Fitness Trends

An Overview of Fitness Trends

It's hard to get through a week without hearing about the latest, greatest fitness revolution to hit your block, your city...shoot, your whole country. Whether it's a new workout app, a late night infomercial shilling a new exercise routine, a celebrity workout endorsement, or a top 10 list that pops up on your Facebook news feed, fitness trends are everywhere. And in a world obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses, it can be hard to sift through the flotsam and jetsam to find the workout that's right for you.

The good news is, it's possible. You just need a few tips to help navigate through the flood of blaring music and perky fitness instructors. 

What Are Fitness Trends?

"Fitness trends" is a broad topic that encompasses pretty much anything fitness-related, whether it's a type of workout, a piece of equipment, or a style of apparel. It's important to recognize, though, that trends aren't short-lived fads.

Trends have staying power that last well beyond a New Year's resolution craze, often sticking around for years.

For instance, the Shake Weight is the perfect example of a short-lived fitness fad—it came and went like a flash in the pan. Jazzercise, on the other hand, is the perfect example of a long-lasting trend. The workout completely altered the landscape of the fitness industry in the 1980s, and while decades have passed and times have changed, it continues to thrive as a name brand workout class today.

Top 6 Things to Know About Fitness Trends

Some fitness trends are large, while others are small.

The size and following of the trend isn't as important as its efficacy as a research-based workout protocol and its ability to reach an interested audience and gain a dedicated following.

1. Trends With Staying Power Are Methodologically Sound or Scientifically Backed.

When it comes to fitness, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Workouts, supplements, diet plans, and equipment that promise stellar results with practically no effort are likely a short-lived fad. Take, for instance, "toning shoes." These sneakers released by big-name brands like Reebok and Sketchers, promised users they could get more shapely legs just by wearing their kicks. Unfortunately, the claims weren't all they were cracked up to be, and the American Council on Exercise was able to prove in a 2010 study that their benefits were more or less non-existent. As a result of FTC investigations and subsequent settlements, Reebok and Sketchers had to pay $25 million and $40 million, respectively, to consumers who bought their shoes.

It didn't take long for that fad to die a spectacular death.

Minimalist running shoes, on the other hand, rose to fame after Christopher McDougall's 2009 book, Born to Run, hit the shelves. The book provided some scientific evidence to support the mechanical benefits of barefoot-style running, and the minimalist footwear trend was born. While there have been subsequent class-action lawsuits against barefoot-style shoe manufacturers due to misleading advertising, the trend itself remains strong because there is scientific evidence, both for running and athletic endeavors, that can legitimately back the trend's efficacy in certain environments and with some individuals.

2. Some Trends Develop a Cult-Like Following. You Don't Have to Join the Cult...But You Can.

It's perfectly acceptable to try a class, enjoy the workout, and not sign up for a $200 monthly membership, no matter how much your friends and fellow classmates cajole you with promises that "it's totally worth it."

Maybe it is, maybe it's not.

In this respect, it's important to have some awareness of your personal approach to fitness. Some people are "triers" and other people are "buyers." Neither approach is right or wrong. But if you like trying new classes and experiences without dedicating yourself to a single style of workout, go ahead and hop from one trend to another. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and there's no rule saying you have to join a specific class or gym just because all your friends are doing it.

There's also no rule that says you shouldn't. If you attend a class, love the instructor, enjoy the other participants, and find the workout enjoyable, by all means, sign up and engulf yourself in the community. The best workout is the workout you'll stick with, so finding a motivating class is a great way to remain committed to your exercise routine.

3. Not All Trends Are Right for Everyone.

Aside from basic enjoyment, there are lots of reasons a particular trend may not be the right trend for you, Consider the following scenarios:

  • You have chronic pain or a recent injury. If you're nursing an injury or persistent pain, particularly in your back or lower extremities, it's probably not the best time to engage in classes or programs that focus on high impact exercises, plyometric movements, or heavy weights. If you do, you're likely to exacerbate your injury.
  • You're pregnant. You've probably seen articles about pregnant women lifting heavy weights and running marathons—these stories are inspiring and can be perfectly safe under doctor supervision. That said, they're not appropriate for every pregnancy, especially if you're new to exercise. Now's the time to listen to your body, consult with your doctor, and stick first to low-impact forms of exercise. Everything else is just cake.
  • Your budget and time are limited. There's no shame in admitting you can't afford a $200 studio membership. There's also no shame in recognizing you don't have the time to attend an hour-long class five times per week, especially if you have to spend extra time driving to the gym and preparing for class. There are lots of workouts that fit comfortably into a modest budget and a limited time frame. Don't beat yourself up if you can't follow the trend your best friend is doing—move on and applaud yourself for finding one that works for you.
  • You're new to exercise. Some workouts are beginner-friendly, offering lower-intensity modifications and clear instruction on form, while other workouts do not. If you haven't followed a consistent exercise program for years, don't dive into an overly-intense workout on day one, it'll just set you up for extreme soreness and potential injury. Instead, start with beginner-focused workouts or lower-impact trends, such as cycling, yoga, Pilates, aerobic dance, or basic strength training classes. There's really no need to kill yourself in a boot camp or CrossFit class. You can work up to those.
  • You just don't like it. No matter how much you want to like a workout, if you don't enjoy it, you don't enjoy it. There's no need to make every workout torture. Keep trying new options until you land on something you actually like. Or at least kind of like.

