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Fitness Trends From Around the Globe

Kercher, Vanessa Marie Ph.D., M.Ed., ACSM-EP; Kercher, Kyle M.S., ACSM-EP, CPT, CSCS, PMP, CHWC; Bennion, Trevor DHSc; Yates, Brandon A. M.S., CSCS; Feito, Yuri Ph.D., MPH, ACSM-CEP, FACSM; Alexander, Chris ESSAM, AEP, AES; Amaral, Paulo Costa Ph.D., MBA, M.Sc; Soares, Waldyr; Li, Yong-Ming Ph.D.; Han, Jia Ph.D.; Liu, Yang Ph.D.; Wang, Ran Ph.D.; Huang, Hai-Yan Ph.D.; Gao, Bing-Hong Ph.D.; Batrakoulis, Alexios M.S., ACSM-EP, ACSM-CPT, CSCS, CSPS, NSCA-CPT; Chávez, Francisco Gómez Ph.D.; Haro, Jorge López B.Sc., M.Sc.; Zavalza, Adrián Ricardo Pelayo; Rodríguez, Luis Eduardo Aguirre; Veiga, Oscar L. Ph.D.; Valcarce-Torrente, Manel Ph.D.; De la Cámara, Miguel Á. Ph.D.

Author Information
ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: 1/2 2021 - Volume 25 - Issue 1 - p 20-31
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000639
  • Free

Abstract

INTRODUCTION

International awareness of the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM’s) Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends has exponentially increased since its inception 15 years ago (1–13). Practitioners across the world recognize the value in assessing health and fitness trends annually as one approach to guide future programming efforts. For this reason, several countries and regions have independently sought to utilize ACSM’s worldwide survey to investigate their own fitness trends. In this edition, Australia and Mexico contribute survey results for the first time, alongside well-established relationships in Brazil, China, Europe, and Spain, which provide a more global representation of health and fitness trends. For the third consecutive year (7,8), we intend to support the individuality of each country and region by providing evidence of popular health and fitness programming that is identifiable to each region and then make some comparisons. We believe that by distilling the survey results down and gathering substantial insight from representatives in those regions, we are providing industry stakeholders with a strategic advantage into future fitness offerings which may drive growth in their business.

Practitioners across the world recognize the value in assessing health and fitness trends annually as one approach to guide future programming efforts.

It is noteworthy to highlight the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the health and fitness industry globally, including the significant economic impact felt by the industry. The pandemic has accelerated health and fitness consumer activity (e.g., the home market) in some respects, yet slowed it down in others (i.e., commercial health clubs). ACSM’s 2021 Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends (9), and comparisons, will be vital in the health and fitness industry for the year ahead. As the fitness industry continues to navigate the pandemic, these trends are certain to evolve. During this time of global uncertainty, clinical and commercial health and fitness programs should recommit themselves to understanding consumer behavior and create a multifaceted strategy.

THE SURVEYS

All surveys were conducted electronically using either SurveyMonkey or Google forms. The survey was distributed to health and fitness professionals through e-mail and social media networks (see Table 1) ranging from 3 to 21 weeks.

