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REGIONAL COMPARISONS

THE WORLDWIDE SURVEY OF FITNESS TRENDS

Kercher, Vanessa Ph.D., M.Ed.; Feito, Yuri Ph.D., MPH, FACSM; Yates, Brandon M.S., CSCS

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000531
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Apply It! From this article, the reader should understand the following concepts:

• Identify and compare top 20 fitness trends for North America, China, Europe, and South America.

• Recognize similarities and differences in fitness trends between North America, China, Europe, and South America.

•Identify regional trends in the commercial, corporate, clinical, community health, and fitness industry for North America, China, Europe, and South America.

Vanessa M. Kercher, Ph.D., M.Ed., is a clinical assistant professor at the Kinesiology Department, School of Public Health, Indiana University. Dr. Kercher's research passion focuses on helping individuals optimize their physical activity experiences to promote sustainable, positive health behaviors. She serves as the digital editor of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal®.

Yuri Feito, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, is an associate professor of Exercise Science at Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA. As a professor, Dr. Feito's emphasis is to provide a “bridge” between scientific knowledge and skill application. He holds the ACSM-RCEP and ACSM-CEP credentials, and before his academic appointment, he was involved in the medical fitness industry as a practitioner and administrator.

Brandon A. Yates, M.S., CSCS, is currently a first year Ph.D. student at the Department of Kinesiology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). His research focuses on musculoskeletal health, nutrition, and resistance exercise interventions in clinical populations.

Disclosure:The authors declare no conflict of interest and do not have any financial disclosures.

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For the last 14 years, the editors of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® (FIT) have administered an electronic survey to thousands of fitness professionals around the world to determine health and fitness trends (1–14). The survey helps predict annual health and fitness trends in a systematic way using the same methodology and helps to guide health fitness programming efforts around the world. Although the number of participating countries has ranged from 10 to 36 depending on the year, both Europe and South America have independently sought to use the worldwide ACSM survey to explore their own fitness sectors. In addition, China is in its third consecutive year of surveillance and also has contributed to the worldwide fitness trends. Although there could be an assumption that many trends identified in ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends also may appear in other regions, this may not be the case. Therefore, it is important to have specific data from several European and South American countries to add to the established China and North America surveys to provide a more global understanding as to what extent the trends are confirmed in different regions around the world. In this article, the top 20 fitness trends from surveys in North America, China, Europe, and South America are compared. The authors thank our colleagues from Europe, South America, and China for replicating the methodology of ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends in an effort to provide guidance for health fitness professionals in their region.

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THE SURVEYS

The surveys are designed to determine trends within the fitness industry that may be thought to have significant impact in the fitness industry based on responses from fitness professionals (1–14). Although there may be some language translation and cultural differences, every attempt was made to distinguish between what might be considered a fad (a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period; http:/dictionary.reference.com/) and a trend (a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving; http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/).

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With these definitions in mind, all participants were provided a list of items considered as “trends” in the fitness industry to evaluate and rank.

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North America Survey

There were 38 possible trends in the 2020 survey: the top 25 trends from previous years and the 13 potentially emerging trends identified by the editors of FIT (1–14). Potential trends were identified with a short explanation that offered the respondent a few details for each potential trend. The survey was designed to be completed in 15 minutes or less. Using a survey tool, the online survey was sent electronically to a list of 56,746 health fitness professionals. The list included current ACSM-certified fitness professionals, ACSM Alliance members, ACSM professional members with a FIT subscription, nonmember FIT subscribers, FIT associate editors, and FIT editorial board members. In addition, the survey was posted on the ACSM and FIT journal web sites, as well as their associated social media accounts.

A total of 3,037 responses were received from more than 40 countries with a response rate of 6%. More information can be found in the article “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020,” in this issue (14). Respondents were from India, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Portugal, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States. While responses from ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends included answers from different countries, the small sample sizes may not be representative of country-specific trends. Therefore, for this comparison article, only responses from North America (N = 1,995) (i.e., United States, Mexico, and Canada) were used to compare the top 20 fitness trends with other regions (i.e., China, Europe, and South America). Because only North American respondents were included in this comparison article, the top 20 fitness trends are slightly different than those reported in the ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020 (14).

