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Feature Story

December 2019


ACSM: Wearable Tech, HIIT Are Top Fitness Trends for 2020

By Joseph Bush

For the second straight year, health and fitness professionals across the globe chose wearable tech the top fitness trend in the American College of Sports Medicine's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020.

The survey, in its 14th year, sent professionals 38 trends to rank from 1 to 10, with 1 being least trendy.

The use of a smartwatch or fitness tracker to check on exercise, heart rate, calorie consumption or sleep quality is an enduring trend; except its third place showing in the 2018 survey, wearable tech has been the top trend every year since 2016.

ACSM Past President Walter R. Thompson, the lead author of the survey, said wearable tech has become ingrained in today's culture, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down. "Tech advances have made it easier than ever for users to collect important health metrics and work with fitness professionals and health care providers to improve exercise efficiency, develop healthy lifestyles, manage chronic diseases and increase quality of life," said Thompson.

The rest of the top 10 include: high intensity interval training (HIIT); group training; training with free weights; personal training; Exercise is Medicine; body-weight training; fitness programs for older adults; health and wellness coaching; and employment of certified fitness professionals.

Body-weight training has been in the top five each year since its debut in 2013. Training with free weights—the proper use of barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls—makes its survey debut at No. 4 in 2020.

Yoga dropped off the top 10 list. Dropping out of the top 20 from 2019 were mobile exercise apps, mobility/myofascial devices, small group personal training, and post-rehabilitation classes.

This year the ACSM added an article comparing the top fitness trends in North America, South America, China and Europe. The top trend in both China and South America was exercise for weight loss, while Europe's was personal training. Some curious facts from the comparison include wearable tech being No. 18 in Europe, while China's top 20 list included square dancing at No. 6, as well as brisk walking, core training and pregnancy/postnatal classes.

Authors of the ACSM Health & Fitness Journal noted common threads among the four regions:

  • All highly value fitness programs for children and the elderly, making those groups attractive to professionals marketing their services.
  • The use of trainers, whether one-on-one or in small and large groups, is popular in all four regions. Personal, or one-on-one, training appeared in the top 10 of all four regions. Group training was ranked higher than personal training in North America and China, while small group training appeared in the top 10 lists of South America and Europe. "The affordability and interaction with others in group training, compared with personal training, may be more attractive for people who want to work with a health and fitness professional or are looking for additional motivation," the authors stated.
  • Weight loss using some combination of exercise and diet and health and wellness coaching is popular in all four regions. "A health and wellness coach supports clients with goal setting, guidance and encouragement, which may be helpful with weight loss," said the authors. "A possible strategy could be combining wellness coaching with exercise programming to increase exercise engagement in clients to support weight loss."

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