Online Training is New Top Fitness Trend for 2021 according to ACSM Annual Forecast

COVID-19 pandemic alters fitness programming for next year

Did the COVID-19 pandemic alter your exercise routine and prompt you to use digital streaming to participate in fitness classes If you answered yes, you are not alone. Millions of adults were affected by fitness facility closures this year and forced to find innovative ways to be active at home. Thus, it’s not shocking that more than 4,000 health and fitness pros surveyed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) identified online training as the new top trend in fitness for 2021. Online training moved up 25 spots from its number 26 rank in 2020. ACSM released the results of its annual fitness trend forecast today in the article Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, published in the January/February issue of ACSMs Health & Fitness Journal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every person and industry this year, especially those in health and fitness. It caused fitness facilities to close and restructure services. Plus, the challenges of engaging clients at a distance resulted in the use of some very strategic delivery systems, said ACSM Past President Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, ACSM-CEP, lead author of the survey. As we deal with the lasting effects of the pandemic, new systems like online and virtual training are critical to ensure the continued physical and mental well-being of people around the world.

Now in its 15th year, ACSMs annual survey helps the health and fitness industry globally make critical programming and business decisions that ultimately affect consumers. This years survey assessed 41 potential trends. Notable trends include online training, outdoor activities and virtual training making top 10 debuts, all likely due to changes caused by the pandemic. Additionally, wearable tech (number one the past two years), high-intensity interval training (top five since 2014), body weight training (top 10 since 2013) and fitness programs for older adults (top 10 since 2007) maintained popularity for 2021.

Given the big changes in 2020, this years survey of fitness trends will have the most impact it has ever had on the industry, added Dr. Thompson.

ACSM also published a separate article comparing the top 20 fitness trends in North America, China, Spain, Europe and Brazil. Two new countries, Australia and Mexico, were also added. This article reviews specific data to provide a more global understanding of the health and fitness trends in different regions around the world.

Gathering insights from various global regions provides industry stakeholders with a strategic advantage into future fitness offerings, said Vanessa M. Kercher, Ph.D., ACSM-EP, co-author of the regional comparison article and a clinical assistant professor in the school of public health at Indiana University. This is especially important during this time of global uncertainty, as a better understanding of consumer behavior can help stakeholders create a multi-faceted strategy to drive business growth.

According to the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021, the top 10 fitness trends are:

  1. Online Training: Developed for the at-home exercise experience, this trend uses digital streaming technology to deliver group, individual or instructional exercise programs online. Available 24/7, online training can be a live or prerecorded class.
  2. Wearable Technology: Includes devices like fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors and GPS tracking devices that can count steps and track heart rate, body temperature, calories, sitting time and sleep time.
  3. Body Weight Training: Uses minimal equipment, making it more affordable. Not limited to just push-ups and pull-ups, this trend allows people to get back to the basics with fitness.
  4. Outdoor Activities: Include small group walks, group rides and organized hiking groups. Participants can meet in a local park, hiking area or on a bike trail for short events, daylong events or planned weeklong hiking excursions.
  5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Involves short bursts of activity followed by a short period of rest or recovery. Despite concerns expressed by some fitness professionals, these 30-minute or less sessions continue to be a popular form of exercise around the world.
  6. Virtual Training: This fusion of group exercise with technology offers workouts designed for ease and convenience to suit schedules and needs and is typically played in gyms on the big screen.
  7. Exercise is Medicine: This global health initiative by ACSM encourages health care providers to include physical activity assessment and associated referrals to certified fitness professionals in the community as part of every patient visit.
  8. Strength Training with Free Weights: Instructors focus on teaching proper form for exercises using barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and/or medicine balls. Resistance progressively increases as correct form is accomplished.
  9. Fitness Programs for Older Adults: As Baby Boomers age into retirement, many health and fitness professionals are taking the time to create age-appropriate fitness programs to keep older adults healthy and active.
  10. Personal Training: One-on-one training continues to be a strong trend as the profession of personal training becomes more accessible online, in health clubs, in the home and in worksites that have fitness facilities. Personal training includes fitness testing and goal setting with the trainer working one-on-one with a client to prescribe workouts specific to individual needs.

The full list of top 20 trends is available in the article Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021.

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