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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: 1/2 2021 - Volume 25 - Issue 1 - p 32-35
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000638
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Peijie Chen, Ph.D., is a professor and president of Shanghai University of Sport, Shanghai, China. “The number of respondents to the Chinese Survey of Fitness Trends increased dramatically from 1,827 for 2020 to 4,310 for 2021, with 3,368 of the respondents currently practicing in the fitness industry. Their responses showed that exercise for weight loss and healthy diet are the top two trends for 2021. This result is alarming but not surprising, as a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that the population of China is becoming increasingly overweight, with the prevalence of obesity in the country tripling in the past 10 years and abdominal obesity increasing by more than 50%. Evidence has shown a clear relationship between obesity and the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and a variety of chronic diseases. Therefore, losing weight as part of weight management is essential for general health and wellbeing. Appropriate exercise and healthy diet are both important for weight management; however, these should be individualized and be informed by scientific evidence. In this sense, professional development education should be provided to fitness instructors to update their knowledge in this field. Meanwhile, allied health professionals around the world, such as exercise physiologists and dietitians should work collaboratively to provide the most effective service to their clients, especially those who have already suffered from obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.”


Carla Giuliano de Sá Pinto Montenegro, M.Sc., Ph.D., is a physical education professional at the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo, Brazil. “The trends reflect the population’s need in relation to physical activity and facilitates the guidance and training of professionals who will be responsible for prescribing and monitoring physical activity. For the year 2021, there is a strong concern about health and the transition from fitness to wellness, since the first trend is weight loss and we know that more than half of the population in Brazil is overweight, and obesity is the main risk factor for the development of chronic non-communicable diseases. The second trend in Brazil is lifestyle medicine, which through six pillars (physical activity, healthy eating, quality of sleep, stress management, tobacco/alcohol consumption, and healthy relationships) aims to prevent and treat chronic diseases, proposes a reflection and care of how our lifestyle interferes in our quality of life and longevity. Another highlight is the search for technology as an auxiliary means. In this new moment of adaptation for the whole world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic of the novel coronavirus, it is essential to keep the population active. Looking at longevity is also worth mentioning! As a trend, exercise in the aging process reinforces the importance of physical activity in health promotion. Working with the elderly is no longer a future, but a present! Through physical activity we can prevent falls, hospitalizations, institutionalizations, morbidity, mortality, and improve the quality of life of the elderly. Empower people with exercise as a “polypill” for health promotion!”


Chris Alexander, ESSAM, AEP, AES, is general manager of Standards and Development at Fitness Australia. “ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends has provided important information for professionals working in the fitness industry for 15 years. I am pleased Fitness Australia has been able to contribute to the worldwide trends and have the results of the local Australian Survey of Fitness Trends published in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®. The results of the Fitness Australia trends’ survey encouragingly identified the importance of the Australian community maintaining strength training in their habitual routine despite health and fitness facilities around the nation closing due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Strength training with free weights was number one in Australia for the first time. This was emphasized throughout the lockdown period with retailers selling out of all their free weights stock. Functional fitness training climbed to the 2nd most popular voted trend. As exercise professionals support broader cohorts of clients, they are adapting delivery to supporting activities of daily living by addressing balance, coordination, strength, and endurance modalities. The fitness industry indicated that being identified/employed as a registered exercise professional (#3) is another important step to developing consumer, allied health, and medical professional confidence in fitness service delivery. It also highlighted the value that the industry places on its exercise professionals maintaining a higher level of accountability through ongoing education requirements and professionalism. The survey results also identified prominent growth in Australia for businesses and professionals to deliver fitness programs for older adults (#4) to support our baby boomers and older generations. These are all vital trends to seeing more Australians, more active, more often.”


Alfonso Jimenez, Ph.D., CSCS, NSCA-CPT, FLF, is a professor of Exercise Science and Health in the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University (Sheffield, UK), chief research and innovation officer at GO fit LAB (Madrid, Spain), and head of THINK Active in the EuropeActive Research Centre (Brussels, Belgium). “The 2021 survey data is showing quite a diverse perception of trends by fitness professionals across the world, with more mature markets (i.e., U.S.) recognizing the impact and future development of a digital services provision and the disruptive role played by technology (from online training and wearables to virtual training) on new exercise program delivery models (a trend that will increase globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and the temporary closing of health and fitness clubs during 2020), and other countries considering a more traditional and in some ways utilitarian role of exercise practice (i.e., weight loss programs as #1 trend in Spain). With personal training as the top trend in Europe and #3 in Spain, industry professionals are not considering some critical challenges and implications related to this model of professional practice. Facing increasing levels of physical inactivity, chronic disease, health inequalities, and aging across Europe, personal training is far away from what it could be considered as an accessible, affordable, sustainable, and effective public health intervention at the population level. So, we must explore other paths to promote active living, connect with people, and reinforce the social and economic value of a more proactive and responsible health and fitness industry. It is remarkable to note as well that exercise is medicine is not considered as a trend in Spain. The positive clinical and mental health outcomes generated by regular clinical exercise delivered in non-clinical environments (i.e., health and fitness clubs) will be a driver for the recognition of the value of our industry in the years to come and we should be championing this message.”


