positive direction. What did you see as the major trends or changes in the fitness industry in 2014? Post your thoughts to the comments below. Thanks for reading and I wish a happy and healthy New Year to you all.