The fitness industry is somewhat akin to the Wild West.
There isn’t much regulation on anything, snake oil sales are through the roof, and unsuspecting patrons are forced to part with hard earned cash due to their general lack of knowledge surrounding basic physiological tenets.
Unfortunately for the consumer, John Wayne can’t police this town.
Thus, we’re left to fend for ourselves in a realm, which is largely dominated by marketing and hearsay.
So, in the end, you’re left with two options: buy products and hope for the best or do your own research.
However, given most don’t have the background or time to thoroughly examine the current evidence, I’ll save you the hassle.
Here are 5 popular fitness trends from 2016, let’s separate fact from fiction.
1. Elevation Training Masks
“No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.” - Marshawn Lynch
Admittedly, Marshawn may not be the originator of this quote, but he certainly generated quite the following when he began wearing the Bane-esque contraption in Week 2 of the 2014 NFL season.
Perhaps his exceptional physical prowess is primarily related to his Skittles consumption but Marshawn claims that the elevation mask was the key to his pregame warm-up; however, science would say otherwise.
Related: Do Elevation Training Masks Work?
Training masks originally began to gain popularity when they were marketed as a means to “simulate altitude” for increased endurance performance. But, once word got out about this “revolutionary” training device, many experts began to educate the public on the facts.
First and foremost, gas exchange within the lungs occurs via passive diffusion from areas of high partial pressure to areas of low partial pressure. The mask does nothing to alter the partial pressure of incoming air; it merely restricts the RATE at which air can enter the lungs.
Thus, you’re not simulating altitude at all, merely slowing the total air potential within the lungs at any given moment.
Secondly, the TIME spent in low-pressure environments (i.e. altitude) matters more for adaptations than stress at those heights. As such, training with the mask on is actually counterintuitive - if you really wanted to gain benefits from it, you would be wearing it throughout the day and taking it off to train.
Also, athletic performance is not limited by how fast someone can breathe (provided there is no current respiratory issues such as asthma, COPD, obstructed airways, etc.), it’s typically due to one of the following:
- Rate of blood flow
- Perfusion of tissues
- Utilization of oxygen (aka VO2 max)
Finally, breathing harder during exercise not only accounts for wasted energy but if you’re going to use the mask during resistance training, you may find that it limits your ability for maximal anaerobic output and your recovery is diminished as well.
If you jack up your breathing you’ll influence much more energy output than you realize.
Maybe you’ve never used a training mask but you’re curious about the training experience. Heck, maybe you just want to resemble the evil mastermind who broke the back of an iconic DC super hero (Batman, duh).
Either way, rather than fork over $80 bucks for a less than stellar training stimulus, simply head down to your local grocery store and pick up a pack of coffee straws for $1.50. Complete your workout as normal but you can only breathe through the straw.
Congratulations, you just saved yourself $78.50. Feel free to go make yourself a cup of coffee to celebrate and don’t forget to use your leftover straws.
SCIENCE SAYS: Ditch it.
P.S. If your goal is to look like Bane, you better be well muscled, over 200lbs, and less than 6 feet tall. No one is going to think you’re hardcore weighing a buck fifty, doing leg extensions, and wheezing like you need supplemental oxygen.
2. Waist Trainers
Jessica Alba, JWoww, Lily James, Snooki, and the Kardashians all swear by them, so they obviously must be good for something, right?
Ever since the invention of the corset, women have been trying to push the envelope when it comes to waist circumference. However, truth be told, waist trainers aren’t actually “training” anything. They’re merely rearranging your internal organs in a futile approach to resemble weight loss.
Some companies claim that the perspiration occurring while wearing the garment is equivalent to the same amount lost during a 30-45 minute workout. Keep in mind, when you sweat, you lose water. Water has weight and thus if you lose water, you will lose weight. But, what happens when you rehydrate? Correct, your weight will return to normal.
Do your internal organs a favor and save your money. Waist trainers not only promote an unrealistic and unhealthy approach towards improving your physique, they’re also incredibly dangerous if worn for extensive periods of times.
It’s no coincidence that many women pass out while wearing corsets; breathing is kind of important if you want to sustain life and cutting off an individual’s ability to fully expand their lungs is one of the quickest ways to deprive the brain of oxygen.
SCIENCE SAYS: Ditch it.
3. Wearable Fitness Trackers
Fitbits are the new Game Boys of 2017. They’re the hottest fitness accessory that everyone should have wrapped around their carpal bones. According to some, they’re the “solution to the obesity crisis” but others wager that “they’re merely a passing fad.”
