The Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), has come to its 14th year (1–13). By asking professionals working in the health and fitness industry worldwide, this survey predicts what will trend in the coming year. The survey results are informative for business owners, club operators, program directors, and health/fitness professionals to make business development decisions.
With the rapid development of the health and fitness industry in China, ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends has attracted increasing attention from Chinese health and fitness professionals in recent years. However, it was undetermined if the fitness trends in China were consistent with the results from the worldwide survey. After a discussion with the founders of ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends in Atlanta in 2016, we conducted the first nationwide survey of fitness trends in China in 2017. The China Fitness Survey has been collaboratively supported by ACSM and Shanghai University of Sport (SUS), and it has been successfully conducted for 2 years (14,15). We have compared and contrasted the results between worldwide and China fitness trends (14,15), and the similarities and differences found in the two different surveys suggest that nationwide surveys may provide important nation-specific information in addition to the worldwide survey.
The China Fitness Survey has been collaboratively supported by ACSM and the Shanghai University of Sport (SUS), and it has been successfully conducted for 2 years. The similarities and differences found in China and worldwide surveys suggest that nationwide surveys may provide important nation-specific information in addition to the worldwide survey.
The China Survey of Fitness Trends 2020 was conducted between April 1 and 30, 2019. Health/fitness professionals working in China were asked to predict the popularity of 50 potential trends by completing an online questionnaire (www.wjx.cn). Consistent with the worldwide survey, the China survey was constructed using a Likert-type scale ranging from a low score of 1 (least likely to be a trend) to a high score of 10 (most likely to be a trend) (1–13). The potential trends were a combination of 38 potential trends listed in the worldwide survey for 2020 in addition to 12 potential trends proposed by 20 independent health/fitness experts in China. The 12 China trends were added among the 38 worldwide trends in random order.
Eleven academic, industrial, and corporate organizations in the field of health and fitness volunteered as survey partners to assist with the recruitment of respondents. The link of the online survey was posted on the partners’ WeChat public account or through on-site activities. Although the survey was unpaid, a random drawing was conducted with the winners receiving 50 to 100 RMB (approximately U.S. $7 to $10) electronic coupons to encourage participation in the survey.
After the survey, the results were downloaded onto a spreadsheet from the web site for further analysis. The respondents’ information, such as gender, age, province, salary, and occupation, was recorded. The scale values for each potential trend rated by respondents were averaged, and the 50 trends were ranked according to their averaged ranked values. The top 20 (of the highest scale values) trends were recognized as the China Fitness Trends for 2020.
During the 30-day survey, 6,952 participants visited the online survey, and 1,827 of them spent an average of 8.4 minutes to complete the survey, with a response rate of 26.3%. Although the survey period for this year was approximately half of the past 2 years (14,15), the number of respondents (1,827 in 2020 vs. 1,459 in 2019 vs. 1,042 in 2018) and the response rate (26.3% in 2020 vs. 17.9% in 2019 vs. 21.0% in 2018) were both increased. This increment might result from the contribution of the collaborative partners as well as the increased popularity of the survey in China.
The respondents were characterized as 66.6% male and 33.4% female; 61.8% between the ages of 22 and 34 years (Figure 1); 32.7% were from Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangdong provinces (Figure 2); 51.8% with less than 3 years professional experience (Figure 3); 16.1% with annual salary more than 100,000 RMB or U.S. $14,530 (Figure 4); 38.3% working in commercial fitness centers (Figure 5); and 47.3% with national certification (National Vocational Qualification for Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor) (Figure 6). Also, 66.3% of the survey respondents were personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches, either full-time or part-time (Table 1).
The top 20 most popular fitness trends for 2020 can be found in Table 2. Compared with the results from the survey last year, new to the top 20 trends identified for 2020 were Exercise is Medicine® (no. 3), fitness and dietary (no. 5), mobile Exercise apps (no. 11), wearable technology (no. 13), intervention for overweight and obese children and adolescents (no. 14), training with free weight (no. 16), and fitness walking (no. 19). Mobile exercise apps, wearable technology, intervention for overweight and obese children and adolescents, and brisk walking came back to the top 20 after dropping out of the top 20 last year. Training with free weight was ranked in the top 20 for the first time when it was added into the survey (by the ACSM worldwide survey). Six of the 12 China-specific potential trends recommended by Chinese professional experts were ranked in the top 20, including exercise and sport for children and adolescents (no. 2), strength training (no. 4), fitness and dietary (no. 5), square dance (no. 6), brisk walking (no. 19), and pregnancy/postnatal classes (no. 20). The other six were campus soccer (no. 22), integration of exercise and medicine (no. 27), community fitness (no. 32), prescriptive fitness (no. 39), traditional health-care exercise (no. 47), and winter sport (no. 48).
