Fitness trends come and go at a rapid rate, and living in a city like Toronto means we have no shortage of gyms and studios to choose from at any given time. From strength training/bodybuilding gyms to kickboxing, pilates, yoga, barre, CrossFit and more, there are some cult-worthy, beloved workouts that have long since ruled over our weekly training regimes. But what makes each of those workouts great? The answer varies depending who you ask, but at the end of the day training is about moving — moving well, feeling better, and living longer.
Working as a kickboxing coach, I’ve gotten up close and personal with the motivations fuelling our members’ dedication to weekly classes and gruelling training sessions, and the subsequent physical and mental challenges many of us face. In that same breath, I’ve witnessed the way in which so many of us struggle to move (and get into a healthy headspace) with ease. Coordination, mobility, flexibility, mindset — these are major tiers of our health that are constantly neglected within lifestyles that prioritize sedentary positions (desk jobs), anterior rotation (staring at phones, laptops, etc.), aesthetic-based training, and hyper-connection to technology.
When our days are dominated by desk-based work, and our preference for constant connection leaves us slouched over, staring at phones and tablets for hours at a time, our bodies take notice. When we train for aesthetics without taking into account the way that training model translates to every day movement and longevity, our bodies take notice. When we find ourselves unable to unplug from work emails, social media notifications, apps and texts, our mindset suffers. We become a generation of people who, even if we seemingly prioritize health and fitness in our daily routine, can’t move at our full capacity without pain and limitations, or disconnect from technology and to connect back with our bodies and intention(s). We so often neglect the importance of mobility and mind-body connection, allowing these negative physical and mental habits to become the framework that our body moulds to over time.
Popular, studio-born trends aside, there are some niche health and fitness movements currently making waves in Toronto (and beyond) that have the potential to change the way we think about wellness, movement, and mindset. Working in the industry, I’ve had the privilege to connect directly with some of the experts leading these movements, and experience first-hand the way in which their practices can truly change the way we live and move for the better.
1. Stick Mobility – movement-based therapy
Local Expert: Brian Rothwell, @streetbred
Stick mobility is a new-age training system designed to help you move better by improving your functional range of motion, full body strength, posture, stability, and body awareness. The Mobility Stick (the bright orange stick you’ll see in pictures and videos) gives leverage to access different ranges and positions you might not be able to reach normally. This also enables an athlete to easily apply tension to strengthen different ranges.
Weekly boxing sessions combined with strength training and coaching has, without a doubt, done wonders for my mobility. However, putting my body through high intensity training sessions each week calls for a lot of restorative work and TLC. Not much of a Yogi (although I wish I was), moving through Brian’s stick mobility class left me feeling challenged, primed for movement, mobile and relaxed in the best way possible. My body was warm, my hips were more open, I was rotating through different planes with ease and I was about as ‘zen’ as I ever get by the time the class wrapped. It also forced me to be entirely present for the duration of the hour-long class, something I especially struggle with (as I’m sure so many Millennials can relate).
Class sizes are kept in intimate groups allowing for highly focused attention to detail and to guide athletes through the movements. Classes run every Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30-9:30pm and Wednesdays at 7-8am at Academy of Lions.
2. Steel Mace
Local Expert: Adam Lecker, @qvfit
By now you’ve likely caught a glimpse of some bada*s looking people swinging a mace around like a boss, either at the gym or via your Instagram explore page. A long, steel body with a robust, weighted head, the steel mace has become a favoured training tool for elite athletes and every-day fitness enthusiasts looking to evolve their functional strength training.
With credit to the uneven weight distribution created by the steel head, wielding the mace challenges your balance, coordination, body control and makes your core work overtime. And it’s not just a matter of holding the mace while moving through different positions and rotational planes, it’s about actively pulling the head away from (or compressing) the mace, creating an intense tension/awareness throughout your entire body. This helps to reinforce the mind-body connection that so many of us struggle to understand and implement within our daily workouts. It’s one thing to rep out bent over rows with dumbbells or a barbell, it’s another to perform them while creating tension on the mace (trust me, I’ve done it and it was a humbling experience).
After all, if we only train in the sagittal plane (forward and backwards) and neglect rotational work, we loose coordination and the ability to rotate efficiently. In other words, even if we are lifting weights or moving at a high intensity on a weekly basis and consciously developing strength and coordination under load (weights), a lack of rotational focus will increase our chance of injury. When we swing the steel mace correctly, we reestablish our rotational awareness to achieve optimal, efficient movement and performance while conditioning our nervous system.
“Steel mace is the most efficient and effective training tool I have come across in over 20 years as a fitness professional. We need to prioritize training that improves our anatomy not just our aesthetic. The steel mace helps us do both.” – Adam
3. Animal Flow
What looks, at a glance, like a graceful mix of yoga, break dancing and gymnastics (I’m not kidding) is a newly popular, ground-based movement program created by Mike Fitch. Designed to improve the function and communication of the ‘Human Animal’, this practice aims to increase your body awareness and get you moving in a way that connects your body and mind while challenging your strength, flexibility, coordination and so much more.
Although it’s undeniably hard to understand until you’ve tried it yourself, Animal Flow includes a wide range of exercises and movement combinations that are grouped into six components (wrist mobilizations, activations, form-specific stretches, switches and more) each designed to elicit specific results. While most fitness practices only challenge one or two attributes at a time, Animal Flow gives you the opportunity to train all abilities of the human body (think strength, power, flexibility, stability, endurance) at once. This is especially helpful for people (like myself) who run, strength train or do Cross Fit etc. regularly and need some more mobility and flexibility in their life.
You also might be better equipped to bust out some new and improved dance moves, with enough practice. Since it’s all bodyweight movements, Animal Flow doesn’t require any equipment — and trust me, it’s much harder than it looks. I recently participated in Adam’s Level 1 Animal Flow and Mobility workshop, and within 2 hours I felt the most connected to my body I have in a very long time (and freshly aware of certain limitations and areas requiring extra TLC).
4. Meditation Gym – mental fitness (yes, it’s a thing)
Mindset Brain Gym just opened in Toronto on Cumberland St., representing Toronto’s premier meditation studio with various meditation/restorative/relaxation based classes and even stillness pods. Our motto here: Recharge your mind. Recharge your life.
What better way to prioritize your mindset and the act of ‘un-plugging’ than signing yourself up for a multi-sensory experience with intention-driven classes, custom ergonomic seating, and brainwave sensing technology to measure your progress? Also, I don’t know about you, but hitting pause on the hustle and grind of the city to chill out in a zero-gravity, stillness pod for a bit sounds pretty damn appealing. Ready to work on your ‘mental fitness’? Mindset Brain Gym is currently offering unlimited meditation to new members for 21 days for $50.