Fitness Trends 2021 | What’s In, Out, And Exploding In Popularity

Created by Elly McGuinness

Last Updated: January 12, 2021

CATEGORIES: Physical Fitness

The results are in from ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends 2021! Since 2006, the editors of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health and Fitness Journal have been surveying thousands of health and fitness professionals around the world, every year. The survey results offer an insight into emerging trends in the health and fitness industry.

2020 has been an unprecedented, pivotal year for change in many industries, and undeniably so within the fitness industry. Lockdowns and physical distancing rules have forced the majority of gyms and trainers to change the way they’re doing things if they want to stay in business. More than any other year, the results from ACSM’s fitness trends for 2021 will play a vital role in how the fitness industry evolves in 2021 and beyond.

(This post includes affiliate links for which I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase)

The research behind health and fitness trends 2021

ACSM is one of the most highly regarded fitness organizations in the world. After I graduated from the University of Otago with a Bachelor of Physical Education, majoring in exercise prescription back in 2003, I learned that this wasn’t sufficient to begin working as a fitness trainer in the industry. I needed something more specific. Of all the fitness qualifications available to me, I chose the ACSM fitness instructor qualification and completed it in 2004.

My point is that ACSM is considered a ‘gold standard’ in the fitness industry. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I don’t promote fads. Neither does ACSM. A fad is something that’s in style for a very short period of time. It experiences a surge of popularity, and then it’s gone before you know it.

Fitness industry trends, not fads

The fitness industry by no means immune to fads, but the findings from ACSM’s annual survey reflect activities and interests that have been gradually changing and are expected to stay around for some time. Therefore, they are considered to be trends.

It’s possible that some identified trends could later become labeled as fads. Some trends are certainly changing quickly at the moment. However, an important point to note is that the survey data has been obtained from questioning thousands of industry professionals on their viewpoints. Fads are more likely to be the gadgets advertised on late-night infomercials, or brand new, celebrity-endorsed diets.

2021 has seen some massive changes to trends, perhaps largely due to the uniqueness of 2020. The data for fitness industry trends in 2021 was collated from the responses of 4377 professionals. In this post, I’ll explore the top six fitness trends for 2021 in some detail, as these are likely to be of the most interest to my readers.

Fitness industry trends-back of woman in weights room

Fitness trends 2021: Key findings

The most notable explosion for 2021 was the trend of online training. It flew forward by 25 spots into number one for 2021. This huge leap is understandable, given the fact that the pandemic situation has driven huge changes to the way people are working out. The convenient nature of online training also appeals to those who lead a busy modern lifestyle.

Other key findings (fitness trends 2021) also reflect the current climate and include:

  • The separation of online training and virtual training, which were previously treated as one (online/virtual training)
  • Three new fitness trends in the top 20 list – online training, virtual training, and mobile exercise apps
  • The rise in popularity of outdoor activities
  • Some of the trends that experienced a notable drop in popularity for 2021 include worksite health promotion, circuit training, children and exercise, and workplace wellbeing

Let’s take a closer look at the top six fitness trends for 2021.

Top six fitness trends 2021

1. Online training

When it comes to getting fitter, there is now a huge array of online options to choose from. These are literally at your fingertips and include online personal training (1:1), and group training. Streaming technology can be used to offer live workouts, or you could be choosing from a selection of pre-recorded workouts.

There are also options to do your personal training sessions in an online training format. This means you can work out in the comfort of your own living room with your trainer offering feedback and encouragement from their living room!

The concept of online training and the definitions of online personal training and virtual personal training are still evolving. Some trainers will offer online personal training, which offers you the roadmap you need to reach your goals. It may include a plan, program, fitness testing, progress reviews, and tweaks. This could also cross over into a coaching model.

Virtual personal training is when a trainer actually takes you through your workout session via an application such as zoom or Whatsapp. Many trainers will include this option as part of their online personal training packages.

Endless options for online fitness training

There are many online training options that offer a lower-cost, and less personalized approach. Membership platforms may offer an array of high and low impact workouts you can choose from, which can be done at any time, without the need to book in with your trainer.

In short, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from to fit your needs, preferences, and budget. 

[Find out more in “Why a great online personal training service is so much more than an app” and “Why Use a Holistic Health Practitioner and Online Fitness Coach?”]

The latter article also explores some of the differences between online personal training and online fitness coaching. My own model of helping people to reach their health and fitness goals has evolved to more of a coaching model. So whilst I don’t offer virtual personal training, I do offer a complete roadmap and blueprint for success. 

This includes a plan, program, accountability, support in the key lifestyle areas that will drive your results. My focus is on empowering you to take control of your health and fitness using simple strategies that promote lasting behavior change.

2. Wearable technology

It has only been around in the ACSM fitness trends survey since 2016, but every year it has consistently maintained one of the top spots. In fact, it has been at number one since its introduction, with the exceptions of 2018 when it was number three, and now in 2021 where it takes the number two spot.

Wearable technology has come so far since it was introduced. We were originally limited to a heart rate monitor and an unreliable watch that offered some basic activity metrics. However, you can now track pretty much any aspect of your health.

Smartwatches, GPS trackers, and other fitness trackers can help you keep track of activity levels (including steps, distance, heart rate, and calories burned), sleep patterns, nutrition intake, and even blood pressure. You can get reminders about your exercise sessions and prompts that are intended to help you feel more motivated.

