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A look back at 2014's hottest fitness trends

For exercise buffs who want to prove that they're the fastest and the fittest, 2014 has been a good year.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For exercise buffs who want to prove that they're the fastest and the fittest, 2014 has been a good year. With an explosion of boutique studios, back-to-basics exercises and performance-based training, it was a year when specialized and competitive workouts took off.

Concepts from CrossFit, the constantly varied, high-intensity mix of calisthenics, powerlifting, plyometrics and gymnastics, have made their way into traditional fitness clubs. The latest exercises bands, loops and tubes have added assistance to resistance, and cardio workouts like treadmills and rowers have become part of group fitness classes.

"How many squats can you do in a minute? How fast can you run a mile? Very popular is training against others for time or distance in a group setting," said Grace Desimone, national group fitness director of Plus One Health Management, which designs and develops fitness centers.

Boutique clubs, which specialize in specific training styles, from indoor cycling to hot yoga, captured 21 percent of the market in 2013, according to a 2014 report by IHRSA, the trade association of health, racquet and sports clubs.

Desimone said the urban surge in these studios is spreading across the map.

"Measure your heart rate, race against others in the class, improve your jump height, your spring, your tennis serve. You name it, there is a specialized program for it," she said.

Sandy Todd Webster, editor-in-chief of IDEA Health and Fitness Association, a worldwide organization of fitness professionals, said tubes, loops and bands that combine bodyweight exercise with elastic load, which relies on resistance, allow exercisers to achieve what was previously unattainable.

"This is not your mother's resistance band training protocol," said Webster, who hadn't managed a chin up before using the bands. "I was able to hoist my own body weight up and feel success immediately," she added.

Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist at Miramar College in San Diego, said CrossFit has rejuvenated back-to-basics moves.

"The performance style is starting to appeal to everyday people," she said. "It's not just about getting active but about accomplishing a pull up or lifting a barbell overhead."

Group fitness classes have begun to incorporate treadmills, indoor rowers and step climbers along with resistance and bodyweight exercises, Matthews noted. In addition, fitness is folded into a holistic concept of wellness, with gyms increasingly providing nutritional advice and trainers becoming certified as health coaches.

"It's not just about what you do in the gym," said Matthews. "It's how physical activity fits into a healthy lifestyle that includes nutrition, behavior modification and the body-mind connection."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Leslie Adler)