TABLE 1 - 2021 International Fitness Trend Survey Methodology
Country Trends Additional Trends Survey Duration/Distribution Response Rate
Australia Total of 42 trends: 40 from worldwide survey and 2 unique to Australia; survey deleted one potential trend from worldwide survey. 1) Inclusive fitness centers
2) Quality accredited business
Electronic survey from June 10 to August 7, 2020 (8 weeks) disseminated through Fitness Australia networks including, exercise professionals, businesses, educators, students, and suppliers via email and social network platforms N = 536 (not reported)
Brazil Total of 41 trends; identical to the worldwide survey None Electronic survey from March 30 to August 23, 2020 (21 weeks), sent to professionals within the fitness and wellness industry and physical education N = 850 (not reported)
China Total of 45 trends: 37 from the worldwide survey and 8 unique to China; survey deleted four potential trends from worldwide survey. 1) Healthy diet
2) Certified education for fitness and health professionals
3) Exercise and sport for children and adolescents
4) Aerobic fitness
5) Prevention and rehabilitation of sport injuries
6) Community fitness
7) Home-based fitness
8) Indoor rowing
Electronic survey from August 1 to 31, 2020 (4 weeks), sent to 11,885 respondents within the health and fitness industry N = 4,310 (36.2%)
Europe Total of 41 trends; identical to the worldwide survey None Electronic survey from April 7, 2020, to June 2, 2020 (8 weeks), through e-mail invitation to 6,230 ACSM members residing in Europe and 11,423 university professors specializing in physical activity and fitness, as well as fitness groups through social media networks N = 1,271 (7.2%)
Mexico Total of 46 trends: 27 from worldwide survey and 19 unique to Mexico; survey deleted 14 potential trends from worldwide survey. 1) Multidisciplinary teams
2) New activities/services adapted to postpandemic COVID-19
3) Training at home with personalized professional support
4) Strength training
5) Cardiometabolic rehabilitation
6) Exercise programs for childhood obesity
7) Professional fitness regulation
8) Monitoring of training results
9) New market niches in fitness center
10) Specific training for a sport
11) Fitness influencers
12) Fitness in streaming
13) Sustainable gyms/eco-gyms
14) Training for popular running and races
15) Street workout
16) Training at home with online or video conference support from professionals
17) Complement of workouts with online sessions organized by gyms
18) Home gym set up
19) Use of new technologies to control personal health status
Electronic survey from May 13 to May 31 (3 weeks); distributed to 13,589 fitness professionals via social networks and university professors N = 1,077 (7.9%)
Spain Total of 44 trends: 31 from worldwide survey and 13 unique to Spain 1) Multidisciplinary teams
2) Fitness and dietary
3) New market niches
4) Injury prevention/functional rehabilitation
5) Exercise programs against children and adolescent obesity
6) Medical derivation
7) Gamification of activities/services of fitness
8) Specific sport training
9) Popular races and running
10) Training
11) CrossFit
12) Fitness influencers/Youtubers/bloggers
13) New yoga modalities
Electronic survey from May 2020 to July 2020 (10 weeks); a total of 6,230 distributed among fitness professionals and social networks in fitness groups N = 503 (8.1%)
United States Total of 41 trends identical to the worldwide survey None Electronic survey from July 1 to September 1, 2020 (9 weeks), sent to 75,383 ACSM health and fitness professionals through e-mail, associated web sites, and social media (see details in worldwide survey) N = 3,378 (6%)
Each country and region used similar and/or different survey methodology and procedures compared with the worldwide survey.

All 41 trends from the worldwide survey were used in the Brazil, Europe, and the United States surveys (see Table 1). The surveys in Australia, China, Mexico, and Spain used many but not all of the potential 41 trends from ACSM’s worldwide survey (9,10) (see Table 1 for details).

The Australia and Europe surveys were the most comparable with ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends (9) with minor alterations, whereas the Mexico survey had the most differences in potential trends (see Table 1). More specifically, the following trends from the worldwide survey were removed for each country:

  • Australia removed the trend licensure for fitness professionals.
  • China removed pre-and postnatal fitness, long-term youth development, fitness programs for older adults, and children and exercise.
  • Mexico removed the trends online training; outcome measurements; small group personal training; children and exercise; long-term youth development (long-term athletic development); worker incentive programs; walking/running/jogging/cycling clubs; mind–body movement; Pilates; low-cost and budget gyms; boot camp style; boxing, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts (MMA); aquatic exercise; and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) training.
  • Spain removed the trends virtual training; clinical integration/medical fitness; long-term youth development; worker incentive programs; mind–body movement; boot camp style; dance-based workouts; boxing, kickboxing, and MMA; aquatic exercise; and EMS training (see Table 1).

Distilling the survey results down and gathering substantial insight from representatives in various global regions provides industry stakeholders with a strategic advantage into future fitness offerings which may drive business growth.