Like online training, there are endless options when it comes to wearable technology. It’s not for everyone, but some people consider it an integral part of their journey towards achieving and maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle. Check out some of the popular choices for wearable technology via the ads below.

3. Bodyweight training

Coming in at number three for fitness trends 2021 is bodyweight training. Bodyweight training has been around in the fitness industry for a very long time, arguably as long as fitness has been around! However, it was first identified as a trend just nine years ago, when it’s popularity really began to increase. 

It has made the top seven since 2017 and has jumped four places (from seven to three) between 2020 and 2021. This could be driven by the overall trend of more people moving towards a workout regime that can be done from the comfort of their living room (or anywhere in fact).

Bodyweight training is often a big part of the online training movement. Little or no equipment is required, yet a very wide range of exercises can be performed at appropriate progression levels. Bodyweight training helps to keep training costs at bay, and houses uncluttered!

I’ve put together a bodyweight training workout pdf that you can download for free. It includes seven exercises, with three progression levels for each, so you can choose the one that’s right for you. No equipment is needed, and you can do this workout in a very small space in your living room, the park, or anywhere you choose! Grab it via the button below.

4. Outdoor activities

Number five in fitness trends 2021 is outdoor activities. In terms of popularity, they’ve made the top 20 list since 2012 and have hovered between numbers 12 and 17. So this year, in 2021, they’ve made a bit of a leap ahead. 

This could be a reflection of the pandemic. More than ever, people are looking for ways to improve their mental health. The health benefits of being in nature coupled with the endorphin boost and stress release from exercise are likely to be partly responsible for the rise in popularity. Many outdoor activities also offer a reason for getting out of the house and still being able to follow physical distancing guidelines.

There are many possibilities when it comes to outdoor fitness options. Ideas include hiking, biking, and organized exercise sessions where it’s easier to allow participants to spread out than they could in a gym setting.

Fitness trends for 2021-outdoor activities-group cycle ride

5. HIIT

HIIT has made it into the top five fitness industry trends since 2014 and has even made the first place a couple of times. It has been a popular choice in many training programs for the superior results it SOMETIMES has the potential to offer. It’s also a popular choice for a busy modern lifestyle because workouts can be completed in a time-effective manner and still offer great results. 

Fitness apps, virtual classes, and personal trainers alike may all offer HIIT options. Although it is a hugely popular method of training, it’s essential to recognize that it’s not always the best choice and won’t be right for everyone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it experiences a little drop in popularity over the coming years. Personally, I promote a holistic approach. As part of this, gentler forms of exercise are often called for, especially during times of stress. 

And, more than ever, the world is feeling the effects of stress. Load a HIIT workout onto someone who is stressed out and not sleeping well and you’ve got a perfect recipe for decreased performance, injury, illness, and perhaps even burnout over time.

I’m not undermining the benefits of HIIT at all. It definitely holds and will retain an important place in the world of fitness.

6. Virtual training

Coming in at number six for fitness trends 2021 is virtual training. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first year that it has been distinguished as separate from online training. Although, as I’ve alluded to, there is some crossover in how these terms are being thrown around.

For the purpose of the ACSM fitness industry trends survey, virtual training refers to the fusion of group fitness training with technology. Gyms such as Les Mills have been offering virtual fitness classes inside their clubs for some time. Rather than attending a live class, participants can attend a pre-recorded class with an instructor, which they follow along on a big screen in the club.

Now, these virtual classes are being offered outside of the club setting. As more people exercise from home, virtual training is available from the comfort of your living room, from any device. Several leading gym chains are now offering virtual training options. These include a wide range of either live or pre-recorded exercise classes. The latter appeals to the ‘on-demand’ requirements of many exercisers. It allows them to work out on a completely flexible schedule.

Of all the fitness industry trends, this is the one that I think will evolve at the most rapid pace in the coming years. Technology is progressing so quickly. I suspect virtual reality and gamification will increasingly become key themes in the virtual fitness training world as exercisers seek entertainment and escapism at a level they can’t find from the traditional training model.

I’ll be writing more about the virtual fitness and wellness concept soon. [Stay up to date, and receive personalized articles via the button below].

Other top fitness trends 2021

Filling out the remainder of the top 20 slots for fitness trends 2021 are:

7. Exercise is medicine

8. Strength training with free weights

9. Fitness programs for older adults

10. Personal Training

11. Health/wellness coaching

12. Mobile exercise apps (read about FIIT, a top-rated workout app). Get your free 14 day trial here, and enter the code ELLY10 at checkout for 10% off any membership.

13. Employing certified fitness professionals

14. Functional fitness training

15. Yoga

16. Exercise for weight loss

17. Group training

18. Lifestyle medicine

19. Licensure for fitness professionals

20. Outcome measurements

As with online training and virtual training, there is some overlap, or at least relationship between some trends. Although they are treated as separate, some trends essentially fit under the banner of another trend. 

See the full survey report in ACSM’s health and fitness journal.

What does your 2021 fitness plan look like? Have you employed one or more of these top trends into your plan and program, or are you doing something different? I’d love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation below!

For specific questions about your own health and fitness goals, grab a virtual coffee with me, via the bvutton below.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these recommended service provider links, like an insurance broker, or a travel agent, I may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you. [For my full disclosure, please see my DISCLAIMER page].

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Elly McGuinness

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