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Top Fitness Trends of 2015: Physical Therapists Weigh In

This time last year, the American College of Sports Medicine announced that high intensity interval training (HIIT) was the top worldwide fitness trend of 2014 according to their annual worldwide survey for fitness trends. Despite the frequently expressed safety concerns from physical therapists, personal trainers and other professionals, HIIT programs such as CrossFit, P90X and Insanity experienced popularity across the globe. According to WatchFit, CrossFit alone brags 9,000 affiliate gyms and 2 million members worldwide.

HIIT is an easy way to burn more fat in less time. US News reports that HIIT workouts burn 15 to 20 percent more calories than a milder traditional workout. Problems arise when the increased intensity causes participants to push themselves past their physical limits.

However, in the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2015 worldwide survey for fitness trends, body weight training earned the top spot, pushing HIIT down to no. 2 on the annual list. Observing this decline, many PTs and trainers are starting to debate whether or not HIIT workouts will follow a steady fall like so many other fitness fads in the past.

For example, Zumba first appeared in the top 10 in 2012. In 2013, it fell from 9th to 13th and dropped off the top 20 list entirely in 2014. Personal trainer Teri Jory says the Zumba fad crashed for a variety of reasons. She told the Chicago Tribune that Zumba fans “have turned to other forms of training due to economic (body-weight training), time (HIIT) and practical (functional training) factors.”

But the slight downturn in HIIT popularity may involve safety concerns rather than economics or time constraints. NPR’s Alison Brizek interviewed Walter Thompson, author of the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2015 in her article, “How Will You Work Out When CrossFit Is No Longer Hip?” Thompson says HIIT is the result of marketing infomercials and predicts that CrossFit will likely fizzle out in 5 years. Due to its aggressive nature, the risk of injury is just too high. “You can go 90 miles per hour or you can go the speed limit, and the greater chance of having an accident is at 90 miles per hour,” he says.

A big criticism of the CrossFit mentality is encouraging athletes to work through pain. “Training hard and training through pain are two wildly different things,” says Robert Camacho, a breakingmuscle.com contributor on strength, conditioning, injury prevention and rehab topics. “If you are in the same type of pain in the same joints during the same movements, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.” Another criticism is that CrossFit trainers do not always emphasize proper form.

Physical therapist Dan Lorenz says that the majority of people lack the necessary joint mobility, muscle length and strength to endure high intensity training. He, like many other PTs, acquires a lot of business from the frequent HIIT neck, knee and back injuries.

Body weight training first appeared on the top fitness trends list in 2013. Focusing on exercises like push-ups and sit-ups, it utilizes body weight rather than free weights. Daily News reports that body weight training (along with functional training) has “shifted the focus towards improving posture, balance and body equilibrium.” Body weight training is a realistic option for people who cannot afford to buy equipment or don’t have time to go to the gym. Not only that, it isn’t associated with the injury-risk that surrounds HIIT. Daily News calls it a “back-to-basics step, and while strength training is part of its focus, trainers say it’s a safer way to build muscle than using supplementary weight.”

Jennifer Hogg, a group fitness manager for Equinox, says that body weight training is definitely a fitness trend to watch in 2015.  “Expect to see it continue to expand in all movement experiences, including group and personal training,” Hogg told the Chicago Tribune, “Look for the comprehensive incorporation of gymnastics, adult jungle gyms, workout spaces that are uncluttered with weight-training machines and open for training, greater suspension-training options, primal movements and more programming that is less focused on standard weight-lifting protocols.”

Hogg agrees that the current HIIT approach will likely fade, but at the same time, she believes HIIT has not completely run its course. Rather, it will experience slight modifications in the future. She predicts HIIT will integrate recovery-based training and a more balanced approach to stabilize or replace its “randomness and excessiveness.”

“I love the back-to-basics trends in the current fitness climate. Bodyweight is great and barbells are even better from a strict, functional-strength perspective,” says Chamacho. “I think there are a lot of great things to say about CrossFit, and with a little more attention paid to these problems, it can only get better.”

PTs weigh in! What’s your take? With the injury risk surrounding HIIT, do you think that it will continue to decline in popularity? Or will HIIT programs be able to address their weak spots and hold a place on the top fitness trends list in 2016? As bodyweight training takes center stage in 2015, what are some health and safety issues that athletes should be aware of when participating in these programs?