Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020

ACSM recently published the results of the “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020” and I thought that I would weigh in on the trends that were reported. Let’s start with some food for thought about the respondents. If you read the demographic information about the people that took the survey, only 50% report being in the fitness industry. Others include doctors, nurses, students, etc. so, people that may not really have their finger on the pulse of fitness trends. Another interesting bit is that when asked where they work, almost 50% chose Private Practice/Own Business and Hospital/Medical Center Program/Department. Granted “Own Business” might be fitness professionals, but it’s not clear. Again, questionable as to their real knowledge of current trends. My point is to take it with a grain of salt, the results provide some interesting topics for discussion, but maybe not what is really going to be happening in 2020. Also, one more item of clarification, they survey defined “trend” as “a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving” (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/). So, is there an upward shift in popularity to make the item a trend?

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So, here’s the top 20 list. Let’s discuss.

1. Wearable technology. Wearable technology is getting to be pretty amazing. We’ve entered into the science fiction area (well it IS 2020). From the standard heart rate, activity, and distances traveled, to sleep, lactate levels, analyzing your running technique, and correcting your posture, wearables are offering more and more information to the consumer. The questions are, however, who is actually using them and how long do they use them? IMHO, (In My Humble Opinion, just in case you didn’t know the acronym) I think the people that like to track and chart their information will be in heaven (a minority in my experience). The rest my buy it for the cool factor, but won’t really make any changes because of it. For an interesting read, check out Fitt Insider’s article on wearables.

2. High-intensity interval training (HIIT). Yes, this is a trend with a cautionary tale. HIIT offers the same or even greater results (depending on your goal) in less time. Of course that’s attractive to people. The cautionary tale is that injuries are more likely to occur with HIIT than slower, less intense programs. Please remember that you can start people out SHIIT first (LOL, it only hit me as I was writing it…SHIIT! I’ll have to do a presentation on this, “From HIIT to SHIIT”.) Anyway… Slightly Higher Intensity Interval Training. You can start teaching people what intervals are all about and have them begin them utilizing an only slightly greater speed than is normal for them. Let them get acclimated as to what higher intensity is all about and gradually work them up to higher levels.

3. Group training. Yes, defined as more than 5 people for the survey (and this includes fitness classes) with greater camaraderie and a more affordable than one-on-one training, group training will continue to grow as a trend.

4. Training with free weights. Hmmn? Trend or just what we do and have almost always done? Well, we veered away and worshipped machine based training for quite a while, but, with the rediscovery of “functional” training, the industry got back to free weights and it’s unlikely they will ever leave again.

5. Personal training. In spite of some small group advocates claiming one-on-one training is dead, it will, in fact, never leave. The service with the greatest amount of personal attention has ongoing value.

6. Exercise is Medicine®. Exercise is Medicine® (EIM). Yes, with the state of health care, there needs to be and is gradually getting to be a greater focus on prehabilitation, post-rehab conditioning, and conditioning for those individuals with known disease. Yea! It’s about time.

7. Body weight training. In the old days, this would have been called calisthenics. Is it a trend? I’d have to say yes. I think that people have a growing attraction to it because it can be very effective, you don’t need equipment, and it can be done anywhere (and therefore no gym membership needed).

8. Fitness programs for older adults. More and more people are living longer and are needing and wanting to stay active and independent. If you’re not currently training older adults, you should consider it. It is a rapidly growing market.

9. Health/wellness coaching. Coaching and the use of motivational interviewing as a means to get clients to take charge of their own health and wellness. It is, IMHO, a key to the future in getting non-movers started and help them stay committed to their program. I think it is trending, but maybe not as quickly as I’d like to see.

10. Employing certified fitness professionals. ??? Again… a trend? Should be the law. (But, not licensed. See # 15 Licensure for Fitness Professionals.)

11. Exercise for weight loss. This is a “duh”. When about half of the population is actively trying to lose weight, exercise and diet for weight loss will always be in the mix. Hard to say that it’s trending up, though.

12. Functional fitness training. Yes, we know that our ability to perform specific movements can be enhanced by utilizing movements that have a similar demand on your body and I think we’ll continue to see it grow. Hopefully, the industry will keep it to truly functional activities and not circus acts (unless the circus is what you need it for).

13. Outdoor activities. There are always people that enjoy the outdoors. Is walking, riding, and hiking a trend? I’m more likely to say that the obstacle course events, as an outdoor activity (not mentioned in the survey), is the trend. 

14. Yoga. Again, it’s been around forever and will continue to be. Along with the physical challenge, the mind/body/spirit aspect of it is attractive to many.

15. Licensure for fitness professionals. This is interesting because it’s not a trend, at least not in the US. Now, there is a call out for it, but mostly by the highly educated personal trainers that resent lesser qualified ones. I’ll debate this one all day. I am not for licensure. I don’t think it will solve the problem. We’ll still have trainers that will pass a test and will still be lousy trainers. With licensure will also come stricter regulations as to what we can and can’t do. Maybe we won’t be able to work with individuals with known disease or post-rehab or even talk about diet. Additionally, who is to say that a lesser qualified trainer just calls him/herself a “fitness facilitator” and continue working doing the same work they did as a trainer. Too many questions, too many issues, this is not going to happen in the near future. – IMHO

16. Lifestyle medicine. Loosely defined as helping people change lifestyle behaviors that effect their health, i.e. “eliminating tobacco use, improving diet, increasing physical activity, and moderating alcohol consumption”. Like coaching, there could be a greater push here to help it become more of a trend.

17. Circuit training. I think this is a trend, but really only because many HIIT programs utilize circuit training. I don’t see the non-HIIT circuit training increasing. Let’s face it, most weight machine lines are set up as circuits. Weight machines circuits have been around since Universal Gym’s multi-station piece first appeared in 1957.

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18. Worksite health promotion and workplace well-being programs. Another slowly trending item on the list. I think it’s slow for two reasons. One, the return on investment (ROI) isn’t easily measured (and that means that companies are reluctant to spend money on it). Two, most American companies are focused on the quarterly or annual reports and fail to see the big picture of how these programs can help their company with reduced sick time, greater productivity, greater job satisfaction, and employee retention. Come on people. Pick it up!

19. Outcome measurements. Outcome measures have always been important. 20+ years ago, when I got my first certification from ACSM, we were tested on health and fitness assessments. Is it becoming more prevalent? Yes, I think so, but mostly because new technology makes taking measurements easier.

20. Children and exercise. I don’t see this trending up. I think that, like some other entrees here, there is a need and a hope that it will, but I don’t see the changes happening. IMHO, not a trend.

Missing from the list, ones that I believe really are trending, are Online Training and Streaming Group Fitness. Both of these are growing because of the technology available and the ease of being able to train anywhere, any time, and with a lower price tag.

So, check out the survey for yourself, Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020, reread my thoughts and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your take on it all.

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