- Exercise for weight loss. This is a trend toward incorporating all weight loss programs with a sensible exercise program. Most sensationalized diet programs incorporate some exercise into the daily routine. However, in 2019, the coupling of diets, diet pills, and cooking classes with exercise will become more critical. Exercise for weight loss was ranked no. 19 in 2018 and moved to no. 2 in 2019. In 2020, this trend rose to no. 1. This trend was the reaction of the fitness industry to the overweight or obese population in China.
- Exercise and sport for children and adolescents. This is a trend to improve the health and fitness of children and adolescents by sport-skills teaching. An increasing number of children and adolescents also choose physical fitness training to improve their fitness level. The trend was ranked no. 3 in 2018 and no. 6 in 2019. Among the 12 China-specific potential trends, this trend was ranked no. 1. Without the visible improvement of the fitness level of this population, this trend is expected to be popular in the following years in China.
- Exercise is Medicine.Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) is a global health initiative that is focused on encouraging primary care physicians and other health-care providers to include physical activity assessment and associated treatment recommendations as part of every patient visit and referring their patients to exercise professionals. In addition, EIM recognizes fitness professionals as part of the health-care team in their local communities. This was the first time for this trend to be ranked in the top 20. In the past 2 years, it was nos. 21 and 29. It seems that the awareness of this global health initiative has increased and become more accepted in the Chinese health/fitness industry.
- Strength training. This is a trend aiming to maintain/increase muscular strength and to build physique by using bodyweight, free weight, or machines. This trend was ranked no. 1 in both 2018 and 2019. Although the worldwide survey deleted this potential trend in 2019 because it was determined to be too generic, it remained in the China survey. Therefore, this trend was a China-specific potential trend in the survey for 2019 and 2020.
- Fitness and dietary. This trend is a dietary plan designed and implemented based on personal need. It was the first time for this trend to be listed as a China-specific potential trend. It will be interesting to see whether this is truly a trend or simply a fad in China.
- Square dance. This trend is dancing activities taking place on squares or empty sites, either large or small, and often accompanied by music. This trend is suitable for people of all ages and currently popular mainly with an elderly population. This trend was a China-specific potential trend in the survey for the third time and ranked no. 22 in 2018 and no. 19 in 2019. As a favorite fitness activity for the aging population, specifically in China, it has attracted more attention from the Chinese health/fitness industry.
- Group training. Group exercise instructors teach, lead, and motivate individuals through intentionally designed larger in-person group movement classes (more than five participants or it is considered group personal training). Group classes are designed to be practical, motivational sessions for different fitness levels with instructors teaching many types of classes and equipment, from cardio-based classes and indoor cycling to dance-based classes to step classes. This trend was ranked no. 7 in 2018 and no. 4 in 2019.
- Personal training. This trend continues as the profession of personal training becomes more accessible online, in health clubs, in the home, and in worksites that have fitness facilities. Personal training includes fitness testing and goal setting with the trainer working one on one with a client to prescribe workouts specific to clients’ individual needs and goals. This trend was ranked no. 17 in 2018 and soared to no. 3 in 2019.
- Outdoor activities. This is a trend for health and fitness professionals to offer more outdoor activities such as group walks, group rides, or organized hiking groups. They can be short events, daylong events, or planned week hiking excursions. Participants may meet in a local park, hiking area, or on a bike trail with a leader. This trend was ranked no. 5 in 2018 and dropped to no. 20 in 2019.
- Walking/running/jogging/cycling clubs. This is a trend toward more organized walking, running, jogging, or cycling clubs or groups that meet at a specified time, even if only on the weekends and in a park. These groups typically have a goal such as training for a 10K race or a marathon or a cycling competition. This trend was ranked no. 25 in 2018 and rose to no. 16 in 2019.
- Mobile exercise apps. Now available for mobile devices such as the iPhone®, iPad®, and Android, apps like Nike Run Club® and MapMyRun or Ride® include both audio and visual prompts to begin and end exercise and cues to keep moving. Other apps include Endomondo Pro® and Yoga with Janet Stone®, among many others. Some of these apps can track progress over time as well as hundreds of other functionalities. This trend was ranked no. 13 in 2018 and fell to no. 26 in 2019.
- Boutique fitness studios. A boutique fitness studio is typically a small gym (800 to 3500 square feet) that focuses on small group exercise and specializes in one or two fitness programs. They are usually in shopping centers or malls with easy access and are very popular in urban areas where people take public transportation and do not have cars. This trend was ranked no. 11 in 2018 and increased to no. 5 in 2019.
- Wearable technology. Wearable technology includes fitness trackers, smartwatches, HR monitors, and GPS tracking devices. Examples include fitness and activity trackers like those made by Misfit®, Garmin®, and Apple®. These devices can track HR, calories, sitting time, and much more. This trend was ranked no. 2 in 2018 and fell to no. 23 in 2019.
