For 15 years, the ACSM, through its Health & Fitness Journal global survey, has tracked fitness trends. The latest study is like no other.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has released its annual rankings of fitness industry trends, called ACSM Health and Fitness Journal worldwide survey, and, predictably, online training and outdoor activities have raced up the list as fitness buffs fled gyms and studios amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Group exercise classes and workplace health programs have all taken a tumble as people avoid crowded spaces and work remotely.
The ACSM Health and Fitness Journal survey has polled fitness professionals annually for 15 years to chart the growth of various workout types and fitness approaches. Its 2021 trend rankings were compiled from 4,377 responses from trainers, club owners and operators and other pros on what clients are demanding or expressing interest in.
The top 20 trends are as follows.
1. Online training
2. Wearable technology
3. Body weight training
4. Outdoor activities
5. HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
6. Virtual training
7. Exercise is Medicine
8. Strength training with free weights
9. Fitness programs for older adults
10. Personal training
11. Health/wellness coaching
12. Mobile exercise apps
13. Employing certified fitness professionals
14. Functional fitness training
16. Exercise for weight loss
17. Group training
18. Lifestyle medicine
19. Licensure for fitness professionals
20. Outcome measurements
In a sign of the pandemic’s impact on the market, online training and outdoor activities, the first and fourth hottest trends, zoomed up from last year’s ACSM Health and Fitness Journal list, which was released in January of 2020. Online training was number 26 and outdoor activities was 13 in that edition. Both helped people maintain exercise routines while gyms and studios were closed or deemed unacceptable risks.
The survey separated virtual training, trending at number six on this year’s list, from online training in that it is offered as a prerecorded library as opposed to live streaming. The category was not used in previous surveys, so there is no point of comparison, but its high place is no doubt partially due to coronavirus concerns.
Also, some trends dropped in the 2021 ACSM Health and Fitness Journal rankings because of the effects of the pandemic. Group training, which made the top ten from 2017 to 2020, fell to number 17 as gyms closed and gatherings were discouraged.
“Worksite health promotion and workplace well-being,” number 18 last year, fell out of the top 20, perhaps because many people abandoned their workplaces to work remotely.
However, not every trend can be explained solely by the pandemic and not every activity experienced a significant change in demand.
Wearable technology had been the number one trend from 2016, when it was introduced to the ACSM Health and Fitness Journal survey, through 2020, bolstered by the array of trackers and smart watches brought to the market. It is holding steady at number two.
Body weight training and HITT, trended number three and five, respectively, this year have ranked highly over the last few years.
The remaining four categories in the top ten of this year’s ACSM Health and Fitness Journal survey, from number seven to ten, are “exercise is medicine,” an integration of exercise into medical recommendations and regiments; strength training with free weights; fitness programs for older adults; and personal training. None moved significantly from their pre-COVID-19 rankings.
Nick Keppler is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. He enjoys writing the difficult stories, the ones that make him pore over studies, talk about subjects that make people uncomfortable, and explain concepts that have taken years to develop. Nick has written extensively about psychology, healthcare, and public policy for national publications and for those locally- based in Pittsburgh. In addition to Athletech News, Nick has written for The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Vice, Slate, Reuters, CityLab, Men’s Health, The Gizmodo Media Group, The Financial Times, Mental Floss, The Village Voice and AlterNet. His journalistic heroes include Jon Ronson, Jon Krakauer and Norah Vincent.