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How Have Superhuman-Style Televised Programs Changed Women's Fitness?

20/01/2016 11:19 GMT | Updated 20/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Last year haematology doctor Claire Miller raised the bar for athletes when she won Special Forces - Ultimate Hell Week, a program previously closed to female entrants. The week-long challenge included tests of great endurance and strength, sleep deprivation and hooded interrogation. Whilst few would wish to sign up for such a challenge, Ultimate Hell Week has helped to raise the profile of obstacle courses and tough bootcamp training. Miller is also the fastest female obstacle racer in the UK, has previously trained for rowing and duathlon competitively and cycled over 2200 miles for charity.

On a similar note, a clip of Kacy Catanzaro on American Ninja Warrior went viral after she was the only woman to scale a 14 foot wall and finish one of her heats, seemingly effortlessly. A former gymnast, Catanzaro trains using lots of circuit-style body weight exercises such as pull-ups, and jumping drills, known as plyometrics.

Both of these women are tough and have performed exceptionally well in areas traditionally dominated by men. So what does this mean for women's fitness? Recently, there has been a push towards getting women off the treadmill and into the weight room. Ladies are proudly flexing their biceps on Instagram, building support groups by use of popular hashtags such as #GirlGains and #StrongNotSkinny. Athlete Zanna Van Dijk champions women's weight training, and will be one of the lead figures in this year's Be: Fit event in London alongside the likes of Glow Girl, Madeleine Shaw and Natasha of Honestly Healthy.

On the opposite end of the scale, lithe Victoria's Secret models have been photographed picking up weights and donning boxing gloves as part of their fitness regime. It is refreshing to see strength being promoted from women whose bodies have been seen as the ideal to young women for some time. Laura Belle of Belle Food felt that this move towards promoting strength over being skinny was a positive step, an opinion shared by many bloggers who work in the health and fitness industry.

Still, the variety that has arisen in recent years is one if the most enjoyable things to be able to notice. Although 2015 may have been the year that steady-state cardio got a bad rep, HIIT (high intensity interval training) advocate and international star Kayla Itsines has also helped to remind her followers of the benefits of classic cardio training. Alongside her famous 28-minute resistance circuits, Itsines recommends four sessions of LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio per week. What we are slowly building towards is a balance between disciplines and exercise types, with almost all fitness industries becoming acceptable, if not the norm, for women to train in. And ultimately, isn't a blend of different exercise types surely the most healthy way to benefit all areas of the body whilst avoiding injuries and strains? One interesting combination is that of yoga alongside weightlifting, HIIT or running. Rather than having the discipline of yoga reserved for long-time practitioners and former dancers (all able to hold the most flexible of poses) many practitioners out there will swap their yoga mats for adrenaline-pumping activities that are seemingly a million miles away from the zen studios of yoga. And it seems to work.

Returning to Kacy Catanzaro, we see an athlete blending flexibility and lightness with real power and impressive upper body strength. This style of fitness is one that was founded in Catanzaro's gymnastic background and honed by many hours in gyms specialising in obstacle courses to create an impressive range of fitness skills.

Ultimately, we are seeing a diversification of women's fitness, with everything from barre to crossfit becoming popular. Television programs such as Ultimate Hell Week and Ninja Warrior have facilitated the publicity of more niche and previously more masculine sports, celebrating the women who enter it and inspiring many. However, much of the change in fitness trends has grown organically, spurred by social media. Television is still a great influencer though, so if we start to see more footage of women in sports and a wider variety of fitness disciplines, then that can only be a good thing.