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We can’t be certain of much right now but if we can be confident of anything, it’s that we’re all hoping 2021 bears no resemblance to 2020. The events of 2020 turned life on its head, spun it around a few times, and gave it a good shake. As a result, things have changed. How we work has changed, how we communicate has changed, and how we exercise and eat has changed.
According to a survey, conducted by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), 85 percent of gym-goers say that their exercise regimen has changed over the past several months. And in 2021, the way we view health and fitness is set to evolve again, with 68 percent of IHRSA survey respondents saying that they are going to prioritize their health and fitness more than they have in the past.
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“The interesting thing about 2021 fitness trends is that they’re a mixture of consumer-led and tech-led developments,” says body-transformation specialist and founder of New Body Plan, Joe Warner. “2020 was tough, both physically and emotionally, and as a result, we’re seeing a bigger focus on wellbeing. We’re also seeing a spike in demand for fat-loss products, driven by the desire to lose weight gained during periods of lockdown, and by the fact that research shows obesity can increase your risk of dying from COVID-19.”
Technology has been steadily playing a more prominent role in the world of health and fitness over the past few years and that phenomenon has been accelerated in recent months. “We may have been through a tough time but the fitness landscape is actually looking pretty healthy, with more choice, more sophistication, and more personalized offerings,” says Warner. Here’s what you can expect to see in the world of health and fitness come 2021.
The year 2021 will be the one that tech giants properly muscle their way into the world of online fitness, starting with Apple’s Fitness+ platform, which launched on December 14, 2020, and brings studio-style workouts to the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.
With Apple Fitness+, users can select from a range of workout styles, including HIIT classes, strength training, and yoga. Skilled and engaging trainers lead the workout sessions and you can track your progress via the slickly-designed app. “With diverse studio workouts that are suitable for all ability levels, led by a phenomenal group of unique trainers, and an approachable program designed for beginners all the way through to the fitness enthusiast — as well as the flexibility to work out anywhere — there’s something for everyone,” says Jay Blahnik, Apple’s senior director of fitness for Health Technologies.
Find out more at Apple.com
While Apple, Amazon, and others eagerly tell us that their products are “for everyone,” what the multi-futuristic platforms lack is human touch. That’s where the need for a good old-fashioned person-to-person interaction comes in (even, if it’s via screens). Sure, the Apple+ classes are well-produced but what happens when your progress stalls or when life stress leaves you slumped on the sofa covered in cookie crumbs? You could holler “Hey Google, why do I feel flabby and unmotivated?” but you might be better off speaking to a real person.
“There will be a rise in coach-led sessions, whether that’s online or in person,” says Aran Quinn, a personal trainer at W10 gym. “During lockdown, the general public had to get on with their fitness by themselves and it has made them realize that the accountability and the knowledge a coach provides is what they need if they want to get results. A lot of people I’m working with have mentioned that lockdown made them realize that they didn’t really know what they were doing, which in turn led to a decrease in motivation. Also, the trouble with a lot of free workouts you get online is that they’re not [always] good quality. Doing 500 burpees with a 180-degree turn in the air will make you tired but can’t replace a well-structured session.”
Find out more at FindYourTrainer.com
Fitness and grooming go hand in well-moisturized hand. It used to be a vanity thing: you work out to look good and you keep yourself well-groomed to look even better. In 2021, however, the association is going to reflect the bigger wellness picture. “I certainly see an increasing emphasis on grooming that makes us feel good, not just look good,” says grooming expert and founder of Grooming Guru, Lee Kynaston.
“There’s definitely a convergence between grooming and wellness. The two have been moving towards one another for a while now because – surprise, surprise – looking good is intricately entwined with self-esteem, which is intricately entwined with mental health and wellbeing. The word ‘wellness’ crops up a lot alongside grooming these days. This convergence can be seen most clearly in the rise of CBD skincare, where skincare products – everything from hand cream to face creams and shampoos – use ingredients from the wellness sphere for their skincare benefits, reflecting a more holistic approach.”
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If Apple Fitness+ is all about working up a sweat and throwing virtual high fives, the folks over at Amazon have taken a different approach with the Halo – which essentially tells you in a soothing (and maybe even a little sinister) voice that everything is going to be OK.
Halo is a new subscription health service and fitness band that, quite literally, tracks your every move. There’s no screen on the wearable device, so it partners with a smartphone app to record your activity. It can also use the camera on your mobile device to scan your body fat levels, which adds a contemporary twist to the traditional selfie.
The jaw-dropping feature – you can decide for yourself whether this puts the Halo into the category of health saint or health sinner – is the tone analysis function. We’re not talking about whether or not it thinks your body is a little soft in certain areas. Oh no. The Halo monitors the tone of your voice to give you feedback on your emotional state. We could also tell you about the sleep tracking features and a whole bunch of other stuff but you’re still thinking about that mood assessment feature, aren’t you?
