Feature Article - February 2015
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Fit to Be Tried

New Trends in Fitness Programming

By Joe Bush

Does your facility have packed Zumba classes, a waiting list for Pilates sessions, a need for brand new stability balls because the old ones are worn from use, additional indoor cycling instructors to handle the extra demand?

Walt Thompson, Ph.D., can make a really educated guess that it has none of those, as 2015 begins. Thompson is the author of the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2015, the ninth such report commissioned by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Instead of those fads, he said, fitness facilities should invest in less equipment, more space for natural movement exercise, well-educated and certified personal trainers, and the top trend for 2015, which replaces high intensity interval training, body weight training. Professional and experienced personal trainers had been the top trend for eight years, and now sits at No. 3, while high intensity interval training dropped to No. 2.

ACSM sent nearly 30,000 health fitness professionals worldwide a list of 39 fitness-related items, asking them to rate their trendiness from 1 to 10, with room for comments. Twelve percent responded, and the results, in order, are:

1. Body weight training
2. High-intensity interval training
3. Educated, certified and experienced fitness professionals
4. Strength training
5. Personal training
6. Exercise and weight loss
7. Yoga
8. Fitness programs for older adults
9. Functional fitness
10. Group personal training
11. Worksite health promotion
12. Outdoor activities
13. Wellness coaching
14. Circuit training
15. Core training
16. Sport-specific training
17. Children and exercise for the treatment/prevention of obesity
18. Outcome measurements
19. Worker incentive programs
20. Boot camp

Thompson said the large group classes like Zumba and indoor cycling are popular still, but in pockets rather than in a mainstream way. He said one of the secrets of the endurance of trends, as opposed to fads, is creativity.

"Pilates, Zumba, indoor cycling, those groups just didn't re-invent themselves, because the opposite side of that argument is yoga," Thompson said. "Yoga typically is larger groups, but what the yoga folks do is they reinvent themselves. They're always developing new forms of yoga, new presentations of yoga. You go to a Zumba class, it never changes. When they introduced it, it became very popular. It was different but they didn't change it.

"Same thing with Pilates, they just didn't change it up enough to keep people's interest. Yoga is consistently in the top 10 because it keeps reinventing itself every year."

He said changes like smaller groups, back to basics or functional exercises needing less equipment have their roots in an economy that squeezed consumers. Fitness expense is a luxury expense, one of the first to get cut from a family budget. DVDs of intense workouts became popular, substituting for gym memberships, and gyms adapted, said Thompson, who is Regents' Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research at the College of Education at Georgia State University.

"During the downturn in the economy clubs had to start reinventing themselves," he said. "They came up with these low-cost exercises; the heavy ropes and kettlebells fall into that category. You'll notice that our No. 1 trend for 2015 is body weight training. You can't get more basic than body weight training.

Fitness facilities should invest in less equipment, more space for natural movement exercise, well-educated and certified personal trainers, and the top trend for 2015, body weight training.

"It's a different kind of conversation because what I had indicated a while back when we had this downturn is that we were going back to basics. We saw the popularity of boot camps, we saw the invention of small group personal training, where personal trainers were giving deep discounts to a personal training client if they brought a buddy.

"The fitness industry came through the recession very, very well. Those that are doing the best reinvented themselves and started emphasizing low-cost kinds of programs, boot camps and body weight training. Those that didn't do well are these smaller single form of exercise studios."