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Worldwide Survey Reveals Fitness Trends for 2007

Thompson, Walter R. Ph.D., FACSM, FAACVPR

doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000252519.52241.39
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Learning Objectives From this article, the reader should understand the following concepts:

  1. The difference between a fad and a trend
  2. Worldwide trends in the commercial, corporate, clinical, and community health and fitness industry
  3. Expert opinions about identified fitness trends for 2007

Learn what leading experts are predicting to be the top health and fitness trends of 2007. The results were based on an international survey and the article includes commentary from fitness experts. You won't want to miss this valuable insight!

Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, FAACVPR, is a professor of exercise science in the Department of Kinesiology and Health (College of Education) at Georgia State University where he has a second academic appointment in the Department of Nutrition (College of Health and Human Sciences). He has lectured on health promotion and fitness topics in 21 countries on five continents. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the American College of Sports Medicine and has been a member of its Administrative Council.

This was not just any survey designed to predict the future of exercise programming in the next year. And it was not a survey to find out the most current "fads" in health clubs either. This survey was designed by the editorial team of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® to discover trends in the commercial, corporate, clinical, and community fitness program environment. So, before we provide the results of this survey, we should agree on a couple of definitions. For this survey, the following definitions were fundamentally accepted:

Fad-a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period; a craze (http://dictionary.reference.com).

Trend-a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving (http://dictionary.cambridge.org).

This is a survey of trends, not fads. The purpose was to determine with some degree of certainty current trends within the fitness industry to help practitioners establish the direction of their programs in the coming year. A commercial club, for example, can take this information and use it to establish a new market (resulting in a fresh source of revenue). Community-based organizations with their unique customer base can use this information to develop programs that would support their primary objectives. Corporate and clinical programs can do the same. Before we reveal the results of this important survey, here are the steps that the editorial team took.

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First, the editor-in-chief and an editorial team from ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® met to discuss what they believed to be current trends in their respective places of business. This group represented academia, corporate health promotion programs, commercial health clubs, medical fitness centers, and community-based organizations. This group then identified experts within their constituencies that could help identify fitness trends for 2007. The second step in the survey development was to ask these recognized experts to identify trends (using our accepted definition) within their places of business. After vetting for duplication, this step resulted in the recognition of 27 possible trends that were applicable in each of the four health/fitness business sectors (commercial, corporate, clinical, and community).

The third step was to develop a survey instrument that could be mass mailed to thousands of fitness practitioners all over the world. The online survey tool "SurveyMonkey" (www.surveymonkey.com) was selected because of its easy-to-use format, understandable and flexible results, and downloadable data. The survey was designed so that the participating fitness professional could easily finish within 15 minutes with the opportunity to add as much detail (in the form of comments) as needed within text boxes after each question. At the end of the survey, the reader also could append additional comments. A Likert-type scale was used in the survey. This type of scale was selected because we wanted to determine not only if the expert-determined trend was supported by in-the-field practitioners, but we also wanted to know the relative strength of the trend. A scale of 1 to 10 was used, with 1 being low and 10 being high. All 27 items were included in the survey instrument.

The fourth step was to electronically mass mail the survey to more than 4,000 fitness professionals in the ACSM database, a true worldwide sample. Once the survey was released, several hundred had responded within the first couple of hours. The survey was available for two weeks with reminders sent out periodically. In the end, nearly 500 surveys were received from all over the world, including countries within Asia and Europe, giving this survey the international exposure needed to establish worldwide fitness trends for 2007.

