Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

January 2021


Online Training Tops 2021 Fitness Trends, Says ACSM

Millions of adults have felt the impact of fitness facility closures due to the pandemic over the past year, and have been forced to find innovative ways to be active. That's why it comes as no shock that more than 4,000 health and fitness professionals surveyed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) named online training as the new top trend in fitness for 2021. Online training moved up 25 spots from its No. 26 ranking in 2020. The results of ACSM's annual fitness trend forecast, now in its 15th year, were released in the January/February issue of ACSM's 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, and 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."

ACSM's annual survey helps the health and fitness industry globally make critical programming and business decisions that ultimately affect consumers. This year's 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 (No. 1 for the past two years), high-intensity interval training, or HIIT (in the top five since 2014), body weight training (in the top 10 since 2013) and fitness programs for older adults (in the top 10 since 2007) maintained their popularity for 2021.

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

ACSM also published a separate article comparing fitness trends in North America, China, Spain, Europe and Brazil, as well as Australia and Mexico, reviewing specific data to provide a global understanding of health and fitness trends 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."

ACSM's top 10 fitness trends for 2021 include:

  1. Online Training: using digital streaming technology to deliver group, individual or instructional programs online, either via a live stream or a prerecorded class.
  2. Wearable Technology: devices like fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors and GPS tracking to count steps and track heart rate, body temperature, calories, and sitting and sleeping time.
  3. Body Weight Training: using minimal equipment, this trend gets people back to basics.
  4. Outdoor Activities: from small-group walks and rides to organized hiking groups, this trend takes exercise outdoors, where it's safer to gather with others.
  5. HIIT: short bursts of activity followed by a short period of rest or recovery.
  6. Virtual Training: a fusion of group exercise with technology, typically played in gyms on the big screen.
  7. Exercise is Medicine: a global health initiative by ACSM that encourages health care providers to include physical activity assessment and associated referrals to certified fitness professionals as part of every patient visit.
  8. Free Weights: teaching proper form for exercises using barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls.
  9. Fitness Programs for Older Adults: age-appropriate fitness to keep older adults healthy and active.
  10. Personal Training: one-on-one training maintains its popularity as the profession of personal training becomes more accessible online, in health clubs, in the home and at worksites that have fitness facilities.

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