During this time of global uncertainty, clinical and commercial health and fitness programs should recommit themselves to understanding consumer behavior and create a multifaceted strategy.

All regions collected responses using a 10-point Likert scale ranging from highest (10 = most popular trend) to lowest (1 = least popular trend) for each potential trend option and sorted them to identify the top 20 fitness trends (9). At the end of the survey, an opportunity was provided for respondents to include possible nonlisted fitness trends to be considered for future research.

SURVEY RESULTS

Each region’s representative contributed to this article and provided insightful observations regarding their individual results. Topics included major takeaways from the top 20 trend results, unique country features compared with ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, and the primary challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic faced by the health and fitness industry in their region of the world. The top 20 most popular fitness trends for Australia, Brazil, China, Europe, Mexico, Spain, and the United States can be found in Table 2. We also highlighted health and fitness trends by global ranking to showcase the top 5 popular trends from each region (Figure).

TABLE 2 - Top 20 International Fitness Trends
Australia Brazil China Europe Mexico Spain United States
1 Strength training with free weights Exercise for weight loss Exercise for weight loss Personal training Exercise for weight loss Exercise and weight loss programs Online training
2 Functional fitness training Lifestyle medicine Healthy diet a HIIT Functional fitness training Employing certified professionals Wearable technology
3 Employing registered exercise professionals Online training Certified education for fitness and health professionals EIM Personal training Personal training Body weight training
4 Fitness programs for older adults Personal training Exercise and sport for children and adolescents a Exercise for weight loss Strength training a Small group personal training Outdoor activities
5 Wearable technology Fitness programs for older adults Aerobic fitness a Functional fitness training Body weight training Functional training HIIT
6 Body weight training Clinical integration/medical fitness Core training Body weight training Multidisciplinary teams a Outdoor activities Virtual training
7 Group training Employing certified fitness professionals Personal training Health and wellness coaching Outdoor activities Multidisciplinary teams a Strength training with free weights
8 HIIT Exercise is medicine Functional fitness training Employing certified fitness professionals Specific training for a sport a Fitness and dietary a Exercise is medicine
9 Exercise is medicine Functional fitness training Health/wellness coaching Fitness programs for older adults Circuit training Seeking new market niches a Fitness programs for older adults
10 Exercise for weight loss Health/wellness coaching Licensure for fitness professionals Licensure for fitness professionals Prevention/functional rehabilitation of injuries a Fitness programs for older adults Personal training
11 Personal training Outdoor activities Prevention/rehabilitation of sport injuries a Small group training Licensure for fitness professionals Licensure for fitness professionals Health/wellness coaching
12 Outdoor activities Postrehabilitation classes Strength training with free weights Clinical integration/medical fitness New activities/services adapted to postpandemic COVID-19 a HIIT Mobile exercise apps
13 Inclusive fitness services a HIIT Outdoor activities Circuit training HIIT Exercise app for mobile phones Employing certified fitness professionals
14 Small group personal training Small group personal training Exercise is medicine Postrehabilitation classes Training with free weights Outcomes measurement Functional fitness training
15 Health and wellness coaching Mobile exercise apps Employing certified fitness professionals Children and exercise Wearable technology Fitness online Yoga
16 Core training Virtual training Body weight training Boutique fitness studios Worksite health promotion and well-being programs Body weight training Exercise for weight loss
17 Yoga Walking/running/jogging/cycling clubs Outcome measurements Strength training Outcome measurements Postrehabilitation classes Group training
18 Lifestyle medicine Wearable technology Lifestyle medicine Group training Group training Injury prevention/functional rehabilitationa Lifestyle medicine
19 Online training Body weight training Small group personal training Wearable technology Core training Free weight training Licensure for fitness professionals
20 Pre- and postnatal fitness Group training Mobile exercise apps Core training Training at home with personalized professional supporta Group training Mobility/myofascial devices
aNew trend identified by country expert panel and different from worldwide survey.

Figure
Figure:
Fitness trends from around the globe based on the top 5 trends from each region.

