The Radical New Guard of Fitness
They want to rethink the way we work out, build our gyms, fuel, and collect data. And they're coming for you next.
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Today’s fitness disrupters are a bit of a mixed bag. There’s an ex-marathon champion, a multisport workout-video king, and a Silicon Valley insider, to name a few. The common thread: They’re all getting a lot of attention, and they all have their own clear vision for the new future of fitness.
You probably know Edwards’s work. As the director of results for Beachbody, one of the largest fitness companies in the world, the 53-year-old runner, climber, and cyclist has helped develop the routines for dozens of workout videos, everything from P90X to Brazilian Butt Lift. Millions of DVDs featuring his workouts have been sold worldwide. He’s the unofficial company lab rat, and there are few fad diets or newfangled training regimens Edwards hasn’t tried. “I like messing with my body,” he says. “If you don’t test it yourself, you can’t really know.”
1. Jump rope. “If I could do only one exercise, this is it. It works your upper body, lower body, and core. The cardio benefits are legendary, too.”
2. Opt for beans and rice. “It’s like a poor man’s sports food. It’s mainly carbohydrates but also contains plenty of protein and vitamins and minerals.”
Ruby, an exercise physiologist and director of the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism, once took a muscle biopsy of his own leg after a half Ironman, because he was curious about how much energy he’d expended. (The answer: about 4,500 calories.) Needless to say, this isn’t the way traditional research is done. But Ruby’s real-world tests have led to innovative discoveries, including one that found that rates of muscle recovery are as dependent on how often you eat during a race as what you eat afterward.
Last August, intrigued by altitude acclimatization, he took a mobile lab up Mount Evans in Colorado, site of the highest paved road in America (14,264 feet), and flew in 30 subjects. Without giving them time to acclimatize, he strapped them to a treadmill and had them swallow various supplements to see who performed best. (The study is ongoing). A longtime Ironman triathlete, Ruby often designs the outlines of his studies while in the field. “It’s about balancing the creative and analytical situations I find myself in,” he says. “I formulate questions I wouldn’t have otherwise if I hadn’t been out on a bike ride or a long run.”
1. Begin your recovery during the workout. While studying road cyclists, Ruby discovered that eating regularly during long bouts of exercise is often more important for muscle recovery than a protein-heavy recovery shake afterward. Opt for something simple—a granola bar, some pretzels—every 20 minutes or so.
2. Don’t overdo it with hydration. Studying firefighting crews, Ruby found that it’s not uncommon for hotshots, who work in extreme heat, to lose one to two liters of sweat per hour. Because it isn’t feasible to compensate for that loss in the field, Ruby advises letting thirst be your guide. Your body will regulate itself over time to match your water intake.
3. Keep it chill. In the first four hours after exercise, Ruby found that ambient and muscle temperature can influence recovery more than post-workout nutrition. The body needs to cool down, but that doesn’t mean you should have an ice bath. The simplest advice: don’t linger outside on a hot day.
Salazar will always be known for his three New York City Marathon titles in the 1980s—and the fact that he wrecked his body through vicious training sessions to achieve them. But he’s now making an even bigger name for himself as the head coach at Nike’s pro running program, the Oregon Project. And his masochist past has fueled his unconventional belief in prescribing brutal workouts for his runners, including having them run after all-out races. Why? Salazar, 55, believes that the adrenaline of racing primes the body to work harder than everyday conditions permit and that his runners get a double stimulus from a race followed by a workout. Beating the best in the world, Salazar says, means you’ve got to experiment, and over the years he’s been the first to tinker with innovative training tools like oxygen tents, which mimic high altitude. Since 2007, five Oregon Project runners have won ten world championships or Olympic medals, more than any other distance group in the country. Writes Salazar in his 2013 autobiography, 14 Minutes: “We are just scratching the surface of empirically training the human body.”
Salazar’s High-Tech Tools
1. Cryosaunas. Refrigerator-size cylinders are pumped full of supercooled liquid nitrogen, to chill runners’ skin and promote recovery.
2. Underwater treadmills. Low-gravity running lets athletes reap the benefits of extra mileage without the wear and tear.
3. Altitude houses. Oxygen-depleted homes simulate sleeping at elevation, which boosts aerobic efficiency.
“For most people, the gym is broken,” says Kapoor, 43. “Globally, it’s a $75 billion business, and more than 60 percent of people don’t go, even though they’re paying.” That’s why Kapoor, one of Silicon Valley’s most well-known investors (he cofounded the photo app Snapfish), turned his attention to the fitness world. He quickly realized that the problem was not time or money but motivation, or lack thereof. His big idea? Spark people’s enthusiasm with two incentives: community and cash. In January, he launched Fitmob, a website that lets you connect with personal trainers, who are vetted by the company, and join group workouts in studios, gyms, and even nightclubs. The more training sessions you attend each week, the lower the price, from $15 for your first session to $5 for your third and fourth. Group workouts organized by social media, especially in public parks, is one of the hottest trends in fitness. But most of these classes are free. Can Kapoor convince people to pay for them? His sell is that Fitmob’s experienced certified trainers are worth the expense. Launched in January, it now offers more than 50 classes per week, everything from yoga and pilates to CrossFit. And 80 percent of mobbers have invited friends to join. “Fitness is not about fancy equipment or expensive real estate,” says Kapoor. “It’s about people helping people. We’re reinventing the gym for the digital age.”
Fitmob’s Most Popular Classes
1. Rise and Grind. Circuit training and high-intensity interval sessions.
2. Battle of the Bands. Strength and conditioning with exercise bands.
3. Weapons of Ass Reduction. Female-focused class with squats, lunges, and other toning exercises.
4. Mission Impossible. Running drills, mobility exercises, and core exercises in a circuit.
LeBoeuf, founder of Valencell, a tech supplier to consumer fitness companies, says most wearable devices—Fitbit, Nike+ FuelBand—aren’t providing meaningful data. “They don’t measure the things we need to know about,” he says. For a device to be useful to the average consumer, it can’t just track your heart rate. It needs to compare your heart rate with your activity history to calculate training adaptations. Most important, the device has to fit seamlessly into your daily routines. To help transform wearable devices from gimmicks into essential gear, LeBoeuf and Valencell developed PerformTek, an earbud technology that tracks everything from oxygen levels to core temperature to, in the future, whether you’ve got a heart problem. LeBoeuf’s ultimate goal is a day when tracking allows consumers to personally take charge of their health and fitness. “When this gets really good,” he says, “people will be astonished by what they learn about themselves.”
1. Track yourself. Even if the data being captured isn’t rich, LeBoeuf says, a monitoring device may inspire you to be more active.
2. Trust the tech. Last December, LeBoeuf injured his groin while pushing for a running PR—this despite Valencell’s tracking app beeping at him to slow down. The program recognized that he was going too hard even when he didn’t.