North American survey respondents included 67% females across a range of ages with 43% having at least 5 years of experience in the industry (see Figures 1 and 2). Overall, 16% of respondents were either part-time or full-time personal trainers, and 10% were health fitness directors/program managers. In addition, community recreation centers and programs and private practice/own business represented 25% and 23% of respondents' areas of work, respectively (see Figure 3).

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China Survey

There were 50 possible trends in the China survey that included the 38 trends used in the North American survey, along with 12 other potentially emerging trends within China and perhaps Asia, which were identified by a panel of 11 Chinese experts in the health and fitness industry. These 12 trends included the following: exercise and sport for children and adolescents, strength training, fitness and dietary, square dance, brisk walking, pregnancy/postnatal classes, campus soccer, integration of exercise and medicine, community fitness, prescriptive fitness, traditional health care exercise, and winter sport. An online survey platform was used with the 50 possible trends, with a brief description of each. After 30 days, 1,827 respondents completed the survey with a response rate of 26.3%.

Responses from Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong, Hebei, and Jiangsu accounted for 46.5% of the total responses. Additional responses from other provinces included Chongquing, Shandong, Shaananxi, Zhejiang, Henan, Sichuan, Hubei, Anhui, Lianoning, Tianjian, Shanxi, Hunan, Jilin, Fugian, Heilogjiang, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Neimmenggu, Xinjiang, Gansu, Gainan, Xianggang, Ningxia, Aomen, Xizang, Taiwain, and Qinghai (15). Although these areas do not represent all of Asia, we are limited to the responses China provided and have used this survey for comparisons with other regions.

Survey respondents included 67% males across a range of ages with 51.8% having less than 3 years of experience in the fitness industry (see Figures 1 and 2). Respondents' occupation consisted primarily of personal trainers (part-time or full-time; 44%), followed by undergraduates or graduate students at 41% (see Table 1). Corporate and commercial fitness centers represented 38% of respondents' area of work followed by community recreation centers and programs with a rate of 28% (see Figure 3). More information on this survey can be found in the article “China Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020,” in this issue (15).

TABLE 1

TABLE 1

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Europe Survey

For the European survey, a similar methodology to all the others was used. An online survey tool was developed with a total of 38 possible trends included, with a brief description of each. Surveys were distributed between EuropeActive's and ACSM's databases of health and fitness industry stakeholders, such as certified fitness professionals, ACSM members, gym owners/operators, managers and program directors, vocational educators and training providers, university/college faculty members, suppliers, and national association representatives (16).

After 4 weeks, a total of 1,001 responses from 40 European countries were received for a response rate of 5.6%. No country-specific answer density was found; thus, the results are presented as a cumulative score for the entire region and not country specific. This of course is unlike the other surveys and serves as a limitation for comparisons. Nonetheless, these data provide valuable evidence of the growth of these trends within the region. More information on this survey can be found in the article “European Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020,” in this issue (16).

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South America Survey

The South American survey (Argentina and Brazil) incorporated the same 38 possible trends that were used for the North American Survey. The electronic survey was open for responses for approximately 8 weeks, and no financial incentives for completing the survey were used. Each survey question was ranked via a 10-point Likert-type scale by respondents, and cumulative scores for each question were calculated then ranked 1 to 20 (17).

A total of 894 people responded to the survey and of those, 39% self-identified as female. Further, approximately 30% of respondents reported having more than 10 years of experience, and more than half of those respondents reported 20 years or more of experience (see Figures 1 and 2). Roughly 20% of respondents identified their occupation as a personal trainer (full-time or part-time) or as a graduate student (see Table 1). More information on this survey can be found in the article “Brazil and Argentina Survey of Fitness Trends for 2020,” in this issue (17).

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SURVEY RESULTS

As reported with the North American survey, all regions collated the responses and then ranked them from highest (most popular trend) to lowest (least popular trend) for each potential trend option and sorted them to create the top 20 fitness trends. When all four survey results were compared with one another, four trends were identified within the top 20 trends in each region (see Table 2). Briefly, the results of each region's top 20 fitness trends are highlighted and compared with one another.

