Eight Fitness Trends for 2018

This article was republished with permission from the American Council on Exercise. View the original here.

This is the perfect opportunity to gaze into the future and attempt to predict what will happen in the fitness industry over the coming year.

Based on wide-ranging research and numerous conversations with colleagues working for health clubs, equipment companies and education organizations, I’ve identified some of the fitness trends we are most likely to see in the coming year. The trends listed below, although not an exhaustive list by any means, represent opportunities for you to increase your knowledge as a health and fitness professional, and identify potential areas of growth in 2018.

(Note: If you’d like to judge the accuracy of my soothsaying abilities, here are the trend lists for 201720162015 and 2014. It’s a shame I can’t make the same predictions about the outcomes of football games or the stock market.) 

1. Boxing and kickboxing workouts will experience a resurgence in popularity. 

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of studios opening up to offer these physically demanding workouts, as well as an increase in the number of boxing/kickboxing classes showing up on group fitness schedules.

2. 2018 will make a rediscovery of functional training. 

After years of high-intensity interval training reigning supreme, 2018 will make a rediscovery of functional training that emphasizes movement quality over load and intensity. Lashaun Dale, vice president for content and programming at 24 Hour Fitness who specializes in being a futurist for the fitness industry, suggests that class programming will shift toward an emphasis on what she calls “conscious movement,” as opposed to simply pushing the intensity of a workout to reach the point of exhaustion.

3. Fitness programs will become more mindful with instructors and trainers incorporating various strategies to promote flow states via exercise.

Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, identified the flow state as one of intense concentration or complete absorption in an activity. Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman and Stealing Fire, which document how flow states can enhance performance everywhere from the battlefield to the boardroom, has created the Flow Genome Project to study how individuals can access the flow state to be more productive. Led by organizations like Onnit, a company specializing in performance supplements, exercise equipment and education, fitness programs will become more mindful with instructors and trainers incorporating various strategies to promote flow states via exercise. Furthermore, meditation will start being used outside of the traditional mind-body space to help enhance results from traditional strength and conditioning workouts.

4. The coming year will see a greater emphasis on the role of exercise in enhancing cognitive performance.

In addition to hacking flow states, the coming year will see a greater emphasis on the role of exercise in enhancing cognitive performance. In other words, we will start seeing exercise programs specifically for the purpose of training the brain. Jonathan Ross, the 2010 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, created the Funtensity program in an effort to shift the emphasis of exercise from the outcome to the experience. In an effort to enhance cognitive function, Ross incorporates reactive drills into the Funtensity program. The Peak Brain Institute, based in Los Angeles, Calif., conducts tests of brain function to design personalized training protocols that can help enhance focus, memory and overall cognitive performance. For years we have used exercise to enhance muscular performance and we are already starting to see a surge in the use of exercise to increase brain strength. It won’t be long before fitness trackers will be able to monitor cognitive performance as well as traditional physiological markers such as heart rate.

5. Traditional health clubs and fitness studios will take advantage of online streaming to be able to connect with members outside of the four walls of the gym.

Health club companies such as 24 Hour Fitness and organizations such as Les Mills already offer access to streaming workouts to enhance the traditional fitness experience; this approach will undoubtedly become even more popular in the coming year. In addition, Flywheel, the popular indoor cycling studio, has started FlyAnywhere to offer live streaming of cycling classes as well as video-on-demand access to a library of classes. “If you’re a brick-and-mortar [business], you must be able to connect with your members via a digital experience,” argues Dale, of 24 Hour Fitness. “We started offering Daily Burn so that we can engage our members and provide them with a fun, productive workout experience, even on those days when they can’t make it to one of our clubs.”

6. Health Coaches will become more of a mainstream resource that is recognized by the medical community as an important component in the effort to mitigate disease by helping individuals adopt healthier behaviors.

For a number of years, progressive health and fitness professionals have been developing coaching skills in an effort to help clients make healthier choices and establish behaviors outside of the gym. In the coming year, Health Coaches will become more of a mainstream resource that is recognized by the medical community as an important component in the effort to mitigate disease by helping individuals adopt healthier behaviors. To address this need for qualified professionals ACE offers the Health Coach certification, currently the only health coach certification accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. “Being an ACE Certified Health Coach helps provide me with the ability to apply the science of behavior change to help my clients establish meaningful and lasting lifestyle changes,” explains Jessica Matthews, M.S., the 2016 IDEA Group Fitness Instructor of the Year. “The future of our industry is having the skills to help our clients outside of the traditional exercise setting.”

7. Fitness is transitioning from a subculture of passionate enthusiasts to a mainstream lifestyle. 

Fitness clothing by Lululemon and other leading manufactures has become normal, everyday attire that people are wearing outside of health clubs or studios. The popularity of obstacle-course racing, easy-to-access group fitness programs such as the November Project, and wearable technology such as the Apple iWatch demonstrate that individuals don’t just want to go to a gym to sweat; rather, they want to incorporate unique, fitness experiences into their daily lives. Adults of all ages are enjoying fitness for the social benefits as well as the health outcomes; going to a fitness class or gym isn’t just an opportunity to get in shape, but is rapidly becoming a primary option for real-life, social interaction by adults of all ages. The popularity of farm-to-table meal options and dietary approaches like intermittent fasting demonstrate that individuals are applying the fitness mindset to all aspects of their lives. Finally, Health IQ, a life insurance company launched in 2013, offers discounted rates to adults who can document high levels of physical activity, such as competing in obstacle-course races or triathlons. Dale suggests that, in the future, the most progressive changes to the fitness landscape won’t come from the fitness industry itself, but will instead be introduced by outside influencers like the tech industry.

8. The fitness industry will continue to experience a greater breakdown of the divisions between one-on-one personal trainers and group fitness instructors. 

Due to the popularity of small-group training, more personal trainers will develop the skills to lead group workouts. As mentioned earlier, individual participants enjoy the camaraderie of exercising with others, and trainers are finding that they can have a greater impact by working with more than just one person for 60 minutes. Group-based, instructor-led, studio workouts such as CrossFit and OrangeTheory Fitness will continue to grow in popularity, and more studio concepts featuring effective, time-efficient workouts will enter the market. As a result, there will be a greater demand for health and fitness professionals who can deliver group workouts as opposed to coaching individuals one at a time.

As is the case every year, each of us will begin 2018 with specific goals and expectations. If you are taking the steps to plan for your success, understanding how the industry might change and what you can do to help lead or be a part of that process will help ensure that 2018 is a success for both you and the people you serve.

Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and long-time player in the fitness industry. He has been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Runner's World and Self. He holds a master's degree in exercise science and health promotion, and several advanced certifications and specializations with NSCA and NASM. 

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