4. A Trend's Popularity Might Ebb and Flow Over Time.

Take for instance, dance-based fitness. This style rose to fame in the 1980s with Jazzercise, but took a backseat to kickboxing-style workouts like Tae Bo in the 90s. All along, though, the trend was simmering in the background, waiting for its chance to rise again. It did just that in the early 2000s when Zumba hit the market in a big way, ultimately inspiring a multitude of spin-off classes, including Broadway-inspired fitness, African-style dance classes, club-style dance workouts, Bollywood dance workouts belly dancing, and more.

These ebbs and flows are normal and highlight two things: First, the lasting nature of true trends—they may rise and fall, but they're always around. And second, the potential for "sub trends" within a larger category to become trends in their own right. In this case, if dance-based fitness is the overarching trend, sub-trends might include cardio-focused dance classes like Jazzercise and Zumba (which are both trends in their own right), and ballet-inspired fitness classes like barre workouts.

5. Classes Are Often Expensive, But It's Possible to Score a Deal.

Another trend in its own right is the rise of the modern boutique fitness studio. Once upon a time, workouts took place in large gyms and fitness centers where members could get a taste of a bit of everything—weights, cardio machines, and a smattering of group fitness classes as well. Smaller studios were reserved for classes that were once considered "fringe," such as yoga and Pilates.

But after the economic collapse of 2008 that led to a shift away from more expensive "mega gyms" and opened the door for smaller, lower-cost facilities that typically lacked the amenity of group fitness classes, enterprising entrepreneurs saw an opening for specialized "boutique" studios that could deliver repeated bouts of a single style of class set on repeat. As a result, cycling, barre, yoga, TRX, and CrossFit gyms started popping up on every corner. Outdoor boot camps proliferated. 

And the costs soared.

Instead of paying, say, $30 to $100 per month for a gym membership, studios began charging upwards of $20 to $40 per class, depending on the market, or between $150 and $250 per month for all-access passes. The arguments for such high pricing lie in the specialized style of each workout—you're theoretically getting a better experience from more qualified instructors. Also, the atmosphere is tailored to a niche of customers, creating a clear community that's often bolstered by special events and social activities. 

These are all good things... except for the price.

If you find a boutique class or trend you love, but you're not sure you can foot the bill, there are a few ways to save money. For instance, you might want to purchase a punch card that reduces the cost of each class, try a ClassPass membership for access to multiple studios in your area, or check sites like Groupon to see if there are any available deals. Most studios also offer a "first class free" option, so you don't have to go broke trying to find a facility you love.

6. You Should Educate Yourself Before You Go.

When it comes to fitness trends, you're responsible for educating yourself on each workout's benefits and risks. Before trying a class, make sure you scope out the workout's website and read reviews on third-party sites like Yelp. Most important of all, think critically before blindly following just any instructor or trainer. The fitness industry is still highly unregulated, which means no one's out actively policing an instructor's credentials. You must do your own homework to make sure the instructor or coach leading your class has appropriate certifications and experience.

Most Popular Fitness Trends

The constantly-changing landscape of fitness trends mean that there's always something new on the horizon, while other popular workouts settle into long-term "classics" status. Some of the most popular trends of the first 20 years of the new millennium include:

  • Indoor Cycling: Group cycling classes, such as SoulCycle, Flywheel, and CYC
  • Bootcamps: Indoor and outdoor military-inspired group classes that focus on "back to basics" exercises such as pushups and squats; popular examples include Barry's Bootcamp and Camp Gladiator.
  • Cardio Dance: Any dance-inspired workout designed to increase heart rate, such as Jazzercise, Zumba, and Doonya
  • Barre Workouts: Any ballet-inspired workout that focuses on balance, coordination, and core strength by incorporating a mix of exercises that go through a full range of motion and those that isolate and hold challenging positions; popular examples include Physique 57, The Bar Method, Pure Barre, and Pop Physique.
  • Interval Training: Interval training is an overarching trend that's often incorporated into other workouts, including boot camps, online and app-based training, and indoor cycling; this style of workout incorporates alternating bouts of high and low intensity exercise to keep participants' heart rates high.
  • CrossFit: CrossFit and its imitators focus on incorporating high-intensity, functional exercises and heavy strength training into their bare-bones workout programs; you can expect a "primal" workout environment and a strong sense of community.
  • Yoga and Pilates Workouts: These lasting trends (yoga's literally been around for more than 3,000 years, and Pilates since the 1950s) stay fresh with an ever-changing approach to delivery. For instance, you can try your hand at aerial yoga, Rage Yoga, or hip-hop yoga. Likewise, you can switch up your Pilates routine with a mat-based workout or a new take on the Pilates Reformer with a group Megaformer class.
  • Functional Training: Functional training classes typically incorporate specialized equipment or environments designed to improve balance, coordination, agility, and speed, all while performing variations of traditional strength training exercises. Perfect examples include TRX, sand-fitness training, surf-inspired workouts and BOSU workouts.
  • Stand Up Paddleboarding: Stand up paddleboarding, or SUP, is a water-based activity similar to surfing but on a larger, more stable board, and it's earned its title as a "trend" in its own right as classes and programs, including races, water-based fitness classes, and paddleboarding yoga are popping up all over the country.
  • Boxing and Kickboxing: Boxing and kickboxing are trends that continue to reinvent themselves as group-based workouts; popular examples include Tae Bo, 9Round, Title Boxing, and Amenzone Rebel.
  • Fitness Wearables: As technology continues to take over the world, it continues to infiltrate the world of fitness with wearable devices that track everything from steps and heart rate to body fat percentage and hydration.
  • Online and App-Based Training: In the ever-connected world, more entrepreneurs are turning to the Internet to motivate and inspire the masses; popular trends include fitness apps, social media workouts, and online workout platforms and services.
  • Racing and Events: Once upon a time, a basic 5k was a pretty big deal, but these days races and events are constantly pushing the boundaries, looking for an edge to stand out; while standard races will always remain popular, other trending events include triathlons, obstacle course races, theme races, stair climbing events, extreme distance races, and mixed-sport races that incorporate non-traditional activities like skiing, kayaking, or skateboarding; a byproduct of the trend of obstacle course races is the rise of obstacle course gyms, and to some extent, parkour
  • Fitness Travel: Busy schedules and a passion for exercise has led to a boom in the industry of fitness-related travel, including race or even travel, fitness retreats, and fitness-based tours such as running or cycling tours.
  • Exercise Recovery: As more people participate in intense forms of exercise, the importance of rest and recovery are having their moment; popular trends include foam rolling and sleep.
  • Workout Apparel and Athleisure Attire: Yoga pants are everywhere, and major brands now offer their own line of workout apparel; according to the NPD group, this new style of casual fashion that doubles as sweat-to-street apparel drove the increase in fashion sales in 2014.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Trying a Fitness Trend

Before you dive into the next trending class, ask yourself a few questions. The answers will help make the experience better.

1. Can I Try the Trend on My Own? If So, Should I?

Some fitness trends are easy to try on your own. For instance, online fitness classes and programs are specifically designed to be done at home on your own schedule. That said, if you haven't worked out in a long time or you're unfamiliar with the proper form of specific exercises, it's a good idea to try the workout in a class setting with the hands-on tutelage of an instructor. After all, you probably wouldn't try snowboarding for the first time without taking a lesson, so why should indoor cycling be any different? 

2. Is the Instructor Well-Qualified?

High-quality instruction is the key to a positive workout experience. Do your research and make sure your coach has a current training certification from a well-known organization and good reviews from current and past students.

3. Is the Workout Appropriate for My Fitness Level? If Not, Are There Modifications?

It's always a good idea to ask the instructor what fitness level the class or program is intended for. If the instructor immediately responds, "all levels!" you should press for more details. Most classes, even "all level" classes are actually geared to beginner, intermediate, or advanced participants, and instructors are then tasked with providing modifications for students who are outliers.

If you're a beginner, it's best to select classes or programs geared toward beginners. If you're advanced, it's best to select classes designed to push your boundaries. If push comes to shove, and you're not sure if the class is appropriate to your fitness level, ask the instructor if you can observe a class before trying it, or see if there's an online version you can preview at home before you join.

4. Do I Need to Buy Gear Before I Go?

Most workouts require nothing more than your own body and a pair of sturdy shoes, but it's always prudent to ask the instructor or studio manager whether you're expected to bring anything to class. For instance, some cycling studios require you to carry a water bottle, while some yoga studios require that you bring your own mat. It's better to know before you go than to show up empty-handed.

A Word From Verywell

The beauty of the fitness industry is its vast array of possibilities. Some trends are intense, others are low-key. Some trends take you outside, others keep you indoors. Some trends are loud and community-oriented, others are quiet, solo endeavors. At the end of the day, you don't have to chase any single trend; rather, you only need to find the types of trends that work for you. Dabble, commit, then enjoy!

Sources:

"A More Casual, Active Lifestyle Drives Fashion Sales Growth in 2014." The NBD Group, Inc./Consumer Tracking Service. https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2015/a-more-casual-active-lifestyle-drives-fashion-sales-growth-in-2014/. 2014.

Fuller J, Clint R, Thewlis D, Tsiros M, Buckley J. "The Effect of Footwear on Running Performance and Running Economy in Distance Runners." Sports Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25404508. Vol 45, Iss 3, Pg 411-422. March 2015.

Porcardi J, Greany J, Tepper S, Edmonson B, Foster C, Sandve M, Anders M. "Will Toning Shoes Really Give You a Better Body?" American Council on Exercise Certified News. https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/720/. August 2010.

Whitehead, P. N., Sell, T. C., Lovalekar, M., Heebner, N. R., Abt, J. P., & Lephart FACSM, S. M. "Better Dynamic Postural Stability While Wearing Minimalist Footwear in Physically-Active Male Adults." International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings. http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2486&context=ijesab. Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 93. 2015.

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