The final step was to collate the responses, rank order them from highest to lowest, and determine the top fitness trends for 2007. We then identified international experts from commercial, corporate, clinical, and community-based programs to comment on these trends. Here are the results in order from highest to lowest (note: Numbers 2 to 6 received the same ranking as did Numbers 11 to 13, 15 to 17, and 18 to 19) with a brief explanation for the Top 10:

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  1. Children and obesity. A trend toward more programs to attack this ever-growing problem. Average score = 8.4
  2. This was a surprising number one pick in the survey. In most developed or developing countries, there is arguably an epidemic of overweight or obesity in children. Recognized now as a serious public health problem, the health/fitness industry and fitness professionals could be a primary source of physical activity programming for children and their families. Some may argue that public schools should increase the time committed to physical education for children. However, with a concurrent emphasis on scholastic achievement and increasing standardized test scores, it is unlikely that schools can increase the time commitment to physical education or nutrition education-both of which can be important program design decisions to be made by commercial and community health clubs.
  3. Special fitness programs for older adults. A trend that emphasizes and caters to the older adult. As the baby boom generation becomes grayer and because they may have more discretionary money than their younger counterparts, fitness clubs will capitalize on this growing market. Average score = 8.1
  4. It is no secret that in just a few years the baby boom generation of 60-somethings will begin to retire. Now that the average life span hovers around 77 years, a huge market opportunity will begin to emerge. Not only are people living longer, but they also are generally healthier or have had some medical intervention to allow them to live longer. At the same time, physicians are encouraging their patients to enroll in fitness programs within their communities. Retirement communities have capitalized on this interest by opening and running private health clubs with programs developed just for this population. For an example of a retirement community with excellent exercise programs, visit www.thevillages.com/recreation/exercise.htm.
  5. Educated and experienced fitness professionals. A trend that continues with educational and certification programs that are fully accredited for health/fitness professionals. More educational programs will become accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, and more certification programs will become accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Average score = 8.1
  6. Although it should not come as a surprise that the fitness industry recognizes the importance of certification and education, it was surprising that respondents to this survey were familiar with and were able to understand the importance of academic accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs through the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences and certification program accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Both of these independent accrediting bodies are outside the fitness industry but have high standards for accreditation. Academic accreditation is now available for the bachelor's degree (Exercise Science) and for the master's degree (Exercise Physiology). In 2007, there will be made available academic program accreditation at diploma and associates degree for Personal Fitness Trainer. Certification program accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies will ensure that certification programs have developed and maintained the highest standards for examination integrity.
  7. Functional fitness. A trend toward using strength training to improve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance to improve activities of daily living. Exercise programs will reflect actual activities someone might do during the day. Average score = 8.1
  8. It seems as though many clients these days are searching for an exercise program that will allow them to do activities of daily living without any physical stress. The fitness industry has responded by introducing functional fitness classes that emphasize exercises that imitate activities one might do in and around the home as well as at the workplace. For example, if a client works on an assembly line, a trainer might emphasize the same kinds of movements he or she might do on the job. The traditional bench press may soon be replaced with carrying strollers down the stairs or hoisting a 5-gallon container of spring water onto its dispenser. The basic premise behind functional fitness is to reduce the emphasis on traditional forms of exercise (especially strength training with free weights and machines) and replace it with activities that strengthen muscles that will be used most often in activities done daily by the client. Improvements in balance, coordination, strength, and endurance are all goals of functional fitness programs and are typically found in commercial, corporate, clinical, and community fitness programs.
  9. Core training. A trend that emphasizes strength and conditioning of the stabilizing muscles of the abdomen and back. Core training continues to use stability balls, BOSU balls, wobble boards, and foam rollers. Average score = 8.1
  10. Core stability refers to the muscles in the pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen working together to provide support for the spine. The scientific basis of this type of training has to do with the transfer of power from the center of the body to the extremities, including the arms and legs. Improvement in the strength and endurance of these muscle groups will enhance one's ability to perform activities of daily living and improve sport skill development. Interestingly, some survey respondents argued that core training was not a trend at all but that it has been around for several decades. Others argued that there is now a name for it, and a greater emphasis has been placed on core training because it forms the foundation for upper and lower extremity training, including sport skill development.
  11. Strength training. A trend for both men and women to incorporate strength training into their exercise routines. The health benefits of strength training will be emphasized even more than in 2005. Average score = 8.1
  12. Maybe even before 2005, the strength training movement gained popularity not just among the die-hard body builder or weight lifter, but also among women and senior citizens. Along with functional training and core training, traditional strength training programs are now among the longer-lasting trends in all of the fitness markets (commercial, corporate, clinical, and community). Thanks to the scientists who study strength training, fitness professionals now incorporate strength training programs even for patients with diagnosed heart disease and for those patients recovering from heart surgery (which has not been until recently a part of the contemporary rehabilitation treatment program). Strength training continues to be popular with all age groups and both sexes.
  13. Personal training. A trend continues as the profession of personal training becomes more of a reality and becomes more accessible to most people in all aspects of the health/fitness industry. Average score = 7.9
