In the early evenings, you could faintly hear the screams outside—about every 45 seconds—from the quiet, cushy guest rooms in the J.W. Marriott at L.A. LIVE.

AIIIIEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! It sounded like the breathless squeals people emit on the most hair-raising portion of a crazy amusement-park ride. But in downtown L.A.? Turns out it was the throng of teenage girls cheering for One Direction, the wildly popular boy band that was playing next door at the Staples Center over four consecutive nights.

While it’s tough to rival adolescent, hormonal mania, the intensity of 2013 IDEA World Fitness Convention (August 7-11) decidedly trumped it. The 8,000 attendees, volunteers, faculty, exhibitors and staff who came to Los Angeles were on a thrill ride of their own. As 2013 IDEA Fitness Inspiration Award recipient Peter Twist, MSc, said during his moving acceptance speech at the Opening Ceremonies, these fitness professionals lived their World experience “from the front seat of the roller coaster” on a continuous loop of excitement that kept everyone on their toes.

And while the convention itself is a sublime celebration of learning, it’s even more about connecting people, the profession and the positive current that wallops you in the heart while you’re in the midst of it all.
For many, it’s a pilgrimage. Delegates came from nearly 60 countries this year, including places as far away as Kenya, Vietnam and Russia. Attendees went home profoundly altered and inspired by the experience—transformed so they may transform others.

What’s Your Learning Style?

Whether you were a visual, kinesthetic or auditory learner, your appetite was sure to be sated. This massive fitness event—with 360 educational sessions, 15 in-depth preconference sessions and a 3-day trade show—served up a big, tasty slice of health, fitness and nutrition pie for all.

Visual. There was a ton of equipment, apparel and nutritional eye candy to feast on in the IDEA World Fitness & Nutrition Expo. The best part was that you could do more than simply look; touching, tasting and trying were all encouraged. Product knowledge is the key to innovation and variety, and this hall did not disappoint. Especially noteworthy was the expansion of the IDEA World Healthy Cooking Stage with its constant churn of cooking demos, food samples and lectures filling the space. Nutrition is a gathering force in the fitness equation, and it’s here to stay.

Kinesthetic. With a plethora of sessions ranging from loaded movement, body leverage training and parkour to self myofascial release, dance, yoga, Pilates and barre to mixed martials arts, high-intensity interval training, cycling and much more, you simply couldn’t miss. Attendees who learned best by doing reaped the benefits of what may have been the richest physical program IDEA has ever put together. It was wild. It was fun. It made you think. If you didn’t have a few new movement tricks in your bag by the time you left, you were on a completely different track.

Auditory. Delegates rounded out their education diet by absorbing lectures on exercise science, nutrition, business, communication skills and obesity. As one presenter said, “Remember, you’re here for your client’s workout, not yours.” A point well taken by the many who found themselves in classrooms struggling to understand how hormones affect weight or how the brain lights up with movement. Getting your sweat on is great, but the pages of notes taken at this fitness event outweighed the wet fitness gear in the backpack. Attendees could earn up to 22 CECs over the course of the week from a top-notch faculty of almost 200 presenters.

“The greatest thing about IDEA World is that you’re going to learn too much,” said educator Fraser Quelch at the end of “TRX®: Group Rip™ Training Course,” the precon workshop he cotaught on the first day. “The greatest challenge of IDEA World is also that you’re going to learn too much. More than you can possibly use.”

Quelch urged his audience to write down the top three things they learned each day. “By the end of the conference, you will have collected twelve big rocks, which is probably nine rocks too many. Choose three of them.”

Management: Being the Best Brass

As the fitness industry grows, so does the need for capable managers, owners and directors. The leadership buzz was appreciable this year, with some notable paradigm shifts:

  • Positive psychology has moved from the executive self-help branch to the larger management pool. Fitness leaders are jumping on the idea that “energy flows where attention goes” and are taking steps to focus more on what they want from employees instead of what they don’t want.
  • Inspired customer service is blossoming as the industry wakes up from the aftershock of the recession to realize that customers have abundant options to choose from and a low tolerance for complacency. Social media is putting pressure on fitness businesses to upgrade policies and genuinely connect with members. Community is key.
  • Corporate fitness and wellness strategies are the rage as fitness professionals prepare for new national healthcare policies that may open worksite doors to unprecedented opportunities. Many presenters pointed out that the American Medical Association’s classification of obesity as a disease—announced in June—could be a boon for facilities with solid programs in place for the overweight population.

Personal Training Goes Deep

Personal training has based its foundation on sound, individualized program design. But with the industry continuing to swell—seemingly in step with the world’s waistlines—many IDEA World Fitness presenters challenged participants to go deeper. Is there more to personal training than well-executed exercises?

The whole person. In a session on submaximal loaded movement, Michol Dalcourt discussed how movement dysfunction might not be due solely to sitting for extended lengths of time, for example. Nutrient intake can affect fascia, he said. Made up of collagen, fascia can be damaged by inflammation-causing foods, such as sugar and vegetable oil. He pushed attendees to look into what clients are eating as possible triggers for movement restrictions.