Australia

Demographics information from Australia (N = 536) can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A149).

ACSM’s 2021 Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, and regional comparisons, will be vital in the health and fitness industry for the year ahead and maybe beyond.

The investigation of the 2021 fitness trends in Australia was conducted by Chris Alexander and colleagues at Fitness Australia. Three major takeaways include the following:

  • The rise of strength training with free weights (no. 1 trend) may be due to the implications of COVID-19. As health and fitness clubs closed throughout the pandemic, retail stores sold out of their free weights, which implies that Australians wanted to maintain strength training during isolation and were invested in doing so at home or in smaller groups that were not based in formal fitness centers.
  • Functional fitness training climbed to no. 2, highlighting exercise professionals reaching broader cohorts of clients, and thus adapting delivery of supporting activities of daily living (e.g., balance, coordination, strength, and endurance).
  • The fitness industry indicated that being identified/employed as a registered exercise professional (no. 3) is an important step to developing consumer, allied health, and medical professional confidence in service delivery. These results also highlight the value that the industry places on its exercise professionals, maintaining a higher level of accountability and professionalism.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, the government identified indoor fitness facilities as “high risk,” forcing the industry to offer different services (e.g., rent out equipment, offer online programs, move more outdoors) in an effort to restore the physical and mental well-being of the community. This government mandate certainly had an effect in this year’s survey results.

Brazil

Demographics information from Brazil (N = 850) can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A150).

For the second consecutive year (11), fitness trends in Brazil were assessed by Paulo Costa Amaral and his colleagues. Three major takeaways identified by Amaral et al. include the following:

The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated health and fitness consumer activity (e.g., the home market) in some respects, yet slowed it down in others (e.g., commercial health clubs).

  • A consistent theme within the top 20 fitness trends for 2021 is the emphasis on wellness.
  • The importance of integration with other professionals in the prescription and promotion of health is evident and new to the top 20 trends compared with last year.
  • Sixteen of the top 20 trends identified in ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends (9) appeared in Brazil’s top 20 trends, which the authors suggest could be a direct influence by American products and services on the behavior of Brazilian professionals.

Because of the pandemic, Brazilian politicians, influenced by the media, did not include the performance of physical education professionals and spaces for the practice of physical activity, including gyms, as essential for people’s health. Therefore, all sectors had to review and then reformulate their strategies to make the transition from fitness to wellness. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil anticipates a large number of people who will engage in physical activity in their homes and an increased awareness of practicing personal healthy habits.

China

Demographics information from China (N = 3,368) can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A151).

For the third consecutive year, Yong-Ming Li and his colleagues (5,10) have conducted the trends survey in China. Three major takeaways include the following:

  • Four of the top 20 fitness trends are unique to China, which supports once again the necessity of conducting a country-specific survey (see Table 2).
  • Weight loss, achieved by nutrition and/or exercise, is the major trend in the Chinese fitness industry.
  • The fitness industry in China currently pays significant attention to certified education, licensure, and employment for fitness professionals.

The financial pressure within the health and fitness industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many businesses in China but has resulted in some interesting takeaways from their trends. The findings emphasize the importance of education to promote the certification of more health and fitness professionals. China’s results also promote licensure for fitness professionals as well as employment of those trained professionals. The authors suggest that the integration of certified professionals in health, fitness, and medicine will be strengthened at both the national and local levels.

Europe

Demographics information from Europe (N = 1,271) can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A152).

For the second consecutive year, Alexios Batrakoulis (12) conducted the investigation of the 2021 trends survey in Europe. One stark difference between the Europe survey and the worldwide survey is that technology demonstrates a significant attractiveness and usability in the United States compared with Europe according to Batrakoulis. Other major highlights include the following:

  • Personal training (no. 1) and high-intensity interval training (no. 2) remain the primary drivers in Europe for a second year.
  • The increasing demand for certified and licensed practitioners appears to be an emergent trend among all involved fitness industry stakeholders.
  • Despite the effect of COVID-19 on the health and fitness industry, technology-oriented trends such as online training (no. 22), wearable technology (no. 19), virtual training (no. 32), and mobile exercise apps (no. 29) do not appear to be popular fitness trends in Europe for 2021.

