The European health and fitness sector is systematically growing while the number of fitness users has increased by 72% in the past 10 years. Moreover, almost 10% of all European adults are users of fitness services with a penetration rate of 7.6% (1). According to these data, the European fitness industry has been considered a vibrant sector shaped by many innovations in the past years and showing great potential for professional opportunities and business development (2). However, almost 50% of the adult population currently lead a sedentary lifestyle (3) and more than 60% of them are overweight (4).
Since 2006, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has been administering an annual worldwide survey of fitness trends in the health and fitness industry aiming to support owners, operators, program directors, health club managers, and fitness professionals with making important business decisions to support customer engagement through a positive exercise experience (5). Although the fitness industry is constantly demonstrating growth and innovation all over the world, inactivity and obesity epidemics present at higher rates than have ever previously occurred in human history (3,4). In addition, along with the emphasis that regular physical activity should be a priority for all populations of all ages, the role of fitness professionals in the fitness and clinical settings has been rapidly changing (6).
No study has yet examined in depth the state of fitness trends in Europe. Although ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends has been including data from respondents based in Europe (5), the targeted sample size has not been large enough to produce secure conclusions. Hence, the EuropeActive and the European Register of Exercise Professionals (EREPS) in collaboration with ACSM conducted a separate research project exclusively focused on the European region. Data specifically for Europe provides insights into international trends that are present in this region while supporting future comparisons at regional and international levels. The objective of this study was to conduct the first Pan-European survey of trends in the health and fitness sector for 2020 by applying the methodology proposed by ACSM as previously described (5) to provide valuable data for comparisons with other international surveys (7).
The survey was designed to confirm the trends (not fads) that are considered popular because they may have a positive effect on the fitness industry while demonstrating high attractiveness among fitness industry stakeholders who live and work in Europe serving several types of populations in the fitness sector. There were 38 possible trends on the survey with a brief explanation that provided respondents with a basic description (see Supplemental Digital Content 1, Table, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A131). All included options were selected as applicable trends in the health and fitness industry. The survey was designed to be completed in less than 15 minutes. The databases of EuropeActive and ACSM were mainly used to recruit respondents for this research project, and no incentives (financial or material) were offered to help increase participation in the survey. The online survey was sent electronically to a list of 24,039 individual contacts with 17,755 reported opens. All contacts were health and fitness industry stakeholders based in Europe. More specifically, the list included current certified fitness professionals registered in EREPS, ACSM certified fitness professionals, ACSM members, gym owners/operators, managers and program directors, vocational education and training providers, tutors, university/college faculty members, suppliers, and National Association representatives. Likewise, the survey was posted on the EuropeActive and EREPS Web sites, as well as their associated social media accounts. The submitted responses on the potential trends were assessed using a 10-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (least likely to be a trend) to 10 (most likely to be a trend) while providing space for the respondent to input potential fitness trends or comments.
After 4 weeks (May 2019) and one additional notice, 1,001 responses were received, which represents a return rate of 5.6%, which is similar with other international surveys (5,7). Responses were received from 40 European countries presenting a great diversity. After analyzing the collected data, the top 20 trends were ranked from highest (most popular trend) to lowest (least popular trend) in Table 1. In Europe, personal training, high-intensity interval training, body weight training, functional fitness, and small group personal training were identified as the top 5 trends, respectively. A comprehensive comparison table presenting the ranking and average scores is available online (see Supplemental Digital Content 2, Table, http://links.lww.com/FIT/A132).
In Europe, personal training, high-intensity interval training, body weight training, functional fitness, and small group personal training were identified as the top 5 trends, respectively.
Demographics of the European survey respondents included 60% males, almost 41% were 22 to 34 years of age (Figure 1), and 45% reported more than 10 years of experience in the industry (Figure 2). The most frequent respondent occupation (31%) was as a full- or part-time personal trainer (Table 2), and the most frequent workplace (33%) was private practice/own business (Figure 3). The wide range of certifications held by the survey respondents is presented in Figure 4, and more respondents worked full-time (81%) than part-time (17%). Figure 5 shows where respondents work, and when they were asked about their career choices, 70% reported that they were in their first job, 21% reported that they were in their second career, and 9% reported something else (e.g., third, fourth, fifth, etc.). Almost 15% of the survey respondents earned an annual salary of more than 60,000, whereas 41% of the respondents earned less than €20,000 a year (Figure 6).
