Adapting to Functional-Fitness Trends

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Last week, the New York Times ran an article about the functional-fitness trend. “Vintage exercise machines have recently become the padded shoulders of the workout world,” the article states, “swept aside for a fresher look.” In other words, out with the leg presses, biceps curlers, and seated torso rotations, and in with the kettlebells, medicine balls, and weighted sleds. Anything that gets you working out in ways devised to help you perform daily activities, like lifting, bending, and climbing stairs, constitutes the latest trend, the article says.

To experience the trend for herself, the writer of the piece, Julia Lawlor, signed up for a class at the UXF (“ultimate fitness experience”) Training Zone in the New York Sports Club at 59th Street and Park Avenue, in Manhattan. The class started out with jumping jacks, frog jacks, walkouts, and mountain climbers, she says, in addition to speed and agility drills.

After that, participants were asked to cycle through six exercises: a backward lunge with a kettlebell, a squat thrust, a swinging of the kettlebell from one hand into the other, an upper-body exercise using bands suspended from metal frames, a sled-pulling exercise, and a rope movement drill.  “I was breathless, my throat burned, and I felt as if I were slogging through mud,” Lawlor writes “…UXF, I concluded, really stands for ‘utter exhaustion and fatigue’ zone.”

But the fact is that, no matter how exhausting clients like Lawlor might find a functional-fitness workout, they keep coming back for more. The International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) concurs with the article, stating that workouts like the one Lawlor describes are taking over as a trend. “Functional-fitness workouts are pushing other workouts into the corner of clubs, and even out the door,” IHRSA wrote recently in a blog post.

For health clubs, this means facing a need to adapt. In the fitness industry, perhaps more than in other industries, service providers have no choice but to incorporate the latest fads into their facilities; they have to offer the classes and regiments that will bring members in. But does this mean that old standbys like the machines listed at the beginning of this post should be tossed out?

Probably not. While adaptation is necessary and creating a supply to meet demand is only healthy business practice, it is also the case that tried-and-true methods — like common workout machines, plain free weights, and even simple aerobics classes — have their place. Some members will always prefer a routine they are used to, rather than a trend they might fear will disappear soon or could be discredited by future research. The ideal for any club, of course, is to make room for both. One thing is for sure, as Julia Lawlor discovered: Adapting to functional-fitness trends is a must.

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