Perhaps COVID-19 played a critical role in technology-related trends ranking relatively low in Europe but that is up to the reader’s interpretation. More traditional exercise modes such as personal training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and functional fitness training scored relatively high in Europe, compared with the United States.

Mexico

Demographics information from Mexico (N = 1,077) can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A153).

Francisco Gómez Chávez and his colleagues led the investigation of the 2021 fitness trends survey in Mexico, which is the second annual trends survey for this region (13). Twelve of the top 20 trends in Mexico were different from ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends (9), including the trend “new activities/services adapted to postpandemic COVID-19.” Other trends highlighted include the following:

  • Exercise and weight loss programs (no. 1), functional training (no. 2), outdoor activities (no. 7), sport-specific training (no. 8), and circuit training (no. 9) are fitness trends important in Mexico.
  • Technology-related fitness does not appear to be trending.

In Mexico, sport and fitness activities were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic within the health and fitness industry. The increased prioritization to maintain safe, clean, and socially distant gym environments with committed facility, staff, and members during the pandemic remains a challenge. As a result, changes are anticipated in the programming of fitness activities to move from groups to more personalized small groups as well as home training and exercise programming in public spaces.

Spain

Demographics information from Spain (N = 503) can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A154).

Oscar Veiga and his colleagues led the investigation of the 2021 fitness trends in Spain, which is the fifth annual trends survey for this region (1-4). Three major takeaways identified include the following:

  • Almost all the top trends (17 of 20) also were identified in 2020. However, there were noticeable ranking differences, some of which are likely explained by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The trends of outdoor activities and seeking new market niches increased in the rankings, whereas strength training, injury/functional rehabilitation, and licensure for fitness professionals decreased considerably.
  • For the first time since Spain has participated in the survey, online fitness appeared as a top 20 trend. However, wearable technology (no. 21), a high-ranking trend in ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends (9), was not within Spain’s top 20.

Spain is one of the countries with a higher incidence of COVID-19 in relation to its population and with some of the toughest anti-COVID-19 regulatory measures around the world, including restrictive lockdowns and partial lockdowns affecting the capacity of public facilities, including hospitality, culture, and sport. The most relevant anticipated influences from the pandemic are increasing services through digital support (e.g., apps, online platforms, social networks, etc.), activities that involve a personalization of training (e.g., personal training, small group personal training, and counseling), outdoor fitness activities, and activities that involve spending less time in the gym.

United States

Respondents that completed the worldwide survey were included in this assessment (N = 4,377). From the worldwide survey, participants with missing responses to all potential 41 fitness trends were removed (14), and only respondents residing in the United States were included in the assessment (N = 3,378). Demographics information from the United States can be found here (https://links.lww.com/FIT/A155).

A few trends to highlight in the 2021 top 20 fitness trends for the United States include the following:

  • Virtual training (no. 6) and online training (no. 1, up from no. 21 last year) reveal that both virtual and online training are important trends, which are likely explained by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Group training (no. 17, down from no. 3 last year) and worksite health promotion/well-being programs (no. 26, down from no. 17) decreased this year, whereas outdoor activities (no. 4, up from no. 13 last year) increased. These results may be due to the implications of COVID-19.

TOP 5 HIGHLIGHTS

After reviewing the results, we chose to highlight five of the most interesting findings. Please refer to the Figure to explore popular health and fitness trends based on the top 5 global rankings for each region.

Exercise for Weight Loss Is Globally Important

Exercise for weight loss was no. 1 in China, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain and no. 4 in Europe, yet much lower in Australia (no. 10) and the United States (no. 16). Despite differences in survey methodology (e.g., country trend differences) (see Table 1), this trend appears to be significant on an international scale. Business owners and health and fitness professionals may be well served to align programming options with this trend in mind. However, the lower ranking among respondents from the United States is curious and may mean exercise for weight loss will not be as effective of a business strategy or marketing message in the United States compared with other countries.

