It was during the late 1980s that I took my first aerobics class … a college gym filled with Spandex leotard and leg warmer-, Reebok sneaker- and hair scrunchy-clad girls (myself included), all jumping around in near-synchronization to the tunes of George Michael, Madonna and Michael Jackson. It seemed as much emphasis was placed on appearance as on the actual exercise, but we took ourselves pretty seriously.
Fitness sure has changed since then (and not just the fashions). Today, classes with intriguing names like, “Core Meltdown,” “Give it Up,” “Power Sculpt,” “Warrior Workout,” and “Boot Camp Morning Fun!” (isn’t that last one an oxymoron?) are designed to motivate participants and make exercise more challenging and fun. And gym members are using equipment such as giant black rubber (truck?!) tires, power sleds, kettlebells, agility quick ladders, speed chutes, and warrior ropes.
“Exercise regimes have changed quite a bit over the last couple of decades,” explains Sue Teoli, owner of Go Go Fit (gogo-fit.com), in New Canaan. “The workouts now are shorter and more intense. People have less time in their busy day so the industry has catered to that.”
Go Go Fit offers individualized programs, and Sue, who has a master’s degree in fitness and opened the studio in October, 2015, has eschewed machines in favor of ‘gadgets,’ as she refers to them, such as medicine balls, bosu balls, physio balls, foam rollers, free weights, box steps, kettlebells, battle ropes, and slam balls. “With these, you’re forced to stabilize your core and balance,” she says. “It helps connect mind and muscle.”
Ellen Mullen, owner of Darien-based Goodfit Fitness Studio (goodfitdarien.com), which targets men and women over the age of 50, has also witnessed an evolution in fitness training over the last decade. “We now focus on functional training, a regime which includes working out the body for life situations,” she explains. “For example, functional training helps the individual to not only meet their athletic goals, such as golf, tennis, etc., but also life goals such as walking or gardening.”
Improving balance, strength training, stretching and cardio are now combined in different ways for individual goals, she says: “In the past, the focus was to work out in the gym with either with free weights or machines. With advances in technology, a workout may include simulated biking classes that bring the outside indoors with various routes to choose from with varying degrees of difficulty.”
Goodfit offers a variety of cardio machines, trampolines, jump ropes, and steppers, along with exercise bands, bosu balls, free weights, cross-training machines and more.
Members at the Darien YMCA (darien-ymca.org) are embracing a more holistic approach to fitness, according to Jessica Van Sciver, director of health and fitness, Darien YMCA. “For example, instead of only focusing on weight training or only taking yoga classes, now members are incorporating whole body therapies as well as functional training into their workout regimens,” she says. “They are performing high-intensity training as well as yoga or Pilates during their workouts. Fitness has become a lifestyle, and that means that physical and mental health are priorities.”
As for programs, some of the Y’s busiest classes include: InBody technology solution, a medical apparatus that uses bioelectrical impedance to measure body composition; Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) classes such as PaddleFit Intro, Pilates, and Yoga; a Private Pilates Studio for one-on-one private Pilates sessions; and TRX, a suspension training system that leverages gravity and bodyweight to provide hundreds of workout options.
Ken O’Toole, who co-owns “O”Zone Fitness Training Center (ozonefitnesstrainingcenter.com) in Fairfield with his wife, Deb, has observed that exercise regimes have changed significantly over the last decade. “Ten years ago, most people were looking at fitness in ‘parts.’ We went to the gym and focused on working one area of our body until exhaustion — a good burn meant a good workout!” he explains. “Exercise has now evolved to a more holistic approach in looking at the entire body and the way it should optimally function. Foam rolling, dynamic warm-up sequences and full-body athletic movements are now the norm. Posture awareness and understanding how to use stabilization muscles are now integrated into a good fitness routine.”
Rhodie Lorenz, the co-founder and lead instructor of JoyRide Cycling + Fitness Studio (joyridestudio.com), with studios in Darien, Wilton, Ridgefield, Westport, and two in San Antonio, Texas, has observed that exercise has become a lifestyle. “Many people now consider fitness to be an important part of their daily life … as fitness has become more of a lifestyle, there are many more opportunities, especially in group,” she explains.
People are also now gravitating away from big box gyms and seeking boutique studios that deliver high-quality, specialized fitness and wellness, she notes. “We have also seen a transition from people wanting to become stronger, and not just ‘skinnier,’ ” she says. “They realize that physical strength and mental and emotional strength go hand-in-hand.”
JoyRide also offers small group training classes to improve strength and flexibility, including Circuit, mat Pilates, Sculpt, High-Intensity Interval Training, Barre, BOSU and TRX. “Music is also a key ingredient to a rocking cycling class because music taps into emotion, evokes memories, and is a powerful motivator in physical performance,” Rhodie says. “JoyRide sets the music bar even higher with CycleLIVE classes, during which a live band plays live music as the playlist for the class. It’s so much fun — it’s like a concert and a workout rolled into one.”
Sara Koch, owner of Oxygen Fitness (oxygenfitnessct.com) in New Canaan, notes that the biggest change in fitness is less emphasis on cardio, and more on adding weight and strength exercises to promote longevity. “This shift is particularly true for women, with the idea of women using weights being more acceptable,” she says. “The static cardio used in aerobics classes used to be more popular. Now group fitness instructors put more of an emphasis on high-intensity interval training for shorter periods of time. Today’s clients want to be lean but also to be strong—it’s not as much about being skinny.”
Oxygen offers classes in Barre, yoga, cycle, boxing, TRX, CrossFit, sculpting, and Zumba. In addition to just using your own body weight exercises, the equipment includes dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, body bars, ankle and arm bands, balls, steps, stairs, and weighted plates, according to Cat Alessio, director of client services for Oxygen Fitness. “Using a variety of different types of equipment helps to build strength, helps with agility, balance and coordination and helps to translate into everyday life,” she explains.
If you’re looking for a small gym offering a comprehensive 45-minute fitness routine (½ hour strength training and 15 minutes of cardio) that’s available virtually morning till night, then Koko Fit Club (darien.kokofitclub.com), with a computerized entry flashdrive “key” that allows gym access from 5:00 a.m. to midnight, might be the choice for you.
Steve Powell, owner, refers to his business as an automated personal training studio, in which one machine offers 106 different exercises. “In traditional fitness centers with a lot of different types of equipment, members tend to use the same four or five machines until they get bored,” he says.
Here, however, he says, the staff develops an individual program, based on the client’s current fitness level, and plans their progression from there. “We work out with members until they become more independent, and retest our clients after every 12 workouts to reassess their level … then we’ll tweak the program to help them achieve increase their levels and achieve their goals.”
What does the future hold for the fitness regime? “With the continuing advancements in technology, I envision an increased focus on classes where individuals can stream spin classes or races and can compete with other athletes who are not in the same room,” Ellen Mullen concludes. “I also see more emphasis on stretching and yoga, as well as using the outdoors to add to a person’s exercise regime. Sometimes less is more … you don’t necessarily need a lot of equipment to get in shape.”