Can they be beneficial to make you more aware of your daily movement habits? Certainly. Can they also be destructive by promoting an achievement based lifestyle - do more, accomplish more, be more? Absolutely.
Interestingly enough, a recent study in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that when wearable technology was combined with lifestyle interventions over 24 months, the wearables group actually lost LESS weight than their counterparts who followed more traditional methods of weight loss via behavioral regulation.1
I’m certainly not saying you should toss your Fitbit or Apple watch in the trash. I think that data accumulation and monitoring is the first step towards instituting behavioral change. But, we must consider a few questions with regards to these wearables:
- What are we going to do with the data?
- Tracking is pointless if we don’t plan to modify our lifestyle/training based upon the results.
- Will tracking promote more anxiety within certain individuals?
- Becoming overwhelmed with all the data is a very real and present problem if the individual doesn’t know how to interpret trends or acute changes.
- Is the device actually measuring what we think it’s measuring?
- For example, many of these devices use the internal accelerometer as a means to rate sleep quality depending upon movement throughout the night. However, this form of tracking has yet to be compared with the gold standard of sleep monitoring, polysomnography. Many times the algorithms aren’t shared at all so it’s impossible to verify external validity.
- If wearable monitoring doesn’t appear (at least initially) to promote enhanced weight loss, then why are folks flocking to the concept?
- Is it merely the idea of self-accomplishment? Are wearable fitness trackers the virtual participation trophies of the fitness industry?
Honestly, I’m not sure that we have the answers to these questions at the moment. I can’t answer them for you; instead, my goal is merely to help you think critically about these trends. Will they still be around in 5-10 years? Better yet, should they still be around in 5-10 years?
SCIENCE SAYS: Keep it (at least for now).
4. Instagram Fitness “Professionals”
I’m going to let you in on one of the closest guarded secrets of the fitness industry - you can triple your net worth in a few simple steps without even leaving the comfort of your own home.
Step 1: Compete in a bodybuilding or physique show. This will provide you with all of the necessary tools to become a certified fitness “professional” with an exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge.
Step 2: Simply choose an overtly abstract and all-encompassing title, which sounds mildly scientific, and somewhat esoteric. If you can’t think of anything creative, simply choose one from the list below:
- Metabolic Consultant
- Lifestyle Transformation Manager
- Postural Correction Specialist
- Physique Modulation Expert
Step 3: Take an excessive number of selfies to ensure you market your aesthetics over your knowledge base. Apply filters and lighting effects whenever necessary. Remember, fitness is all about angles and lighting.
In all seriousness though, this is the route that some coaches take these days and it’s unfortunate for you as a client. Coaches should practice what they preach and exhibit a quality physique but you must be careful to not let the guise of their aesthetic perfection bias your decision.
In this day and age, the Internet offers very little accountability and most folks can market themselves as a professional with very little or no experience working with individuals in real life.
Coaching is so much more than simply assigning macros and prescribing rep ranges. As the saying goes, education is worthless without application; ask yourself: can my coach explain the ‘what’ behind the ‘why’? To loosely quote one of my mentors, “The best coaches don’t always give direct answers; instead, they show you where to look.”
SCIENCE SAYS: Choose wisely.
5. Compression Pants
…with no shorts.
Guys, come on now…You’re confident. We get it.
However, despite what you might be lead to believe, males can’t rock the equivalent of yoga pants. No one feels comfortable with you wearing that. No one.
Funny enough, I actually decided to take a somewhat informal poll of women at the gym to put an end to the shorts vs. no shorts debate. Turns out, there wasn’t a single female who mentioned they were a fan of compression pants by themselves. Zero.
Please, do us all a favor - go find some shorts and stop trying to impress Instagram with your #skysoutthighsout attire.
SCIENCE EVERYONE SAYS: Ditch it.
“So, where do we go from here?”
Every industry will likely always try to capitalize on its consumers, but don’t get caught up in fads. Remember, complexity will often foster a lack of adherence. So, if a product is promising something that sounds too good to be true, odds are, it just might be.
To finish off, I’ll leave you with this quote from one of the many strength coaches who has poured into me:
“Worrying about carb cycling or ketone esters when you aren’t consistently regulating your blood sugar or sleeping 8+ hours a night is like mowing the lawn when your house is on fire. Fundamentals. First and always.” - Dave Roscoe