Each year the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) surveys its membership of fitness professionals (myself included) to identify the top trends in fitness. The 2023 list was recently published with, in my opinion, only a few surprises.
What did surprise me on this list? Outdoor activities are #12! I see and hear a lot about running in fitness circles, but not much else. Most popular classes and activities take place in some sort of gym, be it a commercial one or the budget home gym you created in the spare bedroom. I would love to see more people get off the spin bike and on the bike path. Hiking is a new love of mine and, unlike the treadmill, it does wonders for your body and soul. Boot camps are last on the ACSM list at #20. They are still very popular in the Midwest so I am curious what group fitness trend will be taking their place. What are you seeing where you live?
Agree or disagree, here are five “big” fitness trends you can look forward to in the coming year.
1. Body weight training and High Intensity Interval Training came in #1 and #2, respectively, on the ACSM list. This worries me for two reasons. One, the high rate of injury that goes along with beginners starting at too high of intensity as well as over-training, and two, the level of burnout that often follows. I think body weight exercises are great. They can be some of the most challenging exercises you can do, but if proper form isn’t developed before adding the explosive intensity of popular programs like Insanity or P90X you may be asking for trouble.
Trend tip: Perfect your form on squats, push-ups and other body weight exercises slowly before adding weight or plyometrics.
2. Exercise and weight loss. I always tell my clients you can’t out train a bad diet. I also tell them you can’t diet your way to fit. I am encouraged by #6 on the ACSM list. It shows that more people want the whole package, not just the promise of pounds lost. Many commercial weight loss programs are about calorie restriction only. They may tell you to exercise but they do not provide a program to help you do it. Without exercise, especially strength training, you lose muscle, which leads to a slower metabolism. The weight loss becomes harder to maintain and the vicious cycle begins.
Trend tip: Before signing up for a boot camp ask if nutritional counseling is included. Before investing in a weight loss program ask if both diet and exercise will be covered.
3. Fitness programs geared toward older adults. With 43.1 million people in the United States over age 65, #8 on the ACSM list should come as no surprise to anyone. But what does it mean? I recently saw a story about a woman in her 70s dead-lifting twice her weight and a man who didn’t start running marathons until his 70s. On the other hand, I have clients in their 40s and 50s who have trouble getting up off the floor or climbing stairs. The big take away is to not judge a book by its cover and to keep offering programs that promote functional fitness (trend #9 on ACSM list) for all ages and fitness levels.
Trend tip: If you find yourself having challenges with activities of daily living, like going up stairs or keeping your balance, start a fitness program NOW. The most common reason adults end up in nursing homes is some type of challenge with activities of daily living, like walking or bathing. Regular exercise can help keep muscles strong and promote balance and mobility.
4. Yoga is HOT right now, moving up to #7 on the ACSM list. While some traditional yogis may look down on hot yoga, it has introduced the practice to many newcomers. I say anything that gets you moving is great. Whatever version of yoga works for you go for it!
Trend tip: If you’re an introvert like me, yoga class may not be for you. Try at-home programs like DailyBurn Yoga series to learn at your own pace in the comfort of your living room.
5. Wellness coaching and work-site wellness. A recently released survey from Kaiser Family Foundation found that 98 percent of large employers have at least one workplace wellness program. This is encouraging, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Offerings and participation vary widely and results are hard to quantify. The biggest obstacle from making these trends truly effective is workplaces themselves. Offering onsite Weight Watchers meetings doesn’t make sense if you sabotage your employees with donuts at the staff meetings. It’s great to get a discount at the gym, but 10-hour workdays make it hard to actually get there. Workplaces need to walk the walk and create environments that promote wellness.
Trend tip: Join your workplace wellness committee to help promote real change. Take out the soda machine, respect your teammates’ lunchtime, install standing desks, take walking meetings, and do pre-meeting stretch breaks.