TABLE 2

TABLE 2

Personal training, training with free weights, exercise for weight loss, and children and exercise were identified as a top 20 trend for all four regions (see Table 2). North America, Europe, and South America survey results indicated each region reported high-intensity interval training (HIIT), health wellness coaching, fitness program for older adults, employing certified professionals, functional fitness training, and circuit training. HIIT was rated highest among North America (no. 1), Europe (no. 2), and South America (no. 7). Interestingly, North America is the only region that did not rate boutique fitness studio within the top 20 trends. In addition, North America is also the only region that identified worksite health promotion and workplace well-being programs within the top 20 trends compared with the other regions.

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The China survey results revealed that 6 of 12 China-specific trends made the top 20 trends (see Table 2). These six China-specific top trends, including square dance (no. 6), core training (no. 17), brisk walking (no. 19), and pregnancy/postnatal classes (no. 20), are unique trends represented within China that were different from all of the other regions. The other six China-specific trends that did not make the top 20 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 sports (no. 48). Interestingly in China, lower-intensity activities appear to be a more relevant trend compared with HIIT ranked in the top 10 in the other regions. China supports two trends within the top 20 related to youth sports (trend nos. 2 and 14), suggesting that the fitness industry may have a high degree of concern for the physical health of young people. Fitness programs for older adults, however, did not make the top 20 trends as it did in each of the other regions. Interestingly, walking/running/jogging/cycling clubs (no. 10) were the only top 20 trend identified in China compared with North America, Europe, and South America.

The top trend for South America, exercise for weight loss, was consistent with China where it also was ranked no. 1 and similar to Europe (no. 6) and North America (no. 11). Interestingly, one of the primary interventions for weight challenges, lifestyle medicine, was ranked no. 2 in South America but only achieved the 16th spot in North America (not ranked in the top 20 for China or Europe). For North America, South America, and Europe, fitness programs for older adults (nos. 9, 11, and 4, respectively) were ranked higher than children and exercise (North America no. 20, South America no. 16, and Europe no. 19). In addition, there appeared to be a greater need for employing certified fitness professionals in South America (no. 6) than in the other regions (North America no. 10, Europe no. 14, and unranked in China). In addition, a greater emphasis on small group training (no. 8) was evident in South America; however, North America ranked group training (no. 3), and it was unranked in South America. Sport-specific training (no. 10) appears to be more popular in South America compared with North America (not ranked in the top 20). Lastly, Exercise is Medicine® and yoga are not as popular in South America (unranked) as in North America (nos. 6 and 14, respectively).

It is interesting to note that the European survey results placed personal training, HIIT, body weight training, functional training, and small group training as the top 5 trends, perhaps suggesting those participants in the survey value the utilization of these training modalities. In addition, it could be assumed that the use of these training modalities and personal training options is more specific to individual or small group settings, as “group training” was included as a trend but was lower in the list. This could be considered as a potential “niche” within the industry where these types of programs might be successful in both smaller studios and larger fitness centers. In addition, it is interesting to note that wearable technology, which is second in the North American trends, is listed as no. 18 in Europe. Whether this is a result of access, cost, or other factors is hard to say; however, it is noteworthy that along with China, these regions appear to put less emphasis on this type of technology than in North America.

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TAKEAWAYS

After reviewing and comparing the data, here are a few interesting findings among countless possibilities depending on how one interprets the regional data.

  • 1. Fitness programs for children and older adults. All four regions' results appear to emphasize the need to improve the health and fitness of children through sports or interventions that support healthy and active youth. The increased number of healthy seniors supports the importance of programs that help maintain health and fitness throughout the life span. Functional fitness training is another highly rated trend that supports programs to improve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance to improve activities of daily living that relate to both children and older adults. These findings highlight that across all four regions, both children and older adults are important populations to target and market health and fitness programs that promote new methods geared at promoting positive health behaviors.

Across all four regions, both children and older adults are important populations to target and market health and fitness programs that promote new methods geared at promoting positive health behaviors.

