The Evolution of Fitness — where will we be?

I often wonder what we will think in 40 years looking back on the fitness trends of today. America has had some of the strangest — albeit funniest — trends in fitness and health in history, and we don’t seem to be slowing down. Somehow countries like Germany, Russia and Bulgaria have gotten training right for close to a century. Rarely have they strayed from the basic squat, clean and jerk or snatch. Olympic lifting is taken seriously in those countries, while somehow America has been perpetually confused about how to build a strong and healthy body. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll figure it out one of these days. But since heavy squats and deadlifts are not as “fun” as a Booty Boot Camp, I doubt we ever will.

The ’80s had Jazzercise and aerobics classes, weird vibrating machines meant to tone your abs, people lifting two-pound weights to tone because a 10-pound weights would make you bulky (which somehow is still a belief). The ’90s had people wearing garbage bags and pretending they were Lance Armstrong on a road bike. Oh, and don’t forget Sketchers’ Shape Ups — the shoes that “made you fit.”

The early 2000s had wonderful trends like the shake weight, getting fit with your Nintendo Wii and, the best one, low-carb diets. We are still living under the guise of quacks like Dr. Oz and Oprah selling snake oil to middle-age women everywhere. Today, there more trends than you can count. It seems like a new one pops up every day. For every diet or training program, there is another one telling us to do the opposite. Eat five meals, or eat one. Eat every three hours to burn fat, or don’t eat for 12 and call it intermittent fasting. Do 100 reps, or do one rep. Make sure you eat an hour after your workout to hit the anabolic window, or maybe that window doesn’t even exist. We’re past calorie counting and on to macro counting, carb cycling, paleo, keto and so on. There are more diets than there are stars in the sky. People throw the word functional around like it’s the law, yet the only function of 99 percent of functional exercises is to make you look like a baby giraffe trying to walk around the gym.

We live in the information age, but there is so much information that none of us is qualified to digest. We get fed abstracts and articles claiming to be the next big breakthrough, only to have another one make the opposite point the next day. People are getting handed PhDs as long as they pay enough tuition and make enough friends to peer review their correlative opinions. This isn’t the case in most science fields, but it is rampant in exercise science. We can no longer put our trust in someone simply because of the letters behind their names. There is so much to nutrition and training that requires experience more than textbooks. Getting the PhD is only the first step to learning about this field. Sure, there are quite a few great scientists and professionals in exercise science, but most of the time those are not the ones we follow for health, nutrition or training advice. They are in a lab somewhere while the frauds are on TV and social media. Instead we’re following the guy who has a six-pack and the girl who has the best butt-to-waist ratio. If that is who we are putting our faith in, we are doomed.

In 40 years, we’ll be looking back on all the quirky trends like we look back on the Afros from the ’80s and mullets from the ’90s. Our kids will be finding thousands of mirror selfies of their parents whose only care in life when they were 20 was how many likes they got on Instagram. Are these the stories we’ll be telling our kids? Our grandkids? I’ll be embarrassed for my generation if that’s the case. I can only hope the memory of Instagram fitness gurus is erased so that no one can look back on the comedy that is the health industry today. Maybe, hopefully, we will wake up and smell the coffee — as long as there is a stick of butter in there and we call it paleo.