2022 Was the Year of Soft Exercise. What Will 2023 Bring? (POPSUGAR)

Posted: Jan 01, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in POPSUGAR on January 1, 2023.

2022 Was the Year of Soft Exercise. What Will 2023 Bring?


Soft" isn't a word often equated with exercise. Instead, fitness rhetoric generally revolves around the exact opposite: going harder, firming muscles, pushing to the max. But since 2020, many of us have been craving a gentler approach.

Amid the onset and long aftermath of COVID-19, just getting off the couch was a feat worthy of celebration. We still turned to exercise to ease our uncertainty, burnout, and restlessness. We just wanted — and needed — to keep it chill.

For that reason, 2022 saw the rise and continued popularity of softer and more intentional types of workouts, things that made us sweat a little less, felt nicer on our bodies, and left us feeling lifted up rather than beaten down.

Case in point: Google searches for both "Pilates" and "walking" reached a 10-year high this year. (The latter saw one of the most successful rebrands in history with the advent of the #HotGirlWalk.) Pickleball, an as-intense-as-you-make-it activity already popular among the 65+ set, became a hit among millennials and Gen Z, who've helped make it America's fastest-growing sport for the past four years.

But can the draw of gentler forms of exercise persist, or will we be pulled back to more intense workouts in 2023? We asked experts what new trends are on the horizon as we enter a new year. The forecast: people will continue to crave the feel-good energy that marked 2022's fitness landscape — but with a little more juice.

The Glory of the Soft-Exercise Era

While Pilates, walking, and pickleball, 2022's breakout fitness activities, may seem like a motley crew, the truth is that they have a lot in common: they allow us to take a step back from what we think exercise should be and start with what is fun and feels good.

Take Pilates, which was first invented by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s as a way to help dancers improve their technique and recover after injury. The practice "allows participants to reconnect with stabilizers and joint receptors," Bryce Hastings, head of research at Les Mills, says. This "leaves people feeling refreshed, in control of their bodies, and good, rather than huffing and puffing," he explains.

"People realize they don't have to push themselves so hard to achieve meaningful results," Cedric Bryant, PhD, FACSM, president and chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise, explains. But, he's quick to add, the "results" we're looking for are also largely different than before.

"Coming out of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are exercising for new reasons," Dr. Bryant says. "People's motivations for being physically active are shifting away from things like appearance, weight management, or reaching a certain fitness or performance level to a sharper focus on mental health, stress management, and overall well-being," he says, citing a recent survey conducted by Mindbody, the fitness booking platform.

Consider that another TikTok-popular term for hot-girl walks is "mental health walks"; remember how desperate we were to get out of the house during quarantine? Just putting one foot in front of the other felt revolutionary.

Our intimate understanding of the negative effects of isolation also gave rise to an increased interest in outdoor, group activities that are accessible to all fitness levels — like pickleball, which allows people to tap into the healthy trifecta of nature, community, and movement.

Hastings has seen the same trend as Dr. Bryant. "Most consumers are taking a much broader view of why they should be active, with wellness and stress relief, in particular, being key drivers. Therefore, simply moving can deliver what they're looking for," he says.

What 2023 Holds For Fitness

There's a lot to love about 2022's fitness landscape — namely, the focus on movement as a tool for mental and emotional well-being, not just physical health. But as the world evolves into a post-pandemic "normal," our approach to fitness is doing the same.

While soft exercise isn't going to fade away completely from public consciousness, experts are predicting that people will be looking for ways to challenge themselves in 2023. Workouts are getting harder, better, faster, and stronger — but in a way that's totally different from the past.

Harder doesn't mean going zero to 60, away from soft exercise entirely. It just means increasing the challenge. That might mean trying out a Pilates reformer, walking on an incline, or swearing off dinking in pickleball (IYKYK). "As people become accustomed to the challenge of a particular workout, they need to progress safely and appropriately," Bryant says. Otherwise, they risk plateauing and missing out on the more cardiovascular and strength benefits that only more challenging workouts offer.

Read the full article here.

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