Exercise evolves. As research continues to find more effective ways to challenge our bodies and help us stay in shape, we tweak our routines and programs to follow suit. If we didn’t, we’d all still be strapping on those vibrating belts our grandmas used back in the day.
This past year saw several important trends and ideas come to the forefront of the fitness world and change the way we challenge our bodies. Let’s look back at how fitness changed in 2015.
Everyone and Their Brother Started Doing HIIT
The concept of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is simple—intense bursts of exercise alternating with periods of rest. Research shows that HIIT is a more efficient way to work out than coasting along at a low-to-moderate intensity.
HIIT workouts force you to exercise at or above your VO2 max, promoting rapid improvements in conditioning. High intensity activity burns more calories faster than cardio workouts like jogging, causing your body to continue burning calories even after you finish your session.
One of the most popular forms of HIIT is the Tabata workout, which involves eight 20-second sets of intense activity interspersed with 10-second rest periods. As with other types of HIIT, the exercise you perform can vary. Traditionally, this style of training calls for an endurance exercise like sprinting or biking. However, the concept has been applied to strength exercises such as Squats, Push-Ups or Burpees, to simultaneously improve strength, endurance and overall fitness.
Since the HIIT methodology can be applied to almost any type of training, its popularity is virtually unlimited. The versatility and effectiveness of HIIT lead us to believe it’s here to stay. When a fitness trend inspires its very own card game, it’s safe to say it has entered the mainstream.
Squatting is Cool Now
Once upon a time, squatting was an exercise performed only by powerlifters and serious athletes. It was a punishing, unglamorous lift that required immense technique and practice to be performed properly. The lift has always conferred a plethora of benefits, but it seemed too difficult and intimidating for most people.
That’s no longer the case. In 2015, more people seemed to be squatting than ever. An increasing number of gym-goers understand the magnificent benefits of the Squat. Some people learned about it through CrossFit and got addicted to the progression. Others learned that it was a tremendous way to kickstart calorie-burning at the beginning of a workout. Still others learned it was the best way to improve the aesthetic appearance of their derriere. No matter your reason, STACK will always be in favor of more people squatting.
RELATED: How Squats Benefit Your Athletic Performance
Crunches are Dead
The Crunch has served as a golden pillar of core training for a long, long time. It’s not hard to see why. Crunches look like they work your core, and when you actually perform them, you do feel a burning sensation in your midsection. Same goes for the basic Sit-Up. However, these time-tested exercises aren’t holding up to modern research.
A growing amount of evidence suggests that these two moves—and other similar exercises where you flex your torso—may cause long-term damage to your lower back.
The lumbar spine, located in your lower back, is the thickest part of your spine. It’s designed to support your body’s weight, not for movement. Repeatedly flexing your lumbar spine in these exercises may eventually cause one of the discs between your vertebrae to bulge, resulting in serious pain and impaired performance.
In addition, traditional Crunches and Sit-Ups require you to engage your core for just a fraction of a second during each rep.
Such factors are what have given rise to Planks and stability exercises as the preferred methods of core training. The Ab Roll-Out is a phenomenal example of the new kind of core training that’s taking over.
RELATED: Everything You Know About Core Training Is Wrong
Yoga Isn’t Just For Granola-Crunching Hippies Any More
Alright, “granola-crunching hippies” might be a bit harsh. But for a long time, that type of person was associated with yoga. Once that stigma wore off, yoga started getting consideration as a training method used almost exclusively by females.
Finally, the old stereotypes about yoga have been shattered. Yoga is now widely accepted as a phenomenal training tool, one that should be used by elite athletes and soccer moms alike. The NBA is leading the charge, and you’d now be hard-pressed to find a star player who doesn’t include some type of yoga in his routine. We’re excited to see yoga growing as a tool for athletes, because it strengthens your body, increases flexibility and enhances focus in ways that other training methods simply cannot.
So Long, Added Sugar
This trend is more about what you do in the kitchen than what you do at the gym, but it has a tremendous impact on your overall athletic performance. As the mountain of evidence continues to grow, many athletes are reaching an important conclusion about their diet—added sugar is their enemy.
The American Heart Association recommends women consume less than 24 grams of added sugar per day and men less than 36 grams, but the average American overshoots those targets by a mile, consuming about 88 grams (equivalent to 22 teaspoons) per day. Diets high in added sugar have been strongly linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and other negative health outcomes. But the tough thing about cutting down on added sugar is that the stuff lurks nearly everywhere. Obvious culprits like soda, cookies and candy are packed with added sugar, but so are seemingly innocuous foods like canned tomato sauce and flavored oatmeal.
We talked to numerous athletes in 2015, and when the topic of nutrition came up, almost every one of them mentioned they’re making an effort to cut out added sugar. A. J. Green said he now avoids all sweets and sodas. Same goes for Cam Newton, whose only occasional indulgence is cotton candy ice cream. Maya Moore was inspired by NBA greats Grant Hill and Steve Nash to give up refined sugar, and it paid off big, as she felt more energetic and enhanced her body composition.
RELATED: Why Maya Moore Cut Sugar Out