- Intervention for overweight and obese children and adolescents. This is a trend toward more wellness and fitness professionals providing specific diet, exercise, and perhaps behavior modification programs for overweight and obese kids and their families. It is an opportunity to open new markets to underserved populations. This trend was ranked no. 14 in 2018 and fell to no. 25 in 2019.
- Yoga. Yoga has taken on a variety of forms within the past year (including Power Yoga, Yogilates, yoga in hot environments, and others). Instructional tapes and books also are plentiful, as are certifications in the many yoga formats. This trend was ranked no. 15 in 2018 and was elevated to no. 7 in 2019.
- Training with free weights. Free weights, barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and medicine ball classes do not just incorporate barbells into another functional class/activity. Instructors start by teaching proper form/movement for each exercise and then progressively increase the resistance once the correct form is accomplished. New exercises are added periodically, and those begin at the form/movement level. This trend used to be barbell training in the worldwide survey in the past 2 years, when it was ranked no. 29 and rose later to no. 10.
- Core training. This is 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. In core training, there is usually a particular emphasis on posture. This trend was ranked no. 6 in 2018 and no. 8 in 2019.
- Body weight training. A combination of variable resistance body weight training and neuromotor movements using multiple planes of movement, this program is all about using body weight as the training modality. Body weight training often uses minimal equipment, which makes it an inexpensive functional way to exercise effectively. This trend was ranked no. 4 in 2018 and fell to no. 14 in 2019.
- Brisk walking. This trend is an aerobic activity that involves walking fast with a fixed routine in a park, campus, playground, riverbank, etc. This trend was ranked no. 10 in 2018 and dropped to no. 21 in 2019.
- Pregnancy/postnatal classes. While exercise programming for women who are pregnant has been around for a while, there is a renewed interest in the transition of women from prepregnancy through the pregnancy and after the birth of the child. This type of programming was included as a potential worldwide trend in the 2018 survey but was dropped from the 2019 worldwide survey. In the China fitness survey, this potential trend was kept in the survey for 2019 and 2020. This trend was ranked no. 30 in 2018 and was increased to no. 9 in 2019.
WHAT TRENDS ARE STABLE IN CHINA
Compared with the 14th year of ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, the China Survey of Fitness Trends is still in its initial stages of development. The respondents varied in the three surveys for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Nevertheless, results of the China survey still provide a brief picture of the stable fitness trends in China. Although there were some variations in the rankings, 10 fitness trends were ranked in the top 20 trends for 2018 (14), 2019 (15), and 2020 (Table 3). These 10 trends can be recognized as the current stable trends within the health/fitness industry in China.
Although there were some variations in the rankings, 10 fitness trends were ranked in the top 20 trends for 2018, 2019, and 2020. These 10 trends can be recognized as the current stable trends within the health/fitness industry in China.
WHAT TRENDS ARE SPECIFIC TO CHINA?
Results from the China fitness survey for 2020, together with those for 2018 (14) and 2019 (15), supported the necessity of a nationwide survey of fitness when the higher accuracy of prediction was pursued. There were six China-specific trends ranked in the top 20 for 2020 (Table 2), which were picked up from the 12 potential trends nominated by Chinese health and fitness experts. In addition, it is worth noting that some worldwide trends (e.g., high-intensity interval training) listed in previous years were not identified as the top 20 trends in China this time. Therefore, the nation specificity of fitness trends should be considered by international fitness organizations or companies when making strategic plans in other countries.
Results from the China fitness survey for 2020, together with those for 2018 and 2019, supported the necessity of a nationwide survey of fitness when the higher accuracy of prediction was pursued. The nation specificity of fitness trends should be considered by international fitness organizations or companies when making strategic plans in other countries.
The China Survey of Fitness Trends is in its third consecutive year. The top 20 trends were identified as the China fitness trends for 2020. Among them, six were from the potential trends especially shown in the China Survey of Fitness, and 10 were stable trends in China over the past 3 years.
BRIDGING THE GAP
The China Fitness Survey is the first nationwide fitness survey supported by ACSM. It aims to provide important nation-specific information in addition to the worldwide survey. Some fitness trends in China seem to be stable, while others vary from year to year.
The authors appreciate the collaborative support from ACSM and SUS. Special thanks are given to Prof. Peijie Chen, the president of SUS, and Prof. Walt Thompson, past president of ACSM, for their dedication to launching the China Survey of Fitness Trends. The authors are grateful to the partners from the health/fitness industry in China. Without their contribution, this survey would not have so many respondents. Finally, all of the respondents are appreciated for their time completing the survey.
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