Barbara E. Ainsworth, Ph.D., MPH, FACSM, FNAK, is a distinguished professor and international dean in the Department of Kinesiology at Shanghai University of Sport in Shanghai, China, and regents’ professor emeritus at Arizona State University in Phoenix, Arizona. “The 2021 Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends rankings were similar across countries. Exercise for weight loss, personal training, functional fitness, free weights, body weight training, and group training were in the top 20 rankings in every country. Exercise for weight loss was ranked first for China, Mexico, Spain, and Brazil while free weights and online training were ranked first in Europe and in the U.S., respectively. The inclusion of outdoor activities and virtual/online training in the top 20 fitness trends likely reflects the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on access to fitness facilities. Not surprising was the desire for people to employ exercise to aid with weight loss. Consistent with this is the use of wearable technology, use of mobile apps, and group training to monitor exercise dose and chart progress. Despite the amount of weight lost, exercise has profound benefits on health outcomes, including improved cardiovascular and metabolic function and improved mood. Another consistent fitness trend was the prevention and rehabilitation of sports injuries, exercise is medicine, health and wellness coaching, and lifestyle medicine. Health care providers have an important role to play in helping others to maintain their fitness and return to physical activity following injuries. Important for an aging population globally, most countries ranked older adults in their fitness rankings. As an older adult, I note the importance of fitness facilities employing certified fitness trainers, ideally those with experience in training older adults, as exercise is critical to maintain functional fitness and minimize injuries across the life span.”


Martín Fco. González Villalobos, Ph.D., is professor and teaching coordinator in the Department of Human Movement Sciences, Education, Sports, Recreation and Dance at the University of Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Jalisco, México. “From a professional and scientific point of view, the recent tradition of having worldwide fitness trends published is inspiring and stimulating. Although in Mexico and in the institution where I work, this tradition is even more recent, we will always have to thank the researchers who have given us the opportunity to know what is happening in our country and in the world about these trends. Despite the fact that the top 20, as expected, presents differences attributable to cultures and contexts, it is an academic tool that sheds light on some relevant aspects of what people, institutions, and public and private organizations think and do around these practices and this industry. This publication represents an opportunity to use with certainty these trends and tries to reduce the gaps between the theoretical and the empirical in the training of the next generations of professionals in physical activity, sports, education, and health. The latter should lead us to make better decisions to continue promoting and supporting fitness in many ways, with more attractive and scientifically based alternatives, in different populations.”


Barrie Elvish, B.A., GradDipEd, MBA, GAICD, is the CEO of Fitness Australia in Sydney NSW, Australia. “The emergence of COVID-19 has been a reality check for the fitness sector in Australia. The key question of how an industry came to be closed down nationwide with 24 hours’ notice and no consultation has resulted in some much needed self-reflection; so much so that the primary trend is exploring the existing and potential appetite both within and outside the fitness industry for the introduction of a regulatory framework. The implicit message emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic is that our industry suffers from negative perceptions at key decision maker and influencer level, including health authorities, politicians, and some sections of the media. There is a realization that our imagery with many members of the wider community is based on old concepts including poor hygiene, shoddy business practice, and a preponderance of narcissists in our facilities. Although we know that these impressions are wrong, we also must acknowledge that there remain a small number of operators and individuals in our industry who either currently are, or have the potential to, bring all of us into disrepute. Fitness Australia’s explorations indicate a strong appetite and trend for change. There is a strong consensus that to be taken seriously in the future, to earn the respect of decision makers, and to increase credibility within the wider community our industry needs stronger governance including an agreed regulatory framework. Accordingly, over the next 12 months we will work in collaboration with all stakeholders to design a regime that minimizes the potential of a repeat COVID-19 closure.”