The main findings of the European survey suggest that personal training is the most attractive and popular fitness trend in the European region, whereas HIIT and body weight training were ranked in nos. 2 and 3 spots, respectively. The results of the first-ever European survey on fitness trends using ACSM’s methodology (5) indicate several comparable points with other recently published international surveys (7). Because this study is the first attempt to investigate the current state of fitness trends in Europe, data are not available to compare our results with those from past surveys. In Europe, there are only data from a recent national survey conducted in Spain using similar methodology (8). Thus, future research in this field focusing on Europe is needed to reveal actual trends and not fads as previously described (5).
Personal training was ranked no. 1 in this survey. Furthermore, it seems to be the most popular fitness trend in Europe nowadays, supporting the evidence that 72.4% of the personal training services are offered as traditional one-on-one training sessions (9). Moreover, personal trainer certification has been forecast to be the second most attractive credential among European fitness professionals by 2025 (10). The above remarks in conjunction with our findings enhance the position that personal training services are critical for the growth and evolution of the fitness industry and for supporting the quality and effectiveness of the exercise experience. In addition, small group personal training was ranked no. 5, promoting the opinion that the personal training field may currently be facing a changing landscape where semiprivate training sessions attract more people to the supervised exercise experience with more interaction and less expenses while offering a profitable business concept for all involved industry stakeholders.
Interestingly, health-oriented fitness trends are very attractive, demonstrating that 7 out of 20 top trends are associated with exercise for health and special populations.
In the European survey, several health-related trends such as exercise for weight loss (no. 6), Exercise is Medicine® (no. 7), health/wellness coaching (no. 8), fitness programs for older adults (no. 11), clinical integration/medical fitness (no. 12), postrehabilitation classes (no. 16), and children and exercise (no. 19) were ranked in the top 20. Likewise, it has been reported that 85% of European employers believe that skills relevant to disease prevention and health promotion are critical for practitioners in the fitness industry, emphasizing the important role of lifestyle coaching, behavior change, and exercise training for special populations (11). On the basis of the above facts, it can be concluded that exercise for health targeting specific populations (e.g., seniors, adults with risk factors for lifestyle diseases or diagnosed controlled chronic conditions, overweight children, etc.) may be an attractive area for business and professional development in the European fitness industry. According to these findings, more than one in three top fitness trends is highly associated with the field of exercise training for health, which is an important sign for the future state of the fitness industry in Europe. In the present study, data supporting that exercise for health may be a part of a changing landscape within the fitness industry may be affected by current public health status (12).
According to the latest employer skills survey, almost 80% of owners, operators, and gym managers representing nearly 1,000 clubs across Europe report that online training, fitness and health-care connection, and the use of technology are emerging trends in the region (11). It also is notable that while online training (no. 34), mobile exercise apps (no. 25), and wearable technology (no. 18) are all technology-related trends, only wearables were in the top 20. Technology has been reported as one of the main drivers of the fitness industry as demonstrated by being ranked in the top fitness trends (5,7). Our observations point to a reduced use of technology in Europe, which highlights the potential for future emerging trends related to technology to occur. On the other side, socioeconomic status also may play a key role in the use and popularity of technology because of the probable lack of financial resources in specific European countries that affects the average score of several technology-related fitness trends in our survey.
Technology-oriented fitness trends are not yet very popular, whereas boutique fitness studios seem to be an emergent work setting in Europe.
HIIT (no. 2), body weight training (no. 3), and functional fitness training (no. 4) are trends where their attractiveness is systematically increasing among exercisers and fitness professionals in the global fitness industry (5). Furthermore, small group personal training (no. 5) is fully supported by the above trends that take place in all aspects of the fitness setting, shaping a different landscape in both conventional one-on-one personal training and small group training and gaining more popularity than group training that was ranked no. 13 in the European survey. Moreover, boutique fitness studios and medical fitness centers have been reported to become the top 2 most promising work settings in the European fitness sector by 2025 (10), showing that business concepts, services, and programs related to customized and supervised exercise training are attractive among fitness professionals and their clients. In the European survey, they are both included in the top 20 list of fitness trends, providing insights into the future while underlining their leading role in the growth of the health and fitness industry (1). Circuit training (no. 10), group training (no. 13), and training with free weights (no. 17) are included in the top 20 list, supporting the fact that traditional training modalities are still popular in Europe. This finding provides data supporting the effect of the above exercise modes on exercise adherence and their effectiveness through positive exercise experiences in commercial fitness centers where almost one in three respondents (30.6%) are currently working.
