Everyone wants to keep up with the hottest trends in the fitness industry, hoping it will give them a competitive edge and help them bring in revenue. Unfortunately, hot trends don't always stay hot for long and don't always turn a profit, but that doesn't stop people from offering their predictions.
Club Industry asked a few industry professionals to weigh in on which trends might translate into profitable programming choices in 2015. Many of these predictions correspond to the predicted top fitness trends noted in the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) annual fitness forecast survey, which gathers data from thousands of fitness professionals each year. (The full survey results can be found here.)
Here are six of the hottest trends for 2015, per ACSM's survey and predictions from additional fitness professionals contacted by Club Industry.
1. Small group training. After gaining in popularity in 2014, small group training will continue to grow in 2015. Although it ranked 10th in the ACSM trend survey, club operators should not underestimate the value of a small group training program. It is a great way to start a new revenue stream, with a relatively small upfront investment, says Joy Keller, executive editor for IDEA Health and Fitness Association.
Peter McCall, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) expert and a personal trainer, writes this in his American Council on Exercise blog post titled "10 Fitness Trends to Look Out For in 2015:""This may be the year we see revenue from small group programming surpass revenue generated by one-on-one personal training."
Small group training began in independent studios, but health club operators who adopt the model could increase their revenue per square foot and keep members happy. Club operators should look into building small group training studio spaces within their clubs, if they haven't already, Keller says.
2. Special populations. As the health club industry reaches maturity, its founders are inching ever closer to retirement, which could be why fitness programs targeted at older adults ranked eighth in the 2015 ACSM survey. Industry experts echo the value of catering programming to a wider variety of niche populations in 2015.
"So much of our population is aging," says Sarah Kooperman, CEO of SCW Fitness Education. "We've seen the aging population grow substantially in gyms, so we are at the point now where sometimes almost 50 percent of members are 50-plus."
Club owners are beginning to realize that the spectrum of the aging population is wide and varied, and one senior-centric class will not serve everyone.
"There will be classes geared toward baby boomers, but not one size fits all," Keller says. "There's going to be more specializing in the older adult field, to really pinpoint the range of older adults."
Aquatics will see resurgence with new programming that appeals to an active generation that was raised on rock and roll, says Ann Gilbert, owner of Shapes Fitness for Women.
"I think the programming in water has to give them what they have on land," Gilbert says. "They want music and choreographed routines. What they want is not to float around with a bunch of people with white hair."
On the other hand, some people will look for exercise programs that are slower and address conditions such as arthritis and range of motion, Gilbert says. There are many ways to cater to the aging generation.
Other special populations that may be served by this trend are athletes and weekend warriors who are training for specific races or fitness challenge events.
3. Education. Another hot topic for 2015 is instructor education. As experienced fitness professionals begin to retire, the industry will have to address how to move forward and educate a younger generation of instructors.
"I think a concern might be finding good quality instructors who are certified and understand the value of being certified, and not just going to a weekend course," Keller says.
Education is high in the minds of fitness professionals, ranking No. 3 on the ACSM survey. Trends such as small group training and special population training are highly dependent on health club operators being able to hire instructors with strong qualifications.
"We are teaching more format certifications than the fundamentals," Gilbert says. "We need to make sure our instructors still have the fundamentals of teaching an indoor cycling class, not just the format."
Gilbert suggests that club owners bring education programs directly to instructors at their facilities in exchange for exclusivity of their time. It can create a more dedicated, well-rounded staff and better staff retention, she says.
4. Technology. Personalized fitness technology flooded the market in 2014. Despite popularity with exercisers, most health clubs have barely begun to integrate fitness technology into programming.
In 2015, technology will be a vital part of the health club, Keller says. Club operators need to understand that member-accessible Wi-Fi should be considered mandatory. Power monitors on indoor cycles, interactive screens, health club apps and fitness gaming also will be hot in 2015, according to Keller.
Advances in technology and fitness tracking wearables will allow small group training to become even more personalized, McCall says. Instructors can use technology to track individual metrics within a class and push each participant to meet their individual goals.
Clubs that want a viable indoor cycling program will need to update their equipment to meet the industry standard. Cyclists should be able to expect indoor cycles to have the latest technology for tracking fitness metrics and competing within the class, Gilbert says.
5. Pre-packaged choreography. Although predictions indicate that much of the group exercise market will move toward small group training, what is left is likely to be influenced by a trend toward pre-formatted group exercise programs.
Pre-choreographed programs range from lengthy training and certification programs to simple online subscription databases of music and programming that can be downloaded to an instructor's phone, says Laurie Cingle, owner of Laurie Cingle Consulting and Coaching.
The benefit of these programs is that everything is consistent, instructors know what they are getting, and they don't have to go through and create their own playlists and moves, Kooperman says.
"We are the iPhone generation," she says. "Everything is digital and pre-packaged. They want to know what they get, when they get it, and they want it fast."
The benefit for the health club operator is that group exercise is no longer instructor dependent, Cingle says. If an instructor leaves the club, the program can go on as scheduled with another instructor, without missing a beat.
6. HIIT. High intensity interval training ranked No. 1 on the ACSM survey last year. This year, it fell to second on the list. Although HIIT is undeniably popular, industry professionals question the safety and sustainability of HIIT.
HIIT has become successful because it often delivers fast and dramatic results, but it can also cause injuries that leave people unable to exercise at all, McCall says. He adds 2015 will bring workout programs that focus on intelligent design, allowing for recovery time to maximize results and minimize injury.
"Right now, high intensity training is still hot," Keller says. "I have a feeling it can't last. It's not sustainable. There is nothing wrong with it as a training protocol, but people have really gone overboard with it. People are getting injured."
Keller says HIIT will remain hot for the first half of 2015 and then begin to fade in the second half of the year.
Gilbert says: "I think what happened with HIIT is it kind of morphed itself into an everyday workout. There was no downtime, and it became an everyday event. We've moved away from traditional strength training, and I think it's going to come back."
Gilbert adds a higher injury rate among the younger population, combined with an active aging population, may push a new trend into the limelight by 2016, one in which personal trainers become a bridge between medical treatment and recovery.