One Nation, Overweight. Gold's Gym and Health.com have teamed up to take measure of America's growing problem.
We take a look back at some of the biggest — and weirdest — diet and exercise trends of the past decade. Plus, our experts weigh in on what's next.
When it comes to losing weight, Americans will try just about anything. From bacon binges and miracle ab machines to maple-syrup cocktails and military-style push-ups, these are the fitness fads that, for better or worse, dominated (or are about to dominate) the headlines of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
2000: Tae Bo®
The late '90s saw the heyday of this national fitness craze, which mixed martial arts moves with aerobic choreography. Worth the hype? On the heels of its ubiquitous infomercial, the gimmicky fad suffered from overexposure and had passed its saturation point by the start of the new millennium. But Tae Bo incorporated some great fundamentals that paved the way for a new generation of combat–inspired group-exercise classes such as BODYCOMBAT™, Group Kick® and aerobic kickboxing. In fact, you'll find them in your local Gold's Gym. Click here to find a class schedule in your area.
2001: Low-carb diets
Here's the plan: Cut out all carbohydrates from your diet and load up on protein (no matter how high in trans fats and cholesterol) in order to kick-start ketosis, a process in which the body burns off stored fat for energy. Worth the hype? By 2003 critics had cried foul on low-carb's counterintuitive claims. "Those diets require you to eliminate the best foods on earth, the ones that keep us healthy and provide essential nutrients," says Lauren Antonucci, a registered dietitian in New York City.
2002: Instant abs!
From ab rollers and ab flexers to ab rockers, shapers and toners, 2002 was rife with infomercials promising the stomach you've always dreamed of for a few low monthly payments plus shipping and handling. Worth the hype? While these products may have some benefit, the infomercials are built around the myth of spot reduction — that you can slim down one area of your body with targeted exercises. But the truth is no matter how many crunches you do, you won't shed belly fat without cardio. "It takes a holistic approach to getting washboard abs," says Adam Friedman, a certified personal trainer with the Gold's Gym Fitness Institute.
2003: Meal-replacement shakes
Sold in single-serving cans of about 200 calories apiece, diet shakes were a calorie counter's dream. "You didn't have to think, you didn't have to make decisions, so it was an easy diet to follow," Antonucci says. Worth the hype? "With these diets, you miss the really important things you find in food, like antioxidants, which are just as vital as the amount of carbs and protein you're taking in," she says. Supplement your diet with nutrient-rich shakes, but don't replace meals completely. "Proper nutrition is all about getting carbohydrates, protein, fat and minerals, and there's no way to get all that in a bar or shake."
For 10 weeks, consume only salty water, herbal laxatives and hourly eight-ounce glasses of a mixture of maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. "A detox appeals to people because they think it undoes all the bad they've done," Antonucci explains. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Worth the hype? Nutrition experts point out that cleanses are basically starvation diets dressed up with exotic-sounding ingredients. "Those diets push the envelope of what science says is healthy," she says. Still, the cult of "cleansing" sees a revival every few years. "People want the quick fix, and that's just human nature."
With national campaigns touting the health benefits of walking, step counters became the essential fitness accessory. (McDonald's even put them in adult Happy Meals in 2004.) Worth the hype? Pedometers don't do the work for you. Instead, they make you aware of your daily activity and challenge you to step it up — literally — which is why they are still popular today. "Short- and long-term goals are imperative in any program," says Terra Yeske, director of fitness at Gold's Gym. "The more steps you can take each day, the faster you're going to reach your goal."
2006: Boot camp
Basically, Americans decided they needed a drill sergeant to beat them into fitness submission. Modeled after the high-intensity training that shapes military recruits, exercise boot camps provided the chance to become as fit as a soldier by relying on body-weight exercises and the barked orders of a stern instructor. Worth the hype? Boot camp classes are more popular than ever and remain a great way to get a hardcore and well-rounded workout — and to hold yourself accountable. Sign up for boot camp fitness classes at a Gold's Gym near you.
