It’s odd to contemplate for anyone under 30 who can’t recall a high street without gym gear and trainers, but when I first started writing about fitness 20 years ago, gym memberships were a rarity, personal trainers were hired only by the rich and famous and very few of us had ever hopped onto a treadmill or a cross trainer. We’d certainly never heard of Kettlebells or hot yoga, Pilates or bootcamp circuits. We’d encountered the jogging boom and Jane Fonda, but little more.
In the years that followed, a fitness revolution occurred. Physical activity was remodelled into fat-melting workouts and promoted as something that would make us feel – and, crucially, look – younger and healthier. The number of gyms soared and we joined them in droves. At the last count, more than 12 per cent of the UK population was a member of a privately owned fitness emporium with many more attending pay-as-you-go workouts or hiring personal trainers, now accessible to the masses, to guide them into shape. We run more marathons, take part in more triathlons and swim in wild, open lakes and rivers much more readily than our parents or grandparents did.
Yet, for all this, there is a troubling anomaly – one that has plagued me persistently over the years.
Despite more of us embracing fitness, obesity levels have continued to rise. Our push to be more active has had little effect on national girth or, for that matter, on overall health.
Something had gone wrong and my overriding hunch has long been that we aren’t exercising in the right way. My job has introduced me to almost every fashionable new workout that has made its way onto gym timetables, interviewed countless celebrity trainers about their ‘unique’ approach to honing that A-Lister body and observed the rise and fall in popularity of everything from ballet training to trapeze workouts.
Much of what I have seen has left me cynical. I’ve discovered that, much like the diet world, the fitness industry too often bases itself on false promises and faddy workouts with short-term appeal. What’s hot in gyms today will invariably not be making you sweat tomorrow. Fitness has become an industry so complicated that we are encouraged to make absurd attempts to achieve what could so easily be integrated into our day. In my mind, too many workouts were focusing on duration over effort, on attempting to tease the body gently into shape as opposed to pushing for an intensity that sports scientists have long known to be the route to a more efficient, leaner, and, yes, fitter body.
The more I witnessed, the less inspired I was by what the fitness world had to offer. And the more frustrated I became by the knowledge that people were investing time and money without getting their just reward.
But then came the first of many scientific studies that confirmed getting fit in the true sense of the word, really making a difference to your health and wellbeing, would require shorter bursts of more intense effort.
A workout style, in other words, that echoes the training principles of sports people, but is presented in a more convenient and less intimidating format.
In the world of science the idea has caught on like wildfire. Everywhere, specialists are suddenly talking not about how much exercise we should all be doing, but how little. At conferences such as those held by the esteemed American College of Sports Medicine, dozens of papers and presentations are pushing the concept that a few minutes of exercise is all that’s needed to get and stay in shape. And it’s from this sound scientific basis that Fast Exercise was born. For those who struggle to meet government recommendations of a minimum 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise – the kind that allows you to enjoy a chat – or 75 minutes of more hardcore stuff, it is welcome news indeed.
Fast Exercise sets guidelines we can meet. It is a pocket-sized convenient workout we can all fit neatly into our lives. And who doesn’t need that?