Every year the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) carries out a worldwide survey among a variety of members of the fitness industry from gym owners to clinical practitioners to corporate divisions to non-profit organisations all linked to the fitness world. The purpose is to identify new fitness trends so that fitness professionals can better direct their investments and class programming.

For consumers the results of this survey show what the industry think they want and what type of activities they are most likely to invest in.

How does this help you?

Well, it helps you understand why your local gym might favour certain types of activities over others and it gives you an opportunity to influence next year’s trends by asking for what you want as opposed to making do with what your gym think you want.

At the end of the day gyms are businesses and have to make money so they will forever repackage the same thing with different names just to keep you coming back.

No time to read the full article? Listen to the podcast version on Spotify.

The original article published in the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: November/December 2019 – Volume 23 – Issue 6 – p 10–18 explains how the data was collected and processed to produce the survey results. I spare you the details, if you wish to check it out you can click on the link.

So without further ado let’s go through the top 20 “new fitness trends” for 2020!

1 – Wearable Technology

Woman pointing at her fitbit

This is estimated to be a $95 billion industry so it’s no surprise that the one thing that doesn’t help anyone get fit is the number one trend. This is something that pisses me off a lot. I often hear people saying things like they are going to start exercising more as soon as they get their wearable gizmo.

Unfortunately, the only extra exercise they do is checking their wrist but guess what? That alone doesn’t help you run faster or shed extra fat. Fitness gizmos only give you feedback, you still have to sort out your nutrition and do your workouts if you want to see changes.

One of my “favourite” ways in which fitness watches are (mis)used is when people check how many steps they walked, realise that they are somewhat short of the recommended 10,000 and then go on a frenzy to accumulate steps before midnight.

I can appreciate the need for people with special needs to be able to monitor their health status but everyone else who wears them thinking they will solve all of their fitness problems deserve to do 1000 burpees. Right now.

2 – High Intensity Interval Training

This modality of training is at the top of the useful trends and for a good reason: over time it has proved to give good results with short duration but intense workouts. Time is at a premium and being able to get a full workout in 30 minutes instead of 60 can increase adherence too as it makes it easier for people to squeeze in a cheeky workout during their lunch break (if they have access to a gym nearby).

It’s not just about convenience though, it’s about maximising the time window in which exercise is positive stress for your body and most likely to lead to positive changes. After 45-60 minutes of regular intense exercise your body starts to get negatively stressed and at that point your workout becomes ineffective and, in fact, counterproductive. Instead of building muscle you are likely to lose it. Instead of burning fat you are creating the metabolic conditions that might lead you to experience increased hunger and cravings causing you to overeat and therefor put on weight instead of losing it.

The thing is when you go through the rest of the top trends you will realise that everything else can be bundled with HIIT as this is just a style of training, not a different set of exercises. And every set of exercises can be performed in a HIIT fashion.

I know some people have reservations on how safe HIIT is but, in my opinion, as long as you are sensible with your planning you will be more than safe.

3 – Group Training

I am not sure why this is a trend, but it is. Group training is defined as any classes with 5 or more participants. But this is just about any class out there whether it’s cardio based, resistance training based, learning a skill (for example pole dancing, martial arts and so on).

The benefits of training as part of a group are numerous and include accountability, affordability, camaraderie, motivation, a social occasion.

4 – Training with free weights

Again, not sure why this is a trend. But perhaps people have finally come to realise that for the majority of exercisers a good session with the free weights is far more useful than doing 3 reps with all the machines in the gym.

Machines are great and can be very useful for zoning in on a specific issue but free weights are better at mimicking everyday movement patterns as they quickly show you asymmetries as well as test your co-ordination and balance.

5 – Personal Training

I am biased! This should be number 1!

Training one to one with a Personal Trainer remains a popular trend and thank goodness for that. These days it’s easier than ever to access the wealth of expertise in all things fitness that a good PT can offer.

A good partnership will allow you to achieve your results much faster than on your own while avoiding common pitfalls along the way. It’s good to feel supported and guided throughout your journey knowing that your program has been created for you as opposed to you having to find ways to make a generic program work for you. Although teaching you the latter is also part of learning through a PT.

6 – Exercise is Medicine®

EIM is a global health initiative aimed at persuading doctors and other health care providers to prescribe exercise to their patients as a way of preserving and improving health. If only I could persuade my GP that this is a good idea!!

The thing is if you feel that you might benefit from working with a fitness professional to get your healthy habits back on track you might ask your doctor about EIM and they might be willing to point you in the right direction.