In addition, 91% of European employers consider that lifelong learning should be a priority for certified fitness professionals while believing that special business concepts such as microgyms, boutique studios, and high-tech gyms would be the most attractive future fitness settings aiming to provide customers with an engaging experience (11). Connecting these facts with our survey results, we may conclude that boutique fitness studios and employing certified fitness professionals, which were ranked nos. 9 and 14, respectively, are fairly considered as top fitness trends in Europe. In addition, the rationale for qualified exercise specialists capable of working with clients who are facing chronic lifestyle diseases is systematically growing, showing that the new era of the health and fitness industry may be associated with exercise for health (12). Moreover, the most favorable future credentials for the European fitness professionals are highly associated with personal training and exercise for special populations (e.g., older adults, youth, individuals who have obesity or diabetes), underlying the need for occupational roles with additional training focused on these underserved markets (11,12). Likewise, personal training has been documented as one of the most prevalent occupations among European fitness professionals presenting data that personal training services and programs are and will continue to be in increasing demand in Europe (9). According to our findings, personal training, Exercise is Medicine®, fitness programs for older adults, exercise for weight loss, and children and exercise are all included as the top 10. The primary outcomes from the first-ever European survey of fitness trends that identify personal training (no. 1), employing certified fitness professionals (no. 14), and licensure for fitness professionals (no. 15) as some of the most popular trends in Europe seem to be aligned with recent research findings, enhancing the need for competent exercise professionals with qualifications in personal training (2,12) that can work in a high-standard industry aiming to tackle the global prevalence of inactivity and obesity (3,4).
Yoga was ranked no. 20, demonstrating that local, regional, or even national popularity does not always translate into an international trend although it has been reported as one of the top trends worldwide since 2014 (5). Out of the top 20 trends for 2020 are Pilates (no. 22) and mind-body movement (no. 32), demonstrating similar insights into these exercise modes as previously described (5,7). Observing the increased attractiveness of exercise and health-related trends in the European survey, it may be necessary to create an inclusive environment for individuals who are facing chronic diseases, while demonstrating poor functional capacity and physical limitations, to engage those people in regular exercise programs using adapted protocols for yoga, Pilates, and mind-body movement as additional or supplementary exercise strategies. Lastly, some new trends to watch are electrical muscle stimulation training and virtual training. Both trends are technology-oriented options and, according to previous studies, might be considered as potential new trends for 2021, supporting the perspective that technology can play a key role in the future of the fitness industry (11).
The major limitation of this study is the language barrier playing a critical role in the survey sample size. Europe includes 50 countries accommodating more than 33 native languages. Although English is considered a popular language worldwide, it seems challenging for nonnative English speakers to complete a detailed questionnaire exclusively provided in English. Although the return rate is considered high (5.6%) compared with other studies on fitness trends (5,7,8) and responses were collected from 80% of Europe’s countries demonstrating a dispersed sample size, a multilingual survey may be needed for future studies aiming to examine the same topic by attracting more respondents from the more populated European countries and the leading fitness markets in the region to get a larger sample size (>1,000 responses). In contrast with ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends (5), no incentive (material) was offered to respondents in the European study, which may be a further tool for increasing the number of participants in surveys of this kind. Finally, a longer survey response limit (i.e., two additional weeks) with additional reminders (one reminder was used) may increase both the return rate and sample size.
In conclusion, personal training was ranked in the no. 1 spot for 2020, which is a result fairly aligned with previous international findings that systematically reported this trend as an attractive and popular option for exercisers and fitness professionals (5,9). Through the investigation of the European fitness trends, we are now able to examine possible comparisons among Europe and other regions to provide evidence regarding the popularity of specific services, programs, and credentialing worldwide. In addition, this survey as the first study of its kind aims to guide all involved industry stakeholders on how to create and use safe, efficient, and attractive business strategies relevant to current top fitness trends. The translation of these results into applicable solutions that are targeted to promote a positive exercise experience for customers will help the health and fitness sector continue its primary mission through high-quality standards and innovation.
BRIDGING THE GAP
The European Survey of Fitness Trends was conducted for the first time aiming to support all involved stakeholders and to recognize the current status of the industry regarding the most popular exercise modes and programs. Moreover, it may assist both practitioners and entrepreneurs to enhance customer engagement and experience through applicable strategies within the health and fitness industry.
The author thanks Editor-in-Chief Brad Roy, Ph.D., FACSM; ACSM’s Past-President Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM; and Managing Editor Lori Tish for considering this project important enough to investigate the fitness trends identified in Europe. Thank you to EuropeActive’s Executive Director Nathalie Smeeman, EREPS Director of Programs Cliff Collins, and EuropeActive’s Professional Standards Committee Director Julian Berriman for supporting and helping the implementation of this survey for the first time in Europe.
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