Updated Mar 9, 2024 - Health

CrossFit is out: Low-impact workouts are in

Illustration of a woman stretching on a yoga mat shaped like a plus

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

We're no longer in the heyday of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and CrossFit. Now, low-impact and functional fitness workouts are all the rage for American adults.

Why it matters: As longevity becomes a primary health focus, more adults are prioritizing workouts that help them in the long-term by being easier on the body and improving strength and flexibility.

  • More than one-third of Americans say they prefer low-intensity training exclusively, according to recent data from exercise booking platform Mindbody.
  • And almost 29% of consumers said they exercise for a long and healthy life in 2023, compared to 20% the year before.

Flashback: About 15 years ago, we "went through an era [of] high-intensity interval training," from Insanity to CrossFit, says Nima Alamdari, honorary professor of sport and health sciences at the University of Exeter.

  • When done too quickly, those kinds of high-impact workouts can lead to back, knee or ankle injuries, Alamdari says.

Now, Pilates, in particular, is taking off.

  • Pilates — a low-impact exercise that benefits balance, flexibility and core strength and can help athletes recover from injuries — was the most popular ClassPass workout of 2023, with booking reservations up 92% from 2022, according to data shared with Axios.
  • And Yelp searches for Pilates increased 25% from the previous year.

"Functional fitness," a kind of movement that more than half of those surveyed by Mindbody say they engaged in, is a relatively new wellness phrase.

  • It doesn't have an exact clinical definition, but it generally means exercise that advances physiological function, Alamdari tells Axios.
  • Mindbody defines it as a "type of strength training that prepares the body for day-to-day activities like squatting, bending, pushing, and lunging."
  • Unlike stationary bikes and certain gym equipment — which often involve singular repetitive motions — functional fitness exercises typically work multiple muscle groups via different planes of movement, done at low or high intensity, and with or without equipment.

Functional fitness and low-impact exercises like Pilates are "particularly important" for people 40 and older because that's the age that muscle mass and function can start to decline, says Alamdari, who's a clinical advisory board member of functional fitness workout company Pvolve.

What we're watching: Alamdari says more exercise research is in the works, including studies he's working on related to recovery and injury prevention in runners.

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