7 – Body Weight Training

I love body weight training. It’s the most practical and functional style of training and it’s the one modality that can give you superhero moves. Not that it’s important to be like a superhero but I promise you that vaulting over obstacles with speed, grace and accuracy is way more satisfying than bench pressing 150 Kgs. (Powerlifters will disagree)

There are many modalities that you can choose from: there are some that focus more on strength, whereas others focus more on agility and others still that encourage creativity and expression.

The choice is yours but if you think that body weight training won’t give you enough of a challenge try doing chin-ups while holding yourself upside down on a pole. Or you could perform a 3 minute flow using movements from the Animal Flow style of training. Performed with correct form.

8 – Fitness programs for older adults

Again, I am biased. This should also be number 1.

I was reading an article the other day that mentioned that more of us in our 50s right now can expect to live well into our 100s. And although I welcome longevity I couldn’t care less about being 110 if I am going to be bed bound and unable to be independent.

And so, I believe it’s now more important than ever to start taking your fitness seriously especially if you are already over 50. Your muscles will start disappearing and so will your strength, unless you use it. Your metabolism will slow down as your sex hormones decline and you will be more vulnerable to stress.

And this is before you start dealing with an increased risk of developing diabetes, decreasing bone density and a whole load of other unpleasant consequences of getting older. Although you cannot stop the aging process you can slow it right down and make lifestyle choices that will keep you younger for longer.

This is why more Baby Boomers and members of Gen X should make their way to the gym or workout at home with a Personal Trainer.

The important thing is that you ask for a program that is specifically designed to cater for the needs of older adults in order to allow for slower progress with safety in mind as the risk of being seriously injured from a minor mishap are greater.

9 – Health/Wellness Coaching

I have a problem with this even being a thing. My experience with wellness coaches is people who have attended a weekend training somewhere and on the back of that feel entitled to go out and dish out advice on how to live a healthier life.

If I had a pound (£) for every unhealthy “Health Coach” who tried to persuade me that I need 50 different supplements to feel good and then tried to teach me how to get fitter I wouldn’t need clients.

Beware of these individuals and although for somebody who is “healthy living averse” a wellness coach might be the first step towards changing habits, always check their credentials first and if their advice for a better life ends up costing you £££s in pills and potions run like the clapper.

10 – Employing Certified Fitness Professionals

I think this is already covered in all the previous items but here it goes again. Always remember that in order to qualify as a fitness professional and be included in a national register of certified professionals people have to have completed a certain amount of studies in Anatomy and Physiology on top of your chosen qualification.

This gives you the peace of mind that your trainer or instructor has a minimum of knowledge of how the human body works and therefore can guide you safely.

Made it this far but now running out of time? Listen to part 2 on Spotify.

11 – Exercise for weight loss

Surprisingly, bearing in mind the increase in obesity worldwide, exercise for weight loss is half-way down the top 20 fitness trends. Maybe that’s because people have finally accepted that nutrition plays a bigger role in weight loss than exercise does. Hoooraaayyy!!

Nevertheless, exercise is important when you are trying to lose weight as it helps set the scene for your metabolism to wake up and work its magic.

Most weight loss programs incorporate some form of exercise advice, but they are often followed by people who are not inclined to be active, let alone workout. Perhaps that’s the reason that exercise for weight loss only comes up as number 11 in the list of new fitness trends for 2020.

12 – Functional fitness training

This should be much higher up in the top 20! Functional training mimics activities of daily life and is very useful for older populations or people with special needs, whether it’s injury rehab or injury prevention.

I believe that all training modalities should make it obvious how they relate to what we do in our daily lives otherwise exercise becomes training for the sake of training and nothing else.

When you have nothing to focus on you are more likely to turn up to your exercise classes just because you have signed up for them and follow along mindlessly. When this happens chances are that your interest is soon going to slip down your list of priorities and adherence will drop.

However, if you make moving better as you go about your day the focus of your training you will soon look at your usual classes in a new light. With better focus on the reasons why you are doing something you will find that both your adherence and your enjoyment of the activities will improve.

13 – Outdoor Activities

Group of people hiking on mountains

“More outdoor activities such as group walks, group rides, or organized hiking groups are becoming popular.” This is regardless of the duration of the event.

I applaud this trend and I sincerely hope you guys will soon make it number 1 (with all the others that should also be number 1).

There are many advantages in partaking in outdoor activities: first of all, there is a social aspect where as a group you share a common goal; then you get to breathe in some fresh air while you are surrounded by nature and you get to move in a way that usually promotes relaxation over exertion. As a bonus you might get to discover new places. Oh, and there is safety in numbers.

