Every year the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) releases a list of fitness trends. While they use quantitative metrics from the fitness industry to identify popular workout programs, there is a flaw in their methodology. Some of the “trends”: personal training, exercise is medicine and health coaching (in the 2020 version which can be READ HERE) are nothing more than ACSM programs. ACSM sells personal training and health coach certifications so there is a self-interest there and they also promote the exercise is medicine which is valid because yes, exercise can help prevent many chronic diseases but that is hardly a trend (especially since the ancient Greeks used to promote exercise for a “sound mind and vigorous body”).
As someone who consults with exercise equipment companies, health clubs and personal training certifications in addition to traveling internationally to speak at various fitness education events, I have a pretty good network of the decision makers and influencers who actually help create the trends.
Here is my list of the Top Fitness Trends for 2020:
Now, if you don’t want to read or if you need a distraction during your next workout, you can listen to THIS EPISODE of the All About Fitness podcast where I go through these trends one-by-one.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – this is where I do agree with ACSM, HIIT will remain popular because it is
effective BUT it has to be performed the right way. Too much HIIT could cause overtraining which could lead to injury so it is important to know the right way to perform the workouts. For more insights on HIIT, listen to my interview with Dr. Martin Gibala, a professor who has been researching interval training for more than twenty years and the author of the book “1 Minute Workouts” (based on his research – which I’ve read, the book is much easier to follow and understand, I highly recommend it).
Group Fitness – again, I am in agreement with ACSM on this one, but group workouts have been popular for YEARS because exercising with others can be much more fun than schlepping on a treadmill all by yourself. A great group fitness coach can challenge you to work hard with an emphasis on safety and there can be great energy and enthusiasm from the other participants. Plus, with the proliferation of boutique studios, consumers have a wide variety of choices of where to find group workouts. To learn more about the benefits of group fitness workouts, listen to my interview with Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a research psychiatrist at Stanford (and a group instructor herself, so she knows this subject well).
Strength training with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and other heavy stuff. ACSM identified strength training as a goal, but I’m going to be a little more specific. Barbell training has become so popular that many clubs are installing weightlifting platforms and enough people are doing the explosive lifts (which require the barbell to be dropped for safety) that Nautilus has developed the SVA Olympic weightlifting platform to reduce the noise and vibrations (full disclosure, I am a Master Trainer and content developer for Nautilus). In addition, when I first brought a kettlebell in a gym in 2003, my clients and the other trainers wondered what the heck I was doing with a cannonball with a handle, now most commercial fitness facilities provide access to kettlebells because they work.
Did you know that strength training can maintain muscle mass and help slow down the effects of the aging process? Listen to my interview with Dr. Scott Trappe from Ball State, his lab researched people who have been lifting weights for almost 50 years and they found that strength training helps maintain youthful muscle mass throughout aging.
Here are a few trends which ACSM overlooked:
Technology – specifically virtual reality. I’m not a huge fan of wearables, they’re interesting but until health insurance companies start offering discounts for people who upload their workout data, they’re little more than a novelty. Now that Generation Z – all of those born after the year 2000 – are hitting adulthood, we’re going to see a major shift in clubs as virtual reality workouts start becoming a thing. Remember, this is the generation that has grown up on the iPhone and iPad, going to a gym to lift a weight is not going to be that interesting for them.
Low price / high volume health clubs. Years ago, private health clubs were expensive and somewhat hard to access. I graduated college in 1994, when I returned home to the DC area and looked for a club, there were few options and they were not that affordable, at least for a new college grad. However, over the past number of years, thanks to a number of market forces such as the collapse of retail and the influence of private equity investors, there has been a rapid increase in low priced health clubs. The model is to join at a low price – which allows access to the equipment, but if members want extra services like group fitness classes, coached workouts or other amenities, they’ll have to pay for it. A base membership might be only $20/month, but adding a group workout program could increase it to $60/month. In my opinion, this is an awesome trend because it provides a wide variety of options for consumers.
Boutique studios are still a popular trend. If you travel in certain neighborhoods it’s hard to swing a dead cat without hitting 3 or 4 cycling, yoga or barre studios. Studios offer specialized instruction and a fun environment. Hopefully they continue to remain popular, but if there is a recession there will be a major market adjustment and many may go out of business which will benefit the LP/HV clubs.
Social Media. Where do you go for your workout ideas? Most likely you scan your Instagram feed or hit YouTube. There are a number of great people putting up content – some of the workouts are legit and could help improve your quality of life BUT it is important to identify influencers who know exercise science as opposed to simply looking good while exercising. Some of my faves include Kaisa, Kira Stokes and Primal Swoldier – they always put up cool, fun, legit workouts. If you’re looking for workout ideas, I put exercises and workouts on both my Instagram feed: @PeteMcCall_fitness and YouTube Channel: All About Fitness Podcast; feel free to drop by and pick up a few ideas (won’t cost you a thing).
Here’s a sample Core Training workout:
Mobility and recovery. Have you seen people doing stretches with those long sticks or rolling on a tube on the ground? Those are mobility tools for improving tissue (muscle and fascia) extensibility and joint range-of-motion. We know that intense exercise produces results, but it is also very hard on the body. Taking the time to do mobility work can greatly reduce the risk of injury. Learning how to use specific recovery strategies can help ensure that the workouts, well, work. If you want to learn more about mobility and recovery pick up a copy of Smarter Workouts: the Science of Exercise Made Simple – I have a full chapter on mobility training along with seven workouts to help improve your movement efficiency.
Ok, ok, you caught me. I was critical of ACSM for promoting their programs with their trends list and most of the trends above include links back to my content – but, with the exception of my book, the content is free and can help you to reach your fitness goals. This does show you, however, that I do know the current trends because I’ve developed the content to help create them.
As someone with more than twenty years of experience working in the fitness biz, I started in 1998, now that I’m in my late 40s (turning 48 this year) my objective is to help those of us in this demographic continue to exercise as we age. If you LOVE your hard workouts, you don’t have to stop them when the years start adding up, but you should take a smarter approach to exercise program design (hey, that’s a great title for a book) and learn how to design workouts that include mobility, strength training and HIIT (as well as some regular steady state) in a way that helps you to enhance your quality of life.
My personal definition of fitness is:
“Having the ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it,” which covers everything from hiking Machu Pichu to taking half-naked selfies.
Keep checking back all year long for great workout advice that can help you learn how to use exercise to experience life and slow down the aging process.
NOTE: if I could actually predict the future, I’d be living in Vegas alternating between making bets at the sports book and playing the stock market.
And to stay on top of the trends ALL year long, keep checking the All About Fitness podcast – where pods are found.