  14. In 2006, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (through the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences) recognized the personal fitness trainer as an allied health professional and approved the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences to develop the Standards and Guidelines for academic programs training them. These Standards and Guidelines should be made available to degree-granting institutions in 2007. These are big steps in the professional preparation of personal fitness trainers. Academic program accreditation is already available for bachelor's degrees (Exercise Science) and for graduate programs (Exercise Physiology). All of these recent developments and benchmarks support the trend for personal trainers to be recognized among all other health care professionals and point to the further professionalization of the personal trainer.
  15. Mind/body exercise. A trend that includes Yoga and Pilates. While mind/body exercise programs have been around for some time now, variations of these forms of exercise will continue to be introduced, and they will remain popular. Average score = 7.8
  16. IDEA has defined "mind/body" exercise as "physical exercise executed with a profound inwardly directed focus (1)." Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi are examples of this growing trend toward focusing on the inward you and less on physical appearance, although proponents tell us (with some scientific research support) that there is as much muscular strength, aerobic capacity, flexibility, and balance improvement as there is a facilitation of the mind. One of the benefits to fitness practitioners and to clients is that in a single class there may be many different ages, both sexes, and a variety of abilities taking part simultaneously. None of these forms of exercise are new. Tai Chi has been around for hundreds of years, and although no one can say precisely, Yoga is thought to have started more than 5,000 years ago. Pilates (named after Joseph H. Pilates, a German who moved to England as a young man just before the start of World War I for health reasons) has been around since 1912. These forms of exercise became popular several years ago, and the trend continues as their popularity soars.
  17. Exercise and weight loss. A trend toward incorporating all weight loss programs with a sensible exercise program. Most sensationalized diet programs incorporate some kind of exercise program into their daily routine. However, in 2007, the coupling of diet or diet pill and exercise will become more important. Average score = 7.6
  18. Sensible weight loss programs will include an exercise program emphasizing energy balance in 2007. Even the most sensational diets (which will be on the decline in 2007) will use the energy balance approach and include moderate and vigorous exercise in an attempt to increase caloric expenditure while reducing caloric intake. If an extreme diet is introduced in 2007, fitness professionals will be called upon to provide the right kind of exercise program to balance the energy expenditure/energy consumption scale. Clients will come from all four sectors of the fitness industry-commercial, corporate, clinical, and community. Maybe in 2008, the emphasis will be on a sensible exercise program and make only minor adjustments to diet to tilt the energy balance scale.
  19. Outcome measurements. A trend toward accountability. After many years of just talking about outcomes, there will be efforts to define and track outcomes. Measurements are necessary to determine the benefits of health/fitness programs in disease management and to document success in changing negative lifestyle habits. The proliferation of technology will aid in data collection to support these efforts. Average score = 7.5
  20. Clients and fitness professionals will be accountable to each other. Both short-term and long-term goals will become measurable outcomes. Instead of just talking about how much weight a client might lose, clients will be regularly weighed and then held to that goal. In the event that the client fails to reach the goal, both the client and the fitness professional will be held accountable. Other forms of measurement will include blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose; blood pressure both at rest and during exercise; flexibility; strength; and body weight. New technology will allow for an easy transfer of measurements into any number of databases and then converted to easy-to-read and easy-to-understand formats. Data collection in 2007 also might include technology that the client wears during exercise and during the day that calculates energy balance for weight loss programs. These new devices will enhance other weight loss strategies making them even more effective.
  21. Rounding Out the Top 20
  22. Sport-specific training. A trend that incorporates sport-specific training especially for young athletes. For example, a high school athlete might join a commercial or community-based fitness organization to help develop skills during off-season and to increase strength and endurance. Average score = 7.4
  23. Simple, more accessible exercise. A trend that incorporates simple exercise programs into the daily routine of most people. The 10,000-steps-per-day program is an example of trying to incorporate simple changes in lifestyle that will help people reach their exercise goals. Average score = 7.4
  24. Comprehensive health promotion programming at the worksite. A trend toward a range of programs and services provided to improve the health of workers that are integrated with systems to allow one to evaluate the impact on health costs and productivity. Average score = 7.4
  25. Physician referrals. A trend toward a growing emphasis being placed on partnerships with the medical community resulting in seamless referrals to the health and fitness facility. Average score = 7.3
  26. Shorter more structured classes. A trend toward more structured classes in a shorter amount of time. The 30-minute workout or the 20-minute strength training program will become more popular. Average score = 7.2
  27. Reaching new markets. A trend that identifies new markets in all aspects of the health/fitness industry. With an estimated 80% of Americans not having a regular exercise program or a place to exercise commercial, corporate, clinical, and community programs will reach out to tap this huge market. Average score = 7.2
  28. Worker incentive programs. A trend toward creating incentive programs to stimulate health behavior change as part of employer-based health promotion programming and health care benefit design. Average score = 7.2
  29. Wellness coaching. A trend to incorporate behavioral science into health promotion programs. Wellness coaching uses a one-on-one approach with the coach providing support, guidance, and encouragement. The wellness coach focuses on the client's values, needs, vision, and goals. Average score = 7.0
  30. Group personal training. A trend to expand the personal trainer's role from strictly one-on-one training to small group training. The personal trainer works with two or more people (but in a small group) and offers discounts for the group. Average score = 7.0
  31. Family programming. A trend toward involving the entire family, which may be the key to the success of education and awareness programs. Family-oriented services will become more prevalent. Fitness centers will partner with their local communities to provide programs and services. Average score = 6.9.
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Summary