Admittedly I know of only one gym in my area that organises regular outdoor events in the form of hiking on mountains. But I know there are groups of ramblers who meet up regularly.

If you have been told you need to exercise but you are not feeling the gym or the prospect of squatting this form of exercise would be an excellent alternative. So, if your local gym doesn’t organise anything along the lines of outdoor activities why not ask if one of their instructors would consider doing it? You would benefit from having a guide who can keep you safe and ensure you don’t overdo it and be around if something goes wrong and you need first aid.

14 – Yoga

For some reason this is no longer the hot thing to do. I guess people no longer find yoga appealing.

I must admit even when I follow along a video of some sort I struggle to stay until the end as yoga doesn’t do it for me. As a Thai Yoga Massage therapist, I learned the advantage of having the stretches done to you for quick progress whereas getting comfortable with many of the yoga poses can be a lengthy and painful exercise. Not everyone has the patience to stick it out long term especially when improvements are slow and little.

If your gym follows the annual review, they might allocate less time and resources to yoga classes so if flexibility is an issue for you perhaps you can look for other ways to improve like stretch therapy or Thai Yoga Massage treatments.

15 – Licensure for Fitness Professionals

I don’t know why this is even a trend but what it basically means is that people shouldn’t give themselves titles that they are not qualified to carry. For example, you shouldn’t call yourself a nutritionist if you don’t hold a degree in Nutrition.

Unfortunately, the fitness world is vastly unregulated and so you can essentially call yourself whatever you want without getting into trouble. So, it’s down to you to do your homework and verify the credentials of the people that you employ to help you with your fitness and nutrition.

16 – Lifestyle Medicine

 See number 6 Exercise is Medicine and number 9 Wellness Coaching. It’s the same thing.

17 – Circuit Training

See the first 10 trends for this. Circuit Training is just a way of conducting your homework that has been packaged to be sold as a class. The fact that it comes at number 17 means that you’ll be less likely to see circuit training classes mentioned in your gym’s schedule but your HIIT class or PT sessions may be conducted as circuits.

18 – Worksite health promotion and workplace well-being programs

The fact that the importance of ensuring your employees’ wellbeing is low on the list of priorities is somewhat shocking. Companies moan and complain about absences due to sickness but then don’t do much to help people prevent them.

For you this means that you are essentially on your own when it comes to looking after your health and wellbeing. But you can ask your employers to help you with it.

19 – Outcome measurements

I must admit I cringe when somebody decides to formally measure my progress. I prefer this to be something that I do on my own by comparing my performance over time taking into account whether I had the opportunity to sleep, eat and practice regularly.

A lot of the people I work with also hate the idea of being measured so I suggest alternative ways of getting feedback to make sure what we are doing is the right thing for them. Knowing this is what makes the difference between success and failure but I totally understand how the truth can be discouraging.

20 – Children and exercise

Although this “trend” is at the bottom of the top 20 it’s still considered to offer the potential for new sources of revenue for fitness clubs and gyms. Obesity in younger populations is on the rise and so it’s in everyone’s interest to start addressing this issue right here and right now.

I blame electronics and convenience food for this. When I was a child I used to spend all my time playing outdoors with friends, running around, cycling, doing sports because there was nothing else to do. Packaged food was considered to be rubbish by my parents and I was forbidden from eating it. As a result my weight was always ideal and I was as fit as a fiddle, full of energy, bright and well acquainted with the outdoor life.

These days I hardly ever see kids playing outside and I feel sorry for them because they miss out on learning how to enjoy their environment and use their creativity to make games out of nothing. There is a well-known link between exercise and the improvement of cognitive abilities so by allowing children to sit around playing on their phones instead of climbing trees you are robbing them of the opportunity to develop their intelligence too.

If your local gym doesn’t yet offer classes aimed at children perhaps it’s time to be proactive and ask them to consider adding one or two of these to their schedule. That way you can both go to the gym at the same time but exercise in different places so you still each have your own space.

Now that you know what the fitness industry thinks you want you can influence changes with your local fitness club. Remember that a lot of these “new fitness trends” are simply ways of packaging the same thing, i.e. exercise in a way that makes it appealing for consumers to sign up for classes.

At the end of the day gyms have to try and keep things fresh to entice you to keep going but you don’t have to be taken for a ride by being lead to believe you are doing something revolutionary when in reality there are only so many ways in which you can exercise. You just have to find what works for you best and leave the rest.

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