2021 Fitness Trends


Every year, the American College of Sports Medicine conducts a worldwide survey of trends that are occurring in the Fitness Industry. Over the 15 years, the survey has been run, and many trends have come and gone. Although, there have been some trends that still remain relevant.

Here is a list of the Fitness trends for 2021.

1Online training
2Wearable technology
3Body weight training
4Outdoor activities
6Virtual training
7Exercise is Medicine
8Strength training with free weights
9Fitness programs for older adults
10Personal training
11Health/wellness coaching
12Mobile exercise apps
13Employing certified fitness professionals
14Functional fitness training
16Exercise for weight loss
17Group training
18Lifestyle medicine
19Licensure for fitness professionals
20Outcome measurements
  1. Online training. Virtual online training was first introduced on the annual survey in 2019 and debuted at no. 3 before dropping to no. 26 in 2020 when the “virtual” was dropped from the title favouring the more specific online training. The big changes within the health fitness industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the temporary closure of clubs around the world, forcing innovative delivery of classes. The challenges of engaging clients at a distance resulted in the use of some very strategic delivery systems. Online training was developed for the at-home exercise experience. This trend uses digital streaming technology to deliver group, individual, or instructional exercise programs online. Online training is available 24/7 and can be a live class (live streaming workouts) or prerecorded.
  2. Wearable technology. Wearable technology was the no. 1 trend since it was first introduced on the survey in 2016 (the only exception was a drop to no. 3 in 2018) and includes fitness trackers, smartwatches, heart rate monitors, and GPS tracking devices. Examples include fitness and activity trackers like those manufactured by Fitbit®, Samsung Gear Fit2®, Misfit®, Garmin®, and Apple®. These devices can be used as a step counter and can track heart rate, body temperature, calories, sitting time, sleep time, and much more. Initially, there was some question of accuracy, but these issues have seemed to be resolved well enough that it has been estimated to be about a U.S. $100 billion industry. Innovations include blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and electrocardiogram.
  3. Bodyweight training. Bodyweight training appeared for the first time on the trends survey in 2013 (at no. 3) and was in the no. 2 positions in 2017, no. 4 in 2018, and no. 5 in 2019 before dropping to no. 7 in 2020. Bodyweight training did not appear as a survey trend option before 2013 because it only became popular (as a defined trend) in gyms worldwide within the last decade. Using a combination of variable resistance bodyweight training and neuromotor movements using multiple planes of movement, this program is all about using bodyweight as the training modality. Bodyweight training uses minimal equipment, which makes it an inexpensive way to exercise effectively.
  4. Outdoor activities. Perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more outdoor activities such as small group walks, group rides, or organized hiking groups have become popular. They can be short events, daylong events, or planned weeklong hiking excursions. Participants can meet in a local park, hiking area, or on a bike trail typically with a designated leader. This trend for health and fitness professionals to offer outdoor activities for their clients began in 2010. In that year, outdoor activities ranked no. 25 in the annual survey, and it ranked no. 27 in 2011. Outdoor activities were the no. 14 trends in 2012, no. 13 in 2013, no. 14 in 2014, no. 12 in 2015, no. 14 in 2016, and no. 13 in 2017. In 2018, outdoor activities were ranked no. 14, no. 17 in 2019, and no. 13 in 2020.
  5. HIIT. Although a part of the survey as a possible trend before 2013 but not making the top 20, HIIT was no. 1 in the survey in 2014 and 2018 (dropped to no. 3 in 2016 and 2017) and has been in the top five between 2014 and 2020. For 2021, HIIT drops to no. 5. These exercise programs typically involve short bursts of high-intensity bouts of exercise followed by a short period of rest. Although there are several commercial club examples of HIIT, all emphasize higher intensities (above 90%) of maximum during the increased intensity segments followed by periods of rest and recovery. Despite warnings by some fitness professionals of potentially increased injury rates using HIIT, this form of exercise has been popular in gyms worldwide.