This study revealed some important trends in the fitness industry. The commercial health club can use this information to build exciting new, high-volume, low-cost, and profitable innovative programs. Corporate health promotion programs can develop stimulating novel approaches to improving employee fitness and morale while decreasing absenteeism. Recognizing the clinical characteristics of this survey, medical fitness centers can capitalize on the growing trends of medical referrals, especially those dealing with childhood obesity and the likelihood that the obese child is coming from a family of obese or overweight parents. Community-based programs will find the survey results to be of benefit because of its public health implications. It will be interesting to see if these trends hold up during 2007.

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International Experts Comment on 2007 Trends

"The results of this survey reinforce the fact that the fitness industry is not, and should not be, a 'fad' industry. The fitness industry is dedicated to the health and wellness of the populations we serve through programs and services which will last a lifetime, not just a month or two. Developing programs based on these trends and then measuring outcomes will strengthen the industry as it continues to grow and develop. Including physicians and other clinical specialists with appropriately trained and certified fitness professionals-as part of a team approach to prevent and manage disease-will provide additional opportunities and pathways for the health/fitness center to reach everyone in the community."

Cary Wing, Ed.D., received her advanced degree in applied physiology from Columbia University. Her background spans more than 25 years in the health and wellness field, and she has been directly involved in the development of medically integrated health/fitness centers. She is the executive director of the Medical Fitness Association.

