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13 Fitness Trends to Watch for in 2013

Anti-Aging Workouts

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Fear not, "facercise" isn't having a comeback—the latest workouts are truly effective at slowing the effects of growing older. And as more people become aware of hormone replacement therapy, they will start to realize that high-intensity exercise produces hormones that are the fountain of youth, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

"High-intensity exercise causes the body to release more hormones, such as human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin-like growth factor, that are responsible for increasing lean muscle mass and also have anti-aging benefits," he says. While most forms of exercise are good for your body, high-intensity training seems to offer the biggest turn-back-the-clock bang, so instead of buying pricey HGH injections, focus on two to four workouts of this type of strength or cardio training a week, McCall suggests.

Training on Solid Ground

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Good-bye biceps curls on a BOSU and other circus-like moves. "Ten years ago it was trendy to stand on unstable surfaces while performing various weight-training exercises, but there's been clear evidence that this hinders your ability to create enough overload on your muscles," says Nick Tumminello, a personal training continuing education provider and owner of Performance University. While some studies have shown increased core muscle activity when lifting weights on a shaky surface, there are many core-specific methods (such as ball pikes or ball roll-outs) that more effectively work your midsection.

That doesn't mean you have to banish the blue disc: Unstable surfaces can be beneficial for rehabbing knee, ankle, or hip injuries or improving balance, so feel free to incorporate balance work on these types of surfaces between sets of resistance-training exercises, Tumminello adds.

Online Fitness 2.0

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The web definitely isn't lacking in fitness videos and how-tos, and the selection is only going to increase as fitness professionals and studios maximize the streaming and live capabilities of the Internet to reach more people, McCall says. Look more websites such as YogaGlo, StreamFIT, and SpiroFit, to start offering live or streaming online workouts, classes, and training sessions, and for trainers to tap into the power of Skype to work with clients in other cities and countries. Combine all of this with the ever-growing list of fitness apps out there, and soon you may find yourself logging your last workout stats on your smartphone, uploading it to your trainer, and then trying to beat your personal best in your next live Skype bootcamp session.

Flexibility and MobilityGo Mainstream

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"An aging population plus the trend toward more vigorous workouts has made the need to stretch and maintain flexibility more important than ever," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery. No longer confined to yoga and Pilates classes, you'll find mobility exercises integrated into warm-ups and throughout workouts as preparation and performance enhancers for all kinds of strength and performance classes, adds Carol B. Espel, senior global director of group fitness and Pilates for Equinox.

Fitness Parties

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Trade those shots for squats! Instead of hitting the bar after work, groups of friends and colleagues are hitting themed "fitness parties," and some women invite guests to come sweat with them at their birthday and bachelorette parties as a healthy way to celebrate. We’re getting bored with the usual drinks and dinner, says Nicole Nichols, fitness expert and creator of the Sparkpeople: Total Body Sculpting DVD, and as everyone is becoming more health-conscious, we want innovative experiences that also help us reach our health and weight-loss goals.

Brain-Based Exercise

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While any type of physical activity improves your noggin's power and cognitive function, this type of training uses specific movement patterns and learning challenges to help boost both brain and body benefits even more. “Research has found that reactive exercise improves something called BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a neurotransmitter that improves brain function and cognition,” McCall says.

Look for exercise-based video games and small group training classes that require users to make more decisions, which improves the cognitive process, he adds. Or DIY by doing drills that incorporate new footwork patterns (such as carioca steps) on an agility ladder (if you don't have one, create the boxes with masking tape or colored chalk) instead of running on a treadmill, or simply walk across a balance beam.

Cross Disciplining

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Not to be confused with cross training, cross discipling involves mixing two styles of training into one workout—think Piloxing (Pilates + boxing) or stand-up paddleboard yoga. This year the emphasis will be on blending intense styles of training with soothing, restorative ones, as regeneration and rejuvenation are shifting to become integral parts of a workout, Espel says.