  6. Virtual training. This is the first time that virtual training has appeared separately from virtual online training. For the survey, virtual training was defined as the fusion of group exercise with technology, offering workouts designed for ease and convenience to suit schedules and needs. Typically, virtual workouts are played in gyms on the big screen, attracting smaller clients than live classes while providing clients of all levels and ages with a different group fitness experience. Virtual classes are often a gateway for live group fitness classes. Virtual workouts typically attract smaller numbers, and clients can go at their own pace, which makes it ideal if training a novice looking to learn the moves. As with online training, virtual training in the top 10 may be an industry reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  7. Exercise is medicine. Exercise is Medicine (EIM) is a global health initiative that focuses on encouraging primary care physicians and other health care providers to include physical activity assessment and associated treatment recommendations as part of every patient visit and referring their patients to exercise professionals. Also, EIM recognizes fitness professionals as part of the health care team in their local communities. EIM was the no. 7 trend in 2017, no. 12 in 2018, no. 10 in 2019, and jumping to no. 6 in 2020.
  8. Strength training with free weights. Previous surveys included a category described as “strength training.” Determined to be too broad a category, strength training was dropped in 2020 in favour of the more specific free weight training. Free weights, barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and medicine ball classes do not just incorporate barbells into another functional class or activity. Instructors start by teaching proper form for each exercise and then progressively increase the resistance once the correct form is accomplished. A new exercise is added periodically, and those begin at the form or movement level. Training with free weights debuted at no. 4 in 2020.
  9. Fitness programs for older adults. This trend is making a return after being in the top 10 since 2007 (when it was the no. 2 trend) and dropping to no. 11 in 2017. Fitness programs for older adults were the no. 9 trends in 2018, no. 4 in 2019, and no. 8 in 2020. This trend continues to stress the fitness needs of the Baby Boom and older generations. In general, these individuals have more discretionary money than their younger counterparts, and fitness clubs may be able to capitalize on this growing market. People live longer, working longer, and remaining healthy and active well into their retirement from work.
  10. Personal training. One-on-one training continues to be a strong trend as the profession of personal training becomes more accessible online, in health clubs, in the home, and in worksites that have fitness facilities. Personal training includes fitness testing and goal setting with the trainer working one-on-one with a client to prescribe workouts specific to their individual needs and goals. Since this survey was first published in 2006 (1), personal training has been a top 10 trend. Personal training was no. 9 in 2017 and no. 8 in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, personal training was the no. 5 trend.
  11. Health/wellness coaching. Previous surveys included wellness coaching, but for the 2019 survey, the term “health” was added, which better describes this trend. Wellness coaching has been in the top 20 trends since 2010 and was listed as no. 17 in 2014, no. 13 in 2015 and 2016, no. 15 in 2017, no. 18 in 2018, no. 11 in 2019 no. 9 in 2020. This is a trend that integrates behavioural science into health promotion and lifestyle medicine programs. Health/wellness coaching uses a one-on-one (and at times small group) approach with the coach providing support, goal setting, guidance, and encouragement. The health/wellness coach focuses on the client’s values, needs, vision, and short- and long-term goals using behaviour change intervention strategies.
  12. Mobile exercise apps. Now available for mobile devices, apps like MapMyRun®, Fitness Buddy®, JEFIT Workout Planner®, Runkeeper®, MyFitnessPal®, Runtastic®, and Nike Training Club® include both audio and visual prompts to begin and end exercise and cues to move on. Some of these apps can track progress over time as well as hundreds of other functionalities. These apps are available for mobile devices such as the iWatch® iPhone®, iPad®, and Android devices. Mobile exercise apps ranked no. 20 in the 2019 survey, no. 25 in 2020, and now no. 12 in 2021.
  13. Employing certified fitness professionals. Debuting as the no. 6 trends in 2019 and dropping to no. 10 in 2020 and now at no. 13, the importance of hiring certified health fitness professionals through educational programs and certification programs that are fully accredited for health fitness professionals is fast becoming a trend. More certification programs have become accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, allowing employers easy access to certification validation through the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals. Employing certified fitness professionals was a new survey item in 2019, replacing “Educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals,” which was determined to be too broadly defined as a survey item.