  • 2. The future of one-on-one training. Personal training is a popular fitness trend and appears in the top 10 trends in all four regions. Group training was ranked higher than personal training in North America and China, whereas small group training was reported in the top 10 trends for both Europe and South America. The rise of group training and small group personal training suggests that participation in semiprivate sessions and/or group training is becoming a more attractive option. The affordability and interaction with others in group training, compared with personal training, may be more attractive for people who want to work with a health and fitness professional or are looking for additional motivation. These trends will be important to watch over the next few years and important for health and fitness professionals to be aware of in order to continue to provide sustainable options for clients.

The future of one-on-one training (i.e., personal training) will be important to watch over the next few years and is essential for health and fitness professionals to continue to provide sustainable options for their clients.

  • 3. Strength training versus training with free weights. Previous surveys (1–12) included a trend category described as “strength training.” However, strength training was identified as being too broad of a category and therefore clearly defined and renamed to “free weight training” for 2020 (14). Despite this change in the North America survey the new, renamed trend was ranked as no. 4 and, thus, remained as a top 10 trend consistently compared with 12 of the past 13 years (1–14). Interestingly, China decided to add both strength training and training with free weights in their list of potential trends with both being listed as a top 20 trend (no. 4 and no. 16, respectively).
  • 4. Coach approach to support exercise for weight loss. The promotion of including exercise to lose weight is a supported trend in all four regions. More specifically, this trend is related to weight loss programs (diet) coupled with an exercise program. China and South America respondents recognized this as their top trend, perhaps a reaction of the fitness industry to the increasing rates of overweight and obesity. In North America, this trend continues to move lower within the top 20 trends, whereas health and wellness coaching has surpassed exercise for weight loss as a trend. From these survey results, a possible strategy could be combining wellness coaching with exercise programming to increase exercise engagement in clients to support weight loss. A health and wellness coach supports clients with goal setting, guidance, and encouragement, which may be helpful with weight loss.

Health and wellness coaching together with exercise training may be another way to learn more about programs that promote positive health behaviors in clients to support weight loss.

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SUMMARY: CALL TO ACTION!

Readers of this special fitness trends issue must understand that trends identified in one region may not be representative of others. The authors encourage more respondents within North America, China, Europe, and South America to annually engage in their regional trends surveys that combined with ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends provides an international look at key trends in the fitness industry. The authors look forward to learning about the respective regional trends in the future. Of course, there are always limitations that need to be taken into account when making this type of comparison. First, although the surveys tried being inclusive in all areas, there are a limited number of countries participating. The regional comparisons are limited to those countries participating, as highlighted elsewhere (18). To explore more similarities and differences of ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, the authors encourage other countries to participate to gain an even more accurate representation of the top fitness trends. The journal editors hope to continue to develop this international partnership to make annual improvements and progress on the survey design, implementation, and response rate. The authors also encourage readers of this journal to be a part of the survey and help gain more insightful knowledge.

The authors encourage other countries to participate in ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends to explore similarities and differences and gain an even more accurate representation of the top fitness trends.

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BRIDGING THE GAP

The ACSM fitness trends survey helps the health and fitness industry make critical programming decisions. The results are applicable to commercial, clinical, corporate, and community fitness programs. Although no one has been able to accurately predict the future, continued administration of this survey in other areas of the world like Asia, Europe, and South America will help to track trends in the field that will help health and fitness professionals make important business decisions in their region. The fitness trends surveys by China, Europe, South America, and North America colleagues are worthy of further attention and provide a good foundation for future work.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Managing Editor Lori Tish for providing all the materials they needed to complete this article and for her endless support. Thanks to Editor-in-Chief Brad Roy, Ph.D., FACSM, and ACSM Past President Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, for encouraging their team to work together to recognize and compare the fitness trends identified in regions of North America, China, Europe, and South America. A special thanks to the authors of the regional trends, Alexios Batrakoulis, Dr. Yongming Li, and colleagues in China (Jia Hang, Yang Liu, Ran Wang, Ru Wang, Xue-Ping Wu, and Zhen-Bo Cao) and Dr. Paulo Costa Amaral and Deborah Palma in South America.

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References

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Keywords:

Regional; Commercial; Corporate; Community; Trends

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine.