Story was researched, reported, and written for Introduction to Health and Medical Journalism.
Although 2018 is almost in its fifth month, is it really ever too late to analyze something trendy? I wanted to take a closer look at the 12th annual fitness trends that are researched and released by the American College of Sports Medicine. I wanted to see what the senior author thought about these trends and how some fitness professionals thought they measured up to what they see in their daily lives as yoga instructors and personal trainers.
The “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2018” has been analyzed each year for over a decade by Dr. Walt Thompson, Regents’ Professor and Associate Dean, College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University (and he’s also the President of the American College of Sports Medicine, which produces the study in their Health & Fitness Journal). “It is my responsibility to analyze the data and submit the report,” says Thompson.
According to the article accompanying the list of trends, a total of 40 trends from previous years’ surveys were included in the 2018 survey that was sent out to over 4,100 people in the fitness and health fields by emailing the survey to certified professionals and members of certain organizations (such as the American College of Sports Medicine and the Cooper Institute) as well as posting the link on social media sites. After six weeks, the survey received a four percent return rate, which is a little lower than previous years but still included responses from professionals across the globe.
One of the more important distinctions that the survey asks respondents is to first (before anything else) explain the difference between a trend and a fad. The article defines a trend as “a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving.” Trends are what the survey is all about. On the other hand, a fad is defined as “a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period.” Future surveys really cement the difference between these two often interchangeable (although totally different) words when items remain, increase, or drop off the list entirely.
Each year, Thompson and fitness professionals (as well as general enthusiasts), commercial health clubs (which is a fancier term for a gym), community-based programs (non-profit organizations), corporate wellness programs, and medical fitness centers eagerly await the release of the list of top 20 trends to dictate their offerings to customers. “As suggested in the article, club owners/operators should pay attention to the survey because if they are not offering programs that are trending, they will lose the opportunity to create a new revenue source,” explains Thompson.
The list of trends also benefits the “customer” (or, shall we say, the gym-goer). “There is a direct relationship between interest, results, and enthusiasm measured by adherence. Club owners want results, which creates enthusiasm among their clients, which results in membership renewals. When that happens, everyone is happy,” says Thompson.
The article lists the top 20 trends for the year, but rather than listing all 20, here are the top ten: high-intensity interval training (HIIT); group training; wearable technology; body-weight training; strength training; educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals; yoga; personal training; fitness programs for older adults; and functional fitness.
“The biggest surprise is the rapid rise in popularity of group fitness programs. We haven’t seen group exercise programs trend in quite some time (more than a decade),” says Thompson. He is equally surprised by the continued trending of HIIT programs, despite the research and general knowledge of their high level of risk of injury. “We will be watching each closely in 2019.”
To combat the intensity (and potential injury) of HIIT is yoga. “I think it’s becoming more mainstream because of popularity,” says Emily Deitz, a yoga instructor at 5 Points Yoga in Athens, Georgia. “I think a lot of people are just trying to slow down, and some people have to. With the evolution of Crossfit and HIIT classes, people are destroying their bodies and are coming back to yoga.”
However, Katie Derbeck, a certified personal training director, offered a contrasting perspective, arguing that HIIT classes and interval training in general will make the list for a while. “The studies just keep coming back about how it’s so great for your cardiovascular system, strengthening your heart, building endurance and stamina,” says Derbeck. “It’s beautiful because any level—no matter how conditioned or deconditioned your body is—you can create a great interval training…HIIT is definitely wonderful.”
Derbeck also weighed in on functional fitness making the top 10. “I think that one is the simplest, but individuals are confused on what functional training is. Basically, functional training is mimicking how you move in everyday life,” says Derbeck. “It’s making everyday life that much better and easier, so you can keep aging as gracefully as possible.”
Unfortunately, every year there are trends that either turn out to be fads or simply fall off the radar. Two of those for the 2018 list included worksite wellness and exercise to combat childhood obesity, which Thompson describes as “two of the more disappointing trends that don’t appear to be trending any longer.” Despite the evidence that suggests the inherent importance of these two trends, Thompson thinks it could be lack of incentive and motivation on the part of commercial gyms. “I hope these two trends turn around.”