Athanasios Jamurtas, Ph.D., FACSM, is professor in Biochemistry of Exercise in the School of Physical Education, Sports Science, and Dietetics at the University of Thessaly, Trikala, Greece. “Looking closely into the fitness trends surveys you can see that the focus of many regions around the globe remains on achieving positive body composition changes. Exercise for weight loss appears to be the first choice in China, Mexico, Spain, and Brazil and is within the top 10 choices in Europe (#4) and Australia (#10). Body weight training also ranks high in the priorities of fitness enthusiasts in four out of seven regions. Another observation is that technology-oriented forms and support of training have increased in the United States whereas in other parts of the world (i.e., in Europe) this does not seem to be evident. Perhaps it was easier for the fitness provider to find customers that would follow this type of training in the U.S. Someone could also speculate that the COVID-19 virus might have had an effect on the emerging need for online training. It appears that personal training is still a highly preferable method of training along with functional fitness training. Another point of notice is a considerable decline in group training as a choice of exercise programming in almost all regions. Developing and implementing fitness programs for adults seems to be a common trend for almost all regions that participated in the survey whereas the focus on children and exercise is rather low (except for China). Finally, employing certified or registered exercise professionals to lead the exercise training seems to be one of the top priorities in the fitness industry.”


Emilio M. Arrayales Millan, M.S., is the director of the Sports Faculty at the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. “The results of the Mexican Survey of Fitness Trends show the true way of life of Mexicans as we are the number one country in obesity, and this is a huge market (80 million people) for exercise professionals for weight loss. Eight of the top ten trends of the survey are related to body aesthetics which is also a growing industry in recent years. This year the employment of registered exercise professionals disappears, and functional physical training remains in the second position. It is interesting how the multidisciplinary teams drops two positions. This group works with health professionals in a comprehensive manner. High intensity interval training (HIIT) appears in the 13th position as in Brazil, it could be a trend in Latin America. Another strange situation is the disappearance of physical conditioning programs for older adults, considering that in Mexico there are more than 12 million elderly people. The 8th position for sport-specific training is not surprising because many coaches in primary and secondary schools are empirical and now the teams want professional trainers. Mexico has 19 universities with programs related to physical activity and sports and that is a large number of professionals. Wearable technology is pushing strong, but the price is still high. I see a strong trend in multidisciplinary teams and better control of the problem of obesity and diseases arising from sedentary lifestyles.”


Antonino Bianco, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Educational Science and Human Movement at the University of Palermo, Università degli Studi di Palermo in Palermo, Italy. “The personal trainer (PT) occupation and the HIIT method appear stable at the top positions even this year. In line with 2020, the 2021 European trends consolidated the PT fundamental role within the European fitness environment. It seems to be a natural consequence that exercise is medicine (EIM), exercise for weight loss, functional fitness training, body weight training, health and wellness coaching, and fitness programs for older adults, which all gravitate around the PT role and result at the top 10 positions in the 2021 European survey. In comparison, looking at the data coming from all different regions of the world, in 2021, European professionals placed wearable technology (WT) at position 19, while in the U.S. and Australia it is placed in position number 2 and number 5, respectively. Two possible concomitant circumstances can explain this different trend: 1) the more ‘conservative approach’ that Europeans possess (person-to-person interaction rather than person-to-technology interaction); 2) the significant contribution that universities and vocational training providers are giving to the fitness sector, thanks to the ‘driving force’ EuropeActive that indisputably is acting efficiently for PT educational standards and more. HIIT as a top trend is no longer a novelty in Europe, but the way people implement HIIT at the gym is slowly changing versus the direction of health-related activities (EIM, post-rehabilitation classes, children and exercise). The 2021 European trends confirm the importance of education within the fitness sector, but (in my knowledge), one agreement for ‘united educational standards’ is still missing across Europe. The need for licensure for fitness professionals (ranked at position 10) in line with the possibility of employing certified fitness professionals (ranked at position 8) is hugely encouraging, considering the rapidly growing aging population in Europe. We need more well-educated professionals to transfer all of the already discovered exercise health benefits to practitioners, with a particular focus on the elderly population. I expect a key role for WT in the near future, with the future fitness programs that will become ‘for sure’ more social, more frequent, and more enjoyable.”


Pablo Viñaspre, M.Sc., is the CEO and entrepreneur of WSC Consulting in the Fitness Management School of FitnessKPI in Veevo, Barcelona, Spain. “As professionals in the fitness industry we can not only manage on a day by day basis, we also need to look further and follow all the trends that will have an important impact in our businesses in the near future. This is always important, but especially in this very crucial moment for our industry. Many companies are reducing expenses and trying to survive, and that is a must, but now it is also the time to rethink business models and to apply changes that will allow them to get out of this COVID-19 crisis with a more efficient model and more focused customer experience and results. Technology has been in the top of the ACSM trends for a few years, and provably the pandemic situation has accelerated this trend and is going to change the way many consumers practice fitness. Technology is becoming an important aspect of the customer experience and it will continue to grow. In the near future, the difference between real and virtual fitness will disappear and the consumer will use both in a mixed format. Other trends like group training, HIIT, and personal training are related to the customer experience and clubs will have to rethink carefully how to offer and deliver these services to the consumer.”

Copyright © 2020 by American College of Sports Medicine.