Going inward. Focusing on the connection between stress and chronic pain, Justin Price, MA, cocreator of the BioMechanics Method, departed from the physical and focused instead on the mental and emotional aspects of chronic stress. Toward the end of the session, he invited attendees to partner up and asked one person in each pair to assess the other’s legs for a difference in length. He then requested a repeat assessment, but this time the person being assessed was to think of something that provided “immense joy.” Gasps of disbelief floated through the room. As though by magic, every person receiving the assessment experienced change.

Known for his focus on the physical, Price explained that “the best corrective exercise isn’t exercise—it’s a state of mind. Less stress and more happiness result in fewer aches and pains.”

Recognizing failure. Rodney Corn, MA, cofounder of PTA Global, challenged attendees to redefine what they know about fitness.

“What is fitness?” he asked.

The room was silent.

“Fitness is gardening. It’s walking. It’s anything that involves movement,” he said.

Corn added that this isn’t the message presented to the world. “The fitness industry is designed for the already fit, not the fat,” he charged, citing the growth of the industry even as overweight and obesity statistics remain dismal. “We’re doing a disservice to the industry,” he adds. “The fit get fitter, while the fat get fatter.”

Why—with fitness opportunities for consumers proliferating—are weight issues still a struggle?

“People are afraid,” Corn said. They’ve been told that the best health benefits come from 30 or 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate activity five times per week. These recommendations can be deflating for many, he said. “You don’t have to pick up a dumbbell to experience health improvements. You can do whatever you want.”

The swinging pendulum. “The fitness industry tends to swing like a pendulum,” exclaimed Mark Verstegen, MS, founder and president of Athlete’s Performance®, during a session on barefoot training. “We work too much in extremes. We can’t swing so much if we are to be taken seriously.”

For example, Verstegen talked about footwear and the trends of the past several decades. Athletic shoes have gone from minimalist to significantly cushioned and supported and back to minimalist or even unshod. Verstegen believes it’s time to bring the pendulum to rest somewhere in the middle, taking into consideration each client’s history and needs. “First we need to protect [our clients],” he said. “Then we can focus on making them better.”

Freedom to move. Dan Edwardes, founding member and director of Parkour Generations in the United Kingdom, suggests it’s time to think out of the gym box. In both of his parkour training sessions, giggles and laughs abounded as participants unsteadily performed lunges on balance beams and launched into tuck rolls. It was apparent that attendees were enjoying themselves, despite the wobbly limbs. Enjoyment leads to consistent engagement, Edwardes said.

“We need to move people away from machines and even traditional gyms,” Edwardes suggested. “These things inhibit us. We need to free our movement. That is the ultimate functional training.”

Focus on fundamentals. During his session on targeting the youth market, Bill Parisi urged participants to consider whether the host of popular protocols are really benefiting clients. The Parisi Speed School™ CEO advocated a return to basics, whether you are coaching future athletes or helping kids lose weight. “Vince Lombardi is the greatest coach in history,” he said. “He was all about the fundamentals. He focused on performing a dozen drills a thousand times, not a thousand drills a dozen times.”

Parisi added that how you work with clients is as important as the drills and exercises you have them perform. “A successful coach might win a lot, but a significant coach changes lives. It’s all about how you make someone feel. Just being a coach or a personal trainer isn’t enough anymore. You have to bring your best every single day.

The client rules. The common thread uniting all of these sessions was the experience. Each presenter focused on connecting genuinely with the client—whether one-on-one or in a small-group setting—so the individual feels valued, heard and engaged. That may mean ditching a planned weightlifting session in favor of a trip to a parkour gym, or replacing a taxing HIIT workout with a slower, breath-focused session. As Parisi said, truly listening to the client every day creates a training environment that takes you beyond being successful. It makes you significant.

Nutrition: On the Front Burner

While IDEA has always included nutrition as part of a holistic health balance, we have stepped our editorial and live-education coverage of this topic over the past 5 years. The core belief is that food choices are linked to both acute and chronic disease prevention and control, and that they are central to stopping the obesity epidemic.

This year’s program, expo and Healthy Cooking Stage provided complete helpings of food and nutrition science, exceptional product knowledge, demonstrations and samples that fitness and wellness professionals could feel confident about using themselves and sharing with clients. An emphasis on whole, natural and organic products was clear.

Indeed, there are scope-of-practice issues to mind, but there is much positive influence fitness pros can have by learning and practicing what they can do within scope.

Science-based information. From glycemic index to hormones and weight loss, from plant-based nutrition to exercise and nutrition for longevity, the nuts and bolts of research were amply covered.

Exploring the not fully known or proven. Teri Mosey, MS (exercise physiology), PhD (holistic nutrition), opened a whole spectrum of thought with her lecture “Chakra Nutrition.” Her information flew in the face of most things we know and understand—quite possibly making some listeners squirm. Mosey taught that foods have specific energy vibrations that interact with our entire being and are personified by our energy centers or chakras, saying food can be used to harmonize mind, body and soul.

