The Top 10 Fitness Trends of 2021

By Nickie Hayes

Have you ever wondered how all the latest fitness trends each year are ranked? Every year it seems new fitness trends are flooding the exercise regimes of trainers and trainees, and it can be difficult to keep track of them. In the ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021 list, you can find all the current fitness obsessions. 

Doing your exercise in front of a computer has become much more popular this past year. Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash.

The American College of Sports Medicine or ACSM is a membership organization based on sports medicine and exercise science. Their headquarters are located in Indianapolis, Indiana. For the past 15 years, the ACSM has surveyed health fitness professionals to create a master list of fitness trends for the past year. So, the 2021 list is actually for the past year, 2020. 

According to the ACSM Fitness Trends report website, over 4,300 health and fitness professionals ranked 41 possible trends on a scale of one to 10. On the scale, a score of one meant it is least likely to be a trend, and a score of 10 meant it is most likely to be a trend. They also state that COVID-19 had an immense impact on the 2021 survey results. For instance, previously, the trend of online training was #26 on the 2020 list but has now jumped to the #1 spot on the 2021 list. 

You might be asking now, what is actually on the list? The list can be found on the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021. Nonetheless, here are the top ten fitness trends of 2021.

  1. Online Training
  2. Wearable Technology
  3. Body Weight Training
  4. Outdoor Activities
  5. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)
  6. Virtual Training
  7. Exercise is Medicine
  8. Strength Training with Free Weights
  9. Fitness Programs for Older Adults
  10. Personal Training

Andreas Stamatis is the associate professor of the exercise and nutrition sciences department at SUNY Plattsburgh and is currently living in Greece. He is a professor, gym owner, personal trainer, strength training coach and supplement and fitness equipment store owner. 

Stamatis said that, out of the top ten trends, the ones related to technology resonate with him the most. Those include the number one trend of online training, wearable technology and virtual training.

“They make sense to me that they are on the list and are highly ranked. Those trends are helpful and easily accessible,” Stamatis said. 

The technology-oriented trends are approachable to a large group of people, and as well, the younger generations are more technologically literate, he said. 

Stamatis said that he also did all of the trends besides virtual training and fitness programming for older adults this past year. However, his favorite trend was strength training with free weights. 

“Here in Greece, I am a gym owner and always coaching new people,” he said. “As a strength training coach, it is a big part of my life.” 

Max Gabrielly is a junior at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and is doing a work study job at his campus’s fitness center. Strength training with free weights is the trend that resonates with him the most. He said he has been weight lifting since his freshman year of high school, which has now accumulated to six or seven years. His experience makes him most comfortable with this trend. 

This past year, Gabrielly has done four of the top 10 fitness trends. He said those include body weight training, outdoor activities, HIIT (high intensity interval training) and strength training with free weights, which are in the No. 3, 4, 5 and 8 spots, respectively. As well, he said his favorite trend was body weight training. 

Stamatis said he thought some of the trends would have been placed higher. He thought functional fitness training, which came in at number 14, mobile exercise apps, at number 12, health and wellness coaching, at number 11, would have been more highly ranked. 

For the 2021 list, the number one trend of online training might not seem surprising, but it was shocking for those familiar with the ACSM’s list. The number one spot for the last five years has been held by wearable technology, with an exception in 2018, where it slipped into the number three trend. Now it sits in the number two spot after online training. 

Stamatis said like most other realms of health, it is not surprising that the fitness world is also joining the technology trend. 

“Telemedicine and telehealth are growing like crazy in many fields. Peer medicine, sports psychology and consulting are used a lot to communicate with people,” he said analyzing the fitness world.

The ability to effortlessly communicate with others with a high level of privacy, confidentiality and from home is popular right now, he said. It makes sense from the view of the client and the trainer or practitioner. 

In regards to online training, Gabrielly is all for it.

“I think that if online training is helping people to stay in shape and stay active, then that is awesome,” he said. 

In regards to COVID-19, Stamatis believes that the list was affected by the pandemic. Trends like online training and virtual training have definitely become more popular, he said. However, he also believes the trend of outdoor activities has increased in position due to COVID-19. 

“When you’re restricted, you just want to go out, and sometimes you just don’t have any alternative either, so the outdoor activities definitely was pushed higher,” he said. 

Gabrielly also believes COVID-19 has affected this fitness trend list. He said he thinks that online and virtual training has definitely increased due to the pandemic. He also believes that since gyms were closed, that is the reason for strength training with free weights is ranked lower. 

“People had to start working out at home, and fitness just adjusted to the circumstances,” he said. 

One trend that Stamatis said he would like to see higher on the trends list is exercise is medicine, which is currently number 7. 

“Exercise is medicine is a whole movement within the ACSM that is pretty much educating medical professionals to consider prescribing exercise before prescribing drugs,” he said. “That is something I would like to see higher, but it is a process.”

He explains that, because doctors are not necessarily trained to prescribe exercise, this movement can take longer to come to fruition. If doctors are not connected with fitness professionals, that can make this undertaking even more difficult. In general, he said he wants to see physical activity and exercise used more as medicine. 

Gabrielly said he can take inspiration from this list for his future fitness endeavors. He feels years of weight training may have blinded him to useful fitness trends.

“What I learned recently is that fitness is more about strengthening your body, becoming healthier and becoming a better athlete, rather than just lifting heavier weight,” he said. 

“A lot of people are just obsessed with numbers, and I’m not going to lie, I kind of still am, but it is also important to master your bodyweight exercises.” 

He said he would try to incorporate more calisthenic or bodyweight exercises into his routine. As well, bodyweight training came in at the number three spot this past year.

In his final reactions to this list, he said: “I think one of the most beautiful things about fitness is that you can practice it anywhere. You don’t have to go to a gym in order to workout, and there is something beautiful about leaving the house and exploring different ways you can exercise outside of the gym.”

“It is good to just enjoy nature, love your body, and take care of yourself, including your mind,” Gabrielly said. 

Exercising outside is a great way to relieve stress and reconnect your body and mind to nature. Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash.

Making predictions for next year’s list, Stamatis thinks technologic themed trends will prevail again. Online training, virtual training, wearable technology and mobile exercise apps, he said, will most likely be moved even higher. Yet, other trends that look at fitness holistically like heath and wellness coaching, number 11 and lifestyle medicine, number 18, will keep increasing in popularity because of the world we live in now, he said. 

“I think people with depression right now and anxiety, along with all the things that are happening right now are being magnified by just staying inside,” he said. 

He explained that looking at fitness more holistically may lead people away from traditional choices, like jogging, to do other fitness related activities to benefit themselves. He said things like meditating, checking hydration and getting quality sleep, are things that may become more prevalent in people’s lives and more popular. As well, he said working out is just one piece of the puzzle. These other activities help to create a well-rounded lifestyle, and contribute to one’s overall wellness. 

Ultimately, this list of fitness trends is a way for those in the fitness profession to stay on top of the newest trends, but that does not have to be the only meaning for it. Like the movement exercise is medicine, we can learn what fitness professionals are currently thinking about and doing. As well, like Gabrielly did, the average exerciser can take inspiration from this list to incorporate the latest trends into their routine for more variation. To learn more about the ACSM, you can check out their website, ACSM | The American College of Sports Medicine

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