2007: 100-calorie packs
This was the year a new diet mantra emerged: No food was off limits as long as you didn't eat too much of it. So America's favorite snacks were pushed onto shelves in handy single-serving packs. In theory it was a good idea. Worth the hype? "The problem with 100-calorie packs is that people use them like they're free calories — but they're not free," Antonucci says. "The limit needs to be one pack once a day." That's easier said than done, because the small amount of food in each one is hardly satisfying.
2008: Video-game fitness
With the motion-activated Wii, a personalized at-home workout became easier than ever. Using a step-aerobics–like balance board, the system logs your weight, fitness level and posture while different games lead you through simulated activities, such as aerobics, running and yoga. With Gold's Gym Cardio Workout, you get the experience of working with a personal trainer in the privacy of your living room. Worth the hype? Studies show that the Wii increases cardiovascular activity in adults and can even get the kids exercising. But, as with any workout regimen, when it comes to seeing results, you get back what you put in.
2009: Leg-sculpting footwear
Proponents of these sneakers say they'll boost weight loss, improve posture, strengthen the abs, and tone the thighs, calves and glutes — all while you walk. The trick: curved soles that simulate walking in sand, keeping you somewhat off-balance so that your muscles are constantly working to keep you stable. Worth the hype? Many bloggers have reported seeing results and feeling the "gentle ache" of exercise in their muscles after wearing the shoes. But the jury is still out on whether they work, as there's been no independent peer-reviewed research to corroborate their claims.
What's Happening Now
Group personal training
It's the recession-friendly solution to working out. By going dutch on the cost of a personal trainer, you get all the benefits of working out with a pro — hello, customized workout plan! — but at a fraction of the price. "And you'll bond with others who share your goals and relationship with exercise, so you don't have to go through your journey alone," Yeske says.
Who wants to work out when you can party instead? That's the appeal of Zumba, the calorie-burning, body-energizing fusion of hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow choreography. Since last year, Zumba has been taught in more than 75 countries and has sold millions of DVDs, and an astonishing 6 million participants take classes every week. Find a class and get in on all the fun at a Gold's Gym near you.
What's Happening Now
Your Virtual Fitness Avatar
A revolutionary new approach to personal training is being rolled out in many Gold's Gyms nationwide. For example, with just a few clicks of the mouse, you'll be able to create a 3-D avatar that shows exactly how your body will change with diet and exercise. "This is an amazing experience that helps you get a glimpse into your health and fitness future," says Daron Allen, president and CEO of Visual Fitness Planner. The program also calculates a person's Health Age and what his or her health risks are, based on family history and current lifestyle. "It's really about educating and motivating someone to get on a healthy path," he says.
"Functional fitness" is a term for any exercise that mimics an activity you do in everyday life. This type of strength training targets the core in order to improve balance, coordination and endurance, and the performance of any activity. For instance, a golfer might do a set of wood chops in order to build power behind his stroke. "People are beginning to realize that it's important to train from the inside out," Yeske says. "And by improving that center of strength, you decrease the chance of injury."
The Future: Our experts predict what's next...
"Kangoo Jumps! These boots are amazing for athletes with injuries, since they take out 80% of the impact. And you can run in them, on the pavement or on the treadmill. I tried them recently — it was a killer workout."
"For people looking to get the most bang for their buck with time and money, total body exercises are the answer. They've been done in classes for years, but now I see trainers using them in one-on-one sessions more often, whether with dumbbells, medicine balls, stability balls or resistance bands. Kettle bells are making a comeback too. They're more appealing since they started making them rubberized and in different colors."
The Future: Our experts predict what's next...
"Personally, I believe we'll fall back on what is time-tested and approved: pumping IRON! People will want to get stronger, leaner, fitter, more muscular. Seriously, these days we're faced with crazy weather, violent times, war, economic hardships. And one thing to feel good about is being stronger, both mentally and physically."
"Obesity in children has tripled in the past 10 years, and there have been millions of dollars in cuts to national physical education programs. So I think our national focus needs to go to early fitness programs for kids, teens and tweens, because the obese kids of today are the obese adults of the future."