"Now and again the fitness industry does get it right" … Michelle Bridges. Photo: Ellis Parrinder
During my two decades in the fitness industry, I've witnessed a never-ending range of fitness fads, programs, systems, methods and philosophies. In the context of what we know today about exercise, some of the crazy stuff we used to do seems, well, crazy.
Gravity boots, those weird anklets with hooks attached, had us hanging upside down in a doorway in the perennial search for rock-hard abs. The only exercise you can really do with them are sit-ups, but by the time you can't do any more you're too tired to get up to unhook the boots. There must be thousands of skeletons hanging in doorways like electrocuted fruit bats all over the world.
The incredibly popular Shake Weight (incredible because we're still buying into the idea that six-minute arm workouts actually work) is a comparative newcomer to the fitness gadget scene. And, by all accounts, they're selling by the truckload.
But now and again the fitness industry does get it right. My latest girl crush is on high-intensity interval training (HIIT to us fitanistas). Nothing gets my catecholamines more excited than the prospect of 60 minutes of tearing the gym door off its hinges. I know. It's perverse.
I stumbled over a sensational incarnation of this type of training the other day. It's called the Orange Theory. The workout is divided into three parts: treadmills, rowing and weights. Each class has a maximum of 20 participants and, under the goading of a personal trainer, they move from one piece of equipment to the next.
But here's the wicked bit: each participant wears a monitor that transmits their heart rates to one of 20 plasma screens on the wall in front, so they can keep an eye on how hard they're working, as well as seeing how hard everyone else is working.
As the heart rates increase, the colour of the screen moves from a low-heart-rate blue to high-intensity orange as people work their way through a series of high-energy intervals that give 12 to 20 minutes of training at 84 per cent of maximum heart rate or more.
This is smart training. The class structure delivers pumping energy and encouragement, and the HIIT training delivers a raised metabolism that continues to burn extra kilojoules long after the workout has finished.
Not every workout has to be a screamer; only boost the intensity two or three times a week.