“This gives us more possibilities for our nutrition,” she said. Food goes way beyond calories. For every chemical reaction in your body, there is an energy reaction in your body. Food is information. It communicates with the proteins and DNA in our bodies.”

Cooking demonstrations. New York University adjunct professor and Biltmore Culinary Academy director Lourdes Castro, MS, RD, and whole self-help coach Teri Gentes commanded the Healthy Cooking Stage with practical cooking demos and freshly prepared recipe samples in tandem with volumes of relevant research. Castro whipped up approachable recipes starring whole grains and dark, leafy greens, while Gentes showed how and what to prepare for protein-packed snacks and for boosting performance fueling before and after a workout.

Food and nutrition trends. A lively and informative panel featuring Whole Foods® Market corporate dietitian Jess Kolko, RD, LD, Castro and Gentes, and led by IDEA editor in chief Sandy Todd Webster peeled the onion to get at the heart of such trends as plant-based and gluten-free eating, the gathering protein craze, GMOs, pro- and prebiotics, Paleo diets and teaching people how to cook again. The panel fielded several dozen questions from the audience during the 110-minute session, clearing up many misnomers perpetuated by faulty reporting and hype in the consumer media.

Group Exercise as Strategic Entertainment

The days of rote counting and blasé scheduling are long gone as the experiential group fitness movement deepens its roots into an already strong foundation. Group fitness is in the midst of another renaissance that will keep it as relevant and strong as ever in the years ahead. This summer, attendees enjoyed an assortment of tempo-tantalizing treats, including the following:

  • Dance continues to be a popular way of creatively dropping into the flow while tapping into endorphins. This year’s program included an “Epic Dance Encounter,” “Dance Aerobics” with a focus on symmetry and “Step Dance Fusion.”
  • High-intensity training and Tabata-themed classes are at the forefront of consumer interest, and in classes like “Turbo Tabata,” “High Voltage Studio Strength” and “Tabata Bootcamp™,” presenters shared the most effective, sound ways to lead inspirational classes.
  • Indoor cycling is in demand, and there were several niches to choose from, including topics on cuing, technique, terrain, music mapping and more. With these fundamentals in mind, Shannon Fable encouraged riders to “be their own radio station” and not to emulate someone if that would be untrue to their own personality.
  • In 2013 and beyond, it’s all about the experience, as boutique studios lead the charge in making group fitness not only accessible and inspirational, but entertaining as well. Presenters encouraged attendees to play with lighting, stage work and music to deliver memorable moments.

The Best of Inner IDEA®: Movement Magic

Wholeness, awareness, mindful mastery—these are just a few hallmarks of the Inner IDEA Conference, which is known for its transformative programming. This year, attendees got a taste of Inner IDEA with select offerings, including tai chi, Feldenkrais®, chakra nutrition and meditation. This in itself would have been an amazing mind-body-spirit track, but the overall program offered even more.

  • Breath has long been a primary aspect of mind-body formats, but now life-force harnessing techniques are being taught in all types of classes and formats.
  • While teaching proper alignment is still high on instructors’ checklists, many yoga, Pilates and fusion teachers are encouraging people to focus less on “perfect” alignment and more on how postures feel from the inside out. “Alignment is just the gift-wrap, and while that may be gorgeous, it’s what’s happening on the inside that offers true beauty,” said Kelly McGonigal, PhD, in her session “Breathe Life Into Your Poses.”
  • Integration continues to be a prized chestnut in mind-body-spirit circles. Presenters encouraged participants to abandon ideas that the body can be parsed out. “The human form is a relationship, and you can’t blame one part for any problem,” said Christine Romani-Ruby, MPT, in her session “The Gluteals and Their Link to Low-Back Pain.”

Inspiring Ordinary People to Live Extraordinary Lives

It seemed fitting that Jay Blahnik closed the last time block of the last day of his last IDEA World Fitness Convention. This was the 16th session he had helmed during the week—a mind-boggling amount of teaching.

Blahnik pointed out that while most of us are pretty ordinary people, we all have it within ourselves to live extraordinarily. Fitness pros are in a unique position to be remarkable change agents. We have the power to shape others daily and nudge them toward better quality of life. To live an extraordinary life, Blahnik suggested, we need to “GET” three things and “BE” three things. He calls them the “Simple 6”:

  1. GET real. Reconcile your heart with your head.
  2. GET busy. Time bends for no one. GET after it!
  3. GET over it. Make amends and move on. Laugh at yourself. Forgive.
  4. BE yourself. You’ve got your own particular brand of magic; use it.
  5. BE brave. Do something that scares you a little every day, or you’ll get stuck.
  6. BE holistically generous. BE of service.

What will you do to make a difference? How will you live in an extraordinary way or inspire others to do so? What is your plan to BE: The Inspiration?*