Programs are also becoming more comprehensive and progressive to meet everyone's demands. "The consumer has grown so savvy and is looking for ways to challenge their minds, develop new skills, and improve their fitness level in more compelling ways, while still looking to be able to sustain their workouts over the long haul," she adds. Winding down a Tabata session with some gentle yoga poses sounds like a perfect combo to us!

Old-School Fitness

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Forget complicated exercises where you lift a dumbbell, twist your body, and move your feet at all once. Bodyweight moves such as squats, push-ups, and jumps of every variety are back in vogue, Olson says, because you can do them anywhere and hit all of the major muscles in the body, plus they're dynamic, can be performed faster than lifting dumbbells or a barbell, and increase both strength and endurance.

This "back to basics approach" also includes retro-style training techniques, such as crawling movements, jumping jacks, and one-arm push-ups, Tumminello adds. “The more we learn about what works, the more we realize that many of the old-school training concepts, like climbing ropes, push-ups, bear crawls, deadlifts, and hill runs, are some of the most effective ways to train,” he says.

Primal and Parkour Programs

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Step off the elliptical and head outside to crawl under obstacles, walk across a fence balance-beam style, or climb a wall and jump off the top of it during a parkour or "free running" workout that uses the environment to inspire "natural" movement. "Most strength coaches and top-level trainers now identify exercises in terms of the movement as opposed to the muscles involved," McCall says. "Plus many people find isolated exercises for a single muscle or body part somewhat boring, so they're drawn to programs like this that challenge the entire body." And when you work everything from head to toe, you burn major calories. Some companies, such as MovNat, specialize in this type of training, and even larger chain gyms are launching more nature-inspired workouts held indoors.

The Rise of Specialty Studios

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Instead of joining "big box" gyms that have cardio machines, weights, and classes in everything from spin to yoga to bootcamp to Tabata, the fit-minded are signing up at specialty workout studios, Nichols says. "People want more personalized attention, specialty classes, and trainers and owners who know them by name,” she explains. Both franchised small studios (such as Flywheel Sports, Barry’s Bootcamp, and Exhale) and independently owned boutique gyms are popping up nationwide, as the trend has expanded beyond major metropolitan areas.

Equal Emphasis on Dietand Exercise

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"When we surveyed trainers and asked if their clients felt that exercising more or eating a healthier, balanced diet was more challenging, three quarters of them said diet," says Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for American Council on Exercise. No wonder more professional fitness education organizations (including ACE) are creating specialized certifications to provide trainers with nutrition and behavioral modification know-how so they can help their clients reach their goals. If you'd rather use your trainer for diet advice than seek out a registered dietitian, ask if she or he has any type of certification, or search for a certified health coach or weight management specialist in your area.

Working Out at Work

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Soon you may not have to leave the office to squeeze in a workout during the workweek. Companies are turning conference rooms into gyms and offering employees ways to get fit at work for free or at a reduced cost to help them stay active and healthy, and in turn lower health care costs.

This makes sense for both employees and employers, says Chris Downie, founder and CEO of Sparkpeople.com. “I strongly believe that providing employees with the freedom and resources to take fitness breaks during the workday actually makes them more productive, because sitting at a desk for extended time periods can reduce energy, and mulling over current work challenges while working out can help employees think in different ways that can lead to innovative solutions," he says. It’s a win-win philosophy."

High-Intensity Programs and Their Related Products

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There's no stopping the popularity of CrossFit, P90X, Tabata, and other high-intensity programs, and you can already find numerous Tabata timer apps on iTunes and CrossFit jump boxes and medicine balls. Now you'll be able to choose from a wider range of branded recovery drinks, compression clothing, apps, and equipment, McCall says.

But don't get caught up in the hype; read labels and reviews or ask a fitness professional to make sure it's worth the investment before spending your cash. "If the product is something that you think you will use to help reach your fitness goals, then buy it for that reason, not because there is a name attached to it," McCall advises.