  14. Functional fitness training. Replicating actual physical activities someone might do as a function of their daily routine, functional fitness first appeared on the survey in the no. 4 positions in 2007 but fell to no. 8 in 2008, and no. 11 in 2009. It reappeared in the top 10 in 2010 at no. 7 and 2011 at no. 9. Functional fitness was the no. 10 trend in 2012, and it was no. 8 in 2013 and 2014. It was no. 9 in 2015, no. 7 in 2016, no. 12 in 2017, no. 10 in 2018, no. 9 in 2019, and no. 12 in 2020. This is a trend toward using strength training to improve balance, coordination, muscular strength, and endurance to improve daily living activities typically for older adults and clinical populations.
  15. Yoga. Yoga has taken on a variety of forms in the past (including Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Yogilates, Hot Yoga, Rocket Yoga, and many others) as well as on-demand videos and books. Yoga first appeared in the top 10 on this survey in 2008, fell out of the top 20 in 2009, but made a great comeback in 2010 (no. 14) and 2011 surveys (no. 11). In 2012, yoga was no. 11 on the list falling to no. 14 in 2013, and up to no. 7 in 2015. In 2017, it ranked no. 8 after occupying the no. 7 spots in 2015 and no. 10 in 2016. Yoga was ranked no. 7 in 2018 and 2019 and no. 14 in 2020.
  16. Exercise for weight loss. Most diet programs recommend including some exercise program into the daily routine of caloric restriction, adding the caloric expenditure of physical activity into the equation. Exercise in weight loss programs has been a top 20 trend since the survey began. In 2009, exercise for weight loss ranked no. 18, moving to no. 12 in 2010, no. 7 in 2011, no. 4 in 2012, and no. 5 in 2013. In 2014, this trend was ranked no. 6 and remained at no. 6 in 2015. Exercise for weight loss was no. 9 in the 2016 survey and no. 10 in the 2017 survey. It was the no. 11 trend in 2018, no. 12 in 2019, and no. 11 in 2020.
  17. Group training. Group exercise training programs have been around for a long time and have appeared a potential worldwide trend since this survey was originally constructed. However, in 2017, group exercise training made the top 20, appearing at no. 6 followed by no. 2 in the 2018 and 2019 surveys. In 2020, group training fell slightly to no. 3. However, for the 2021 survey, group training fell dramatically to the no—17 spot. Defined as more than five participants, group exercise instructors teach, lead, and motivate individuals through intentionally designed bigger in-person group movement classes. Group classes are designed to be effective, motivational sessions for different fitness levels with instructors teaching many types of classes and equipment, from cardio-based classes and indoor cycling to dance-based classes to step classes. The dramatic drop in the 2021 trends survey may result from gyms closing or the recommendation to limit social gatherings.
  18. Lifestyle medicine. Lifestyle medicine is the evidence-based practice of helping individuals and families adopt and sustain healthy behaviours that affect health and quality of life. Examples of target patient behaviours include, but are not limited to, eliminating tobacco use, improving diet, increasing physical activity, and moderating alcohol consumption. Lifestyle medicine promotes healthy behaviours as the foundation of medical care, disease prevention, and health promotion. Lifestyle medicine appeared for the first time in the fitness trends survey at no—16 in 2020.
  19. Licensure for fitness professionals. Some professions in the United States and worldwide are regulated by either local, state, or national licensure. For example, people cannot call themselves a medical doctor or nurse. In many places, a physical therapist or dietitian without holding a license issued by the state or federal government. This is a trend in the fitness industry to pursue fitness professionals such as personal trainers and exercise physiologists. Licensure for fitness professionals first appeared as a fitness trend in 2018 when it was ranked no. 16, then no. 18 in 2019, and no. 15 in 2020 before settling in at no. 19 for 2021.
  20. Outcome measurements. Outcome measures are efforts to define, track, and report data, leading to both the health club member and the trainer’s accountability. Measurements are necessary to determine the benefits of health and fitness programs in disease management and document success in changing negative lifestyle habits. The proliferation of technology aids in data collection to support these efforts. Outcome measurements were the no. 21 trends in 2018, no—16 in 2019, and no. 19 in 2020.