Exercise and the Digital Age

Writer Zoe Louise Cronk | January 11, 2016

The arrival of the 21st century spawned something of a fitness revolution. As the exercise industry became increasingly intertwined with the worlds of fashion and celebrity, it pushed the aspiration for a toned physique ever more into the spotlight. As a result, the technological era soon caught on, producing new innovations in workouts and sportswear.

Workouts Go High-Tech

Heart-pumping workouts for the digital age don’t come much better than California-based Fitwall. Fat-burning and muscle-building are the aims of these bootcamp-style classes, which take place on and around your own seven-foot-high Fitwall. Made up of ladder-like rungs, handholds, resistance bands and pull-up bars, these wall-mounted steel constructions are specifically designed for the brand’s novel, full-body workout. Jumping, climbing, balancing and isolated movements feature in every class, with the focus changing daily from strength to interval training to cardio.

“The Fitwall offers a unique challenge to the body that cannot be replicated anywhere else,” says Rudy Thomas (MS, CSCS, SCCC), Director of Coach Education at Fitwall. “It’s a complete training package centred on the basic human movements of Squat, Hinge, Push, Pull and Step (Lunge).”

“You get to be the driver of your own fitness pursuits,” he replies, when asked about the Fitwall’s effectiveness. “Essential core exercises ensure you’re stable and injury-resistant, while the dynamic elements put you back in touch with your athletic side, in a safe way. The interval aspect gives consumers the fitness they need to reach their goals, without sitting down on a machine.”

As if that wasn’t enough, heart rate monitors worn throughout the class sync to your own wall-mounted iPad, which also shows a video of each exercise being taught. Coach Travis of the Newport Beach location explains the reason behind this addition: “Our system tracks each athlete’s heart rate throughout the workout, and the technology allows the coach to know how the athlete is performing.” Post-class, your data is then uploaded to your personal Fitwall account, allowing you to track your progress week on week and ensuring you reach your full potential every time.

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And it’s not just new workouts that are making use of technological advances.

Pilates, for example, first appeared more than 100 years ago when its namesake creator Joseph Pilates pioneered a form of exercise that combined controlled movements with a focus on breathing and alignment. It quickly garnered attention for its success in building strength and flexibility, whilst improving balance, coordination and endurance; so much so that, a century on, traditional mat-based Pilates classes are still performed worldwide. Some simply use bodyweight, while others use equipment such as a Pilates ring or foam block. Few pieces of workout apparatus, however, can rival the Reformer, which is where the high-tech upgrade comes in.

Now a workout category of its own, Reformer Pilates studios have popped up across the globe in an attempt to satisfy the ever-growing fitness crowd. So what actually is a Reformer? It consists of two ‘platforms’: one at the front of the machine with a footbar above, and a larger platform or ‘carriage’ in the middle, connected to two straps on either side and a number of springs. Pulling the straps or pushing away from the footbar moves the carriage back and forth, thereby adding resistance and a dynamic element to challenge your balance and work your core. At any given time, you could have your back, feet, hands or knees on (or hovering above) either platform, with the amount of resistance dependent on the springs selected.

Hollie Grant is one of London’s top Reformer instructors, creator of The Model Method (a combination of Reformer Pilates, high intensity intervals and weight training), and the taskmaster behind the enviable physiques of tens of thousands of clients. “What Reformer Pilates does to your body is second to none!” she says with passion. “It works muscles in both the concentric and eccentric phases of movement to help build strong, flexible muscles and a toned, functional body.”

As anyone who has taken a Reformer class will know, the number of moves you can perform is seemingly endless; from pikes to shoulder stands to weighted leg lifts. “The best thing about the Reformer is the diversity,” adds Hollie. “You have the carriage to carry out traditional mat Pilates moves, plus the weighted springs to add resistance. This mimics so many pieces of gym equipment such as the leg press and pec deck, which appeals to those who perhaps don’t usually ‘feel’ Pilates.”

However, it’s not just the studios and equipment that have evolved – your ability to take part in their classes has also changed. Sculpting the lean and toned physique of a ballerina, for example, has never been more accessible, and can now be done at a time and place that suits you.

Sleek Technique is a digital fitness concept that provides members with access to live online classes as well as an extensive library of workouts to stream. Its founders, Victoria Marr and Flik Swan, sought to “bring the enjoyment and fitness benefits of ballet that we had experienced as professional ballerinas, to as many women as possible.”

Class options that include Ballet Bootcamp, Dancer Refined Abs and Sleek Barre Technique, meld classic ballet moves with cardiovascular training and yoga-style stretches. Even better? All you need to reap the benefits is internet access, a small space and a chair (as your makeshift barre).

“A fixed studio location would always mean limitations on the numbers we could reach,” reveal the elegant duo. “The penny dropped one day that putting our new ballet-based method online was the answer to women everywhere enjoying Sleek Technique, regardless of their location.”

What sets their method apart from others who had the idea to use the internet for their workouts, is their live classes. Not only can you see the instructor, but they can also see you, meaning you get the motivation, encouragement and corrections that you would get from physically attending a class, no matter where you are. “Having Sleekers in over 37 countries, we try to schedule live classes that suit as many time zones as possible,” says Victoria. “A growing number of people regularly stream the workouts at a time that suits them and then drop in for a scheduled live class once or twice a week to get feedback and correction from our Sleek instructors, to progress their results even faster.”

Reformer Pilates works muscles in both the concentric and eccentric phases of movement to help build strong, flexible muscles and a toned, functional body
~ Hollie Grant