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"This survey goes beyond merely identifying fitness trends for 2007: it lists the elements for an international working blueprint for action that challenges fitness professionals and the industry in which they work. Rather than just a listing of independent trends reflecting public health concerns, they help to guide an integrated approach to developing and delivering relevant programs for individuals, groups, and the community at large. Importantly, they encapsulate key issues for developing countries that can see beyond the epidemiological transition they are making. Congratulations to Dr. Thompson and his team for helping us all look carefully into the future."

Wye Mun Low, M.B.B.S., M.S.S., M.P.H., FACSM, is a sports physician who helped develop the first medical fitness center in Singapore and introduced the ACSM Exercise Specialist® certification to his country. He serves on the ACSM International Relations Committee.

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"The survey results provide a relatively accurate picture of the trends currently impacting the health/fitness facility industry. I believe certain trends such as sports-specific conditioning for youth and "express exercise" (e.g., exercise programs that can be done in less than 30 minutes) have become more prevalent in the commercial setting than reflected in the survey. In addition, I believe that insurance reimbursement for commercial and nonprofit facility memberships is a growing trend that will impact the industry in 2007 and beyond, which is not reflected in the survey. Finally, the number one trend of children and obesity, I believe, is definitely one of the top issues or opportunities presented to fitness professionals, but at the time, I don't believe that programming for this area has reached the status of a trend. Overall, the trends shared in the article are excellent and will assist fitness professionals in leveraging their skills to benefit their clients and drive business profitability."

Stephen Tharrett, M.S., is the president of Club Industry Consulting and a 27-year veteran of the health/fitness industry. He spent 20 years as both a vice president and a senior vice president of ClubCorp with responsibilities in fitness, golf, and tennis. He is a past president of IHRSA and the coeditor of the second and third editions of the ACSM Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines. In the past year, he has published two textbooks, Fitness Management and ACE's Fitness and Business Forms Handbook.

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"ACSM has done an outstanding job in organizing and synthesizing key trends in the health and fitness industry. Virtually every provider of health and fitness services is looking into their crystal ball for the answers to future program direction, as well as to get a better handle on what's hot right now. I am especially pleased to see the trends reflect much of the recent work of YMCAs and other community-based programs from across the country, particularly with regard to their work with youth and older adults. I predict that these trends will be used extensively and eagerly anticipated in the forthcoming years."

Michael Spezzano, M.S., began working in July for the YMCA of Greater New York in a newly created position to oversee the delivery of health and wellness programs along with membership management for the largest YMCA in the United States. For the past 12 years, he was the national health and fitness specialist for YMCA of the USA, in Chicago, IL. In that position, he provided leadership to the national YMCA in the field of health and fitness. His responsibilities included program design and development, certification training, resource development, and consultation to the 2,600 YMCAs in the United States on matters related to health and fitness.

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks Editor-in-Chief Ed Howley, Ph.D., FACSM, for considering this project important enough to include in the year-end edition of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal®. The author also thanks the ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® editorial team, especially Paul Couzelis, Ph.D.; John Jakicic, Ph.D., FACSM; Nico Pronk, Ph.D., FACSM; Mike Spezzano, M.S.; Neal Pire, M.A., FACSM; Jim Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM; Melinda Manore, Ph.D., R.D., FACSM; Cary Wing, Ed.D.; Reed Humphrey, Ph.D., P.T., FACSM; and Steve Tharrett, M.S., for their very important input into the construction of the survey. Finally, the author is indebted to the ACSM staff who supported this study by assisting in the construction of the survey, formatting it for delivery, and sending it to thousands of fitness professionals around the world. In particular, the author recognizes the important contributions of ACSM staff, D. Mark Robertson, Lori Tish, Mike Niederpruem, Hope Wood, Traci Rush, and Gretchen Dovenmuehle.

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Reference

1. LaForge, R. Research case for mindful exercise grows. IDEA Health & Fitness Source 16:40, 1998.
Keywords:

Expert Opinions; Future Programs; Trends; Fads; Predictions; Commercial; Corporate; Clinical; Community

© 2006 American College of Sports Medicine