Online Training Tops the List of 2021 Fitness Trends, Per ACSM

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has altered fitness programming in 2021, moving online training from No. 26 on ACSM’s 2020 fitness trends list to the top spot on the 2021 list. (Photo by svetikd/iStock/Getty Images.)

The popularity of online training grew in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying health club closures led millions of adults to find new ways to be active at home. And that popularity will continue in 2021, leading to online training ranking No. 1 on the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) annual fitness trends list.

Online training jumped 25 spots from the 2020 list to the top spot on the 2021 list, which was released in the article “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021” published in the January/February issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. The list is based on a survey of more than 4,000 health and fitness professionals who were asked about 41 potential trends.

“The challenges of engaging clients at a distance resulted in the use of some very strategic delivery systems,” said ACSM Past President Walter R. Thompson, who was the lead author of the survey. “As we deal with the lasting effects of the pandemic, new systems like online and virtual training are critical to ensure the continued physical and mental well-being of people around the world.”

Trends such as online training, outdoor activities and virtual training made their top 10 debuts, all likely due to changes caused by the pandemic, according to ACSM.

Additionally, wearable tech (No. 1 the past two years), high-intensity interval training (top five since 2014), body weight training (top 10 since 2013) and fitness programs for older adults (top 10 since 2007) maintained their popularity for 2021.

The top 10 fitness trends are:

1. Online Training: Developed for the at-home exercise experience, this trend uses digital streaming technology to deliver group, individual or instructional exercise programs online.

2. Wearable Technology: Wearable tech includes devices such as fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors and GPS tracking devices that can count steps and track heart rate, body temperature, calories, sitting time and sleep time.

3. Body Weight Training: Uses minimal equipment, making it more affordable. Not limited to just push-ups and pull-ups, this trend allows people to get back to the basics with fitness.

4. Outdoor Activities: Outdoor activities include small group walks, group rides and organized hiking groups. Participants can meet in a local park, hiking area or on a bike trail for short events, daylong events or planned weeklong hiking excursions.

5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): These 30-minute or less sessions continue to be a popular form of exercise around the world.

6. Virtual Training: This fusion of group exercise with technology offers workouts designed for ease and convenience to suit schedules and needs. These are typically played on big screens in gyms.

7. Exercise is Medicine: This global health initiative by ACSM encourages health care providers to include physical activity assessment and associated referrals to certified fitness professionals in the community as part of every patient visit.

8. Strength Training with Free Weights: Instructors focus on teaching proper form for exercises using barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells and/or medicine balls. Resistance progressively increases as correct form is accomplished.

9. Fitness Programs for Older Adults: As Baby Boomers continue to age into retirement, many health and fitness professionals are taking the time to create age-appropriate fitness programs to keep older adults healthy and active.

10. Personal Training: One-on-one training continues to be a strong trend as personal training becomes more accessible online, in health clubs, at home and on worksites that have fitness facilities. The trend includes fitness testing and goal setting with the trainer prescribing workouts specific to individual needs.

The full list of top 20 trends is available in the article “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021.”

The top five takeaways from the global rankings for Australia, Brazil, China, Europe, Mexico, Spain and the United States are available in the “Fitness Trends from around the Globe for 2021.”