Let's Get Functional

Functional fitness training was much higher in all six international surveys (between no. 2 and no. 9) compared with the United States (no. 14). The consistent popularity of this trend across geographical regions suggests that the fitness industry may want to consider incorporating elements of functional fitness training into 2021 initiatives. This trend, which includes strength training to improve balance, coordination, strength, and endurance to improve activities of daily living, is adaptable to different ages and ability levels.

Living in a Virtual Fitness World

A growing number of consumers are using technology to monitor their health, measure fitness, and/or assess caloric intake from their smartphone. Online training was much higher in the United States (no. 1) and Brazil (no. 3) than Spain (no. 15), Australia (no. 19), China (no. 20: Mobile Exercise Apps), and Europe (no. 22). Online training and mobile exercise apps were already heavily involved in many peoples’ lives before the COVID-19 pandemic, but their popularity and availability will continue to grow in 2021. In addition, virtual training, a new trend this year, also made its way near the top in the United States (no. 6 trend), with a lower ranking in Brazil (no. 16), Europe (no. 32), and China (no. 43) and no ranking at all in Australia and Mexico. Health and fitness professionals can get creative in delivering their services as well as in using the vast range of online tools available to enhance coaching and training portfolios.

Employing Certified/Registered Professionals

Interestingly, employing certified/registered fitness professionals was lower among United States respondents (no. 13) compared with many other regions, perhaps because of the vast number of certifications available in the United States and no government regulation within the industry. However, the trend continues to be important on a global scale. Whether it be for students and professionals new to the industry, or seasoned veterans, it appears as though pursuing certifications will continue to be important for hiring, retaining, and promoting fitness staff in the future.

MORE ONE-ON-ONE, LESS GROUP TRAINING

When considering life post-COVID-19, it is hard to tell whether people will be rushing back to activities or environments in crowded locations or in close proximity with others. In the 2021 fitness trends, group training declined in popularity across many regions, which may be at least partly related to the pandemic. In addition, crowded environments that were once a part of the routine fitness experience may be replaced with at-home, individual, or small group training. Uncertainty about large group gatherings and indoor activities remains high in 2021, which is likely to make it challenging for health and fitness professionals to market and deliver traditional programming activities.

LIMITATIONS

As rich as the data are from each country, there are several survey limitations to note. First, readers should use caution in assuming that trends in one country are representative of other regions. Please refer to Table 2, which highlights several differences (and similarities) represented within each country. In addition, because most regions identified at least some trends unique to them, we were unable to explore true region by region comparisons.

SUMMARY

We encourage other countries to participate in this annual survey as a means to gain a more accurate representation of the top 20 fitness trends around the world. We hope to continue to expand this international partnership to make yearly improvements and progress on the survey design, methodology, and implementation. ACSM and our international contributors have a tremendous opportunity to continue leading the way in this evolving international collaboration, which is well positioned to have a continuously positive effect on the worldwide health fitness industry.

BRIDGING THE GAP

The results from ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends guide the health and fitness industry in making critical programming, resource, and investment decisions. These results are applicable to commercial, clinical, corporate, and community fitness programs worldwide and also provide unique regional preferences. Although the prediction of future trends is difficult, the data captured in these surveys provide health and fitness professionals information to track and compare the trajectory of trends in the field all over the world.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Managing Editor Lori Tish for providing all materials needed to complete this article and for her endless support throughout the entire process associated with ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends. Thanks to Editor-in-Chief Brad A. Roy, Ph.D., FACSM; Associate Editor-in-Chief Gary Liguori, Ph.D., FACSM; the editorial board of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®; and ACSM’s Past-President Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, for encouraging us to work together to recognize and compare the fitness trends with international collaborators. A special thanks to the authors who contributed to this international trends article.

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Keywords:

Regional; Commercial; Corporate; Community; Trends

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