$99.99 at Amazon.com
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an increase in interest around immunity-boosting products, and that’s here to stay. “We will see a focus on immune support continue as a trend,” says Christopher Shade, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Quicksilver Scientific. “Although vaccines for our current health crisis [are starting to be administered], fortifying your immune system through wellness practices makes one better prepared for any immune challenges that may arise.”
The year 2021 is also going to take the concept of immunity-boosting one step further. “The gut/brain axis is another area that’s starting to boom,” says Sports Nutrition consultant Ross Austin. “That trend blends the growth areas of immunity, cognition, and gut health. It recognizes that the brain and the gut are inextricably linked and it also reflects the fact that we’re coming around to a more holistic approach to wellbeing.”
Underwhelmed by the real world? Then step into a virtual one, where you can unleash your real-world frustrations on imaginary punching bags. That’s what tech companies like FitXR are hoping draws you into the arena of virtual fitness. Its new game BoxVR (which you play while using an Oculus Quest VR headset) includes video-game-style combat conditioning classes that work up a very real sweat. There’s even a new Peloton-style subscription offering available called Supernatural, where you can do things like swing at imaginary baseballs. Using video game tricks to reward and motivate the user makes a lot of sense in a fitness setting where the challenge of the game distracts you from the effort you’re exerting. It also does what a set of burpees can rarely do – it makes exercising fun.
Find out more at GetSupernatural.com
While some parts of the health and fitness world are taking on a more holistic approach to wellbeing, a significant sector will be catering to the increase in demand for rapid fat loss plans. By the middle of 2020, 76 percent of Americans in a Nutrisystem survey reported that they had gained weight since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has prompted a surge of interest in programs and systems, much of them delivered online or via apps, that get rid of that excess weight as quickly as it crept on. It’s not just vanity powering the trend, either.
University of North Carolina research recently revealed that obesity increased COVID-19 death risk by 48 percent, providing a big incentive to slim down. “We’ve seen a massive increase in demand for time-specific fat loss plans, both for home and gym,” says Warner. “If you are looking for a plan, go for one with social proof of results and avoid anything extreme or unsustainable. I’d be wary of any diet that requires you to cut out huge food groups or one that demonizes certain foods. That approach may work in the short term but in the long run, they tend to make you miserable and you’ll end up back where you started. The best plans include a variety of whole foods combined with training sessions that make you feel good.”
In the same way that 2019 involved working in an office, 2020 meant working from home, and 2021 looks like it will involve a combination of the two, fitness will also fuse different approaches to offer more flexible options. “I expect the hybrid fitness model to take off in 2021, where brick and mortar gyms will invest heavily in their remote and virtual offerings for customers preferring to exercise at home or in the outdoors, via increasingly connected and interactive apps,” says wellness industry thought leader Chris Ward.
“The big benefit to gym-goers is that they will get consistent advice, support, and tracking of their indoor and outdoor activities. In the best-case scenarios using apps, such as MyFitnessPal, that your gym app interfaces with will streamline your tracking and maximize rewards by funneling data onto one platform. Essentially the gym acts as a one-stop-shop for your active lifestyle.” Kari Saitowitz, Founder and CEO of Fhitting Room, an on-the-pulse boutique fitness brand, agrees. “Yoga and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are the two most popular digital fitness modalities, and they translate easily to a home environment while providing maximum benefits when it comes to emotional and physical health.”
Find out more at MyFitnessPal.com
You could make a case for veganism being a 2021 nutrition trend. Recent research from Ipsos shows that 9.6 million Americans identified as vegans in 2019, up from just 290,000 in 2004. You could also argue that the ‘flexi-vegan’ diet, where you alternate between periods of plant-based and carnivorous eating, is the hot new thing. The real action, however, is happening in labs, with ‘cultured’ meat being grown using existing stem cells from an animal. While companies such as Beyond Meat were busy making authentic-tasting burgers from plant-based sources, San Francisco firm Eat Just has formulated a product it describes as “real, high-quality meat created directly from animal cells for safe human consumption.”
In early December 2020, Singapore’s Food Agency became the first regulatory body to approve the product for public consumption when they gave a green light to the company’s chicken nuggets. They may not be available in your local supermarket just yet, but plans for a global roll-out are being cooked up right now.
When lockdowns hit and gyms were forced to close, their future looked bleak. “The masses claimed that their intent was to cancel their memberships and start to work out at home,” says Matt Dehatty from fitness apparel specialists Gymshark. The key to drawing people back in, he says, is offering members a shared and meaningful experience. “In 2021 the pendulum will start to swing back. People join gyms for a variety of reasons but they tend to stay for the community. It’s the single biggest trend that spans all of fitness. I predict that community-driven fitness will go from strength to strength. Whether that’s at home on your indoor spin bike or in your favorite boutique facility. The masses will continue to move away from ‘globo gyms’ towards community-focused classes.”
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