How to Get Fit? Take Your Pick: Top 20 Fitness Trends 2014

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Every year newspapers, magazines and blogs forecast the fitness trends for the coming year. Almost all quote ACSM, American College of Sports Medicine, who conduct an international survey and publish a Fitness Trend Top 20.
On the basis of their survey ACSM determines, what is trending right now, and also what are real trends – what has come to stay – og and what are fads and on their way out. This year Zumba went out and HIIT made it straight to number one!

Fitness trends top 20 list and photo of kettlebells Photo Henrik Elstrup

Here is the ACSM list. I have added the rank of last year and below are my comments along with select ACSM comments.

TOP 20 Fitness Trends 2014

  1. High-Intensity Interval Training (new on the list)
  2. Body Weight Training (3.)
  3. Educated, Certified and Experienced Fitness Professionals (1.)
  4. Strength Training (2.)
  5. Training and Weight Loss (5.)
  6. Personal training (7.)
  7. Fitness Programs for Older Adults (6.)
  8. Functional Fitness (8.)
  9. Group Personal Training (10.)
  10. Yoga (14.)
  11. Children and Exercise for the Treatment/Prevention of Obesity (4.)
  12. Worksite Health Promotion (11.)
  13. Core Training (9.)
  14. Outdoor Activities (13.)
  15. Circuit Training (18.)
  16. Outcome Measurements (17.)
  17. Wellness Coaching (20.)
  18. Sports-Specific Training (back on list, 17. in 2012)
  19. Worker Incentive Programs (15.)
  20. Boot Camp (16.)

1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Intensive training with short bursts of high-intensity work periods followed by a short period of rest, typically with a total training time of less than 30 minutes. Not a new trend, on the contrary, HIIT has been part of classic sports training for many years and lately also part of many CrossFit workouts. HIIT has been suggested as a trend earlier on, but has only just entered the Top 20 list this year. Until now, though, it has most certainly been part of many boot camp programs, which have been on the list for some years.

According to ACSM HIIT is very popular, despite warnings from some fitness professionals: ”“Very, very popular. However, high injury rates. We need more highly trained professionals working this area.”

2. Body Weight Training (3.)

Working out with body weight entered the list last year as number 3 and is now number 2. Has body weight training not been popular previously? Yes, almost since the dawn of time and it has been one of the most popular group exercise formats since fitness started in the 70′s with Jane Fonda’s Workout a.o. This indicates, that is not the training as such, but the way it is named and marketed, that puts it on the hit list.

3. Educated, Certified and Experienced Fitness Professionals (1.)

This trend has occupied the number one spot for six years consecutively and for the first time it has been overtaken.
This does not mean, that it is not still a top priority. Rather the growing popularity of high-intensity training and (complex) body weight training means, that educated instructors are needed even more than before.

4. Strength Training (2.)

Strength training is no new phenomena. It has been popular since antiquity. What is new, is that today many do strength training for its own sake and not just as a means to an end, e.g. improving sports performance.

Strength training is also growing in popularity in all sectors, not just in the fitness sector, but also in the health sector and for all target groups including children, seniors and people with lifestyle diseases.

5. Training and Weight Loss (5.)

Training for weight loss has become more and more popular since these surveys started, maybe as a result of the growing need for this kind of workouts and as a result of still more research showing, that the combination of exercise and diet is essential for weight maintenance and can improve compliance with diet and weight loss programs.

6. Personal training (7.)

Personal training, one-on-one training with various fitness modalities, especially strength training, is ever increasing in popularity. Partly because of exercisers wanting better results faster, and partly because more and more personal trainers are being certified.
Also more marketing means, that more people are becoming aware of this option.

7. Fitness Programs for Older Adults (6.)

Training for older adults has been on the Top 20 list since its appearance in 2006. Only natural as the number of people over 60 has tripled for the past 50 years. And this number is estimated to triple in the next decades, so by 2050 close to 2 billion people will be over 60 (!

This trend is supported by a multitude of research on seniors and exercise with overwhelming evidence, that exercise for seniors is not only beneficial, but essential for function, health and wellness late in life. ACSM recommends, that fitness centers offers more programs for seniors, e.g. during the daytime.

8. Functional Fitness (8.)

Functional Fitness, which has been on the list since 2007, is defined by ACSM as ‘using strength training to improve balance, coordination, force, power, and endurance to improve someone’s ability to perform activities of daily living’.
It is mentioned, that functional fitness programs replicate actual activities you might do as a function of daily living, hence they are recommend for older adults.

Note, that the term functional fitness is often used to describe other types of fitness programs and modalities with a specific function or purpose related to either every day living or sports.

9. Group Personal Training (10.)

Personal training for small groups, on the list since 2007, continues to be a popular trend. The training is for 2-3 exercisers at the same time (up to 5) and is not only reasonably ‘personal’ and goal-oriented, but also economically sensible for both the trainer and clients.

10. Yoga (14.)

Yoga entered the Top 20 list in 2008, fell out in 2009, but made back and has been on the list since 2010. However, yoga has been popular for thousands of years and will continue to be so, whether on the Top 20 list or not. Not strange, since there are many types of yoga for different target groups and from easy to advanced level. Also there is a huge number of yoga teachers, books and films making yoga accessible to everyone. 

11. Children and Exercise for the Treatment/Prevention of Obesity (4.)

Children and obesity, as this trend was named, when it entered the list in 2007, has dropped a few spots, but is still increasingly important, as obesity among children and juniors is a major problem internationally. There is a continued need for both national and local initiatives and specific fitness exercise targeted at stopping and reversing this.

12. Worksite Health Promotion (13.)

An obvious place to implement fitness and health initiatives is on the worksite and luckily this is a trend, that continues to grow, both within companies and corporations or in collaboration with independent commercial or community-based programs.

13. Core Training (9.)

Core training are exercises, which focus on strength and stability for the core muscles, inner and outer unit muscles from the pelvic floor to the diaphragm: “Strength and conditioning of the stabilizing muscles of the abdomen, thorax, and back. It typically includes exercises of the hips, lower back, and abdomen, all of which provide support for the spine and thorax” (ACSM).

Core training is no new trend. This kind of training has been used by gymnasts for ages. What is new, is that it is a fairly new trend within fitness and in fitness settings you often use equipment such as exercise balls, BOSU balls, wobble boards, foam rollers, etc.

Even though core training has lost ground and has dropped from a steady top 5 position from 2007-2010, it is still popular. In the future maybe more so as an integral part of other programs such as Functional Fitness.

14. Outdoor Activities (13.)

Outdoor activities not only include running, walking and cycling, but according to the ACSM survey also hiking, canoeing, kayaking, games, sports – and even overnight camping trips.
Even if the weather in certain countries makes this a ‘seasonal’ activity, outdoor training in many forms is becoming increasingly popular, partly because more countries, states, and cities are starting to offer designated fitness facilities, e.g. outdoor training pavilions.
Fresh air and better overall health is a superior bonus of this fitness trend.

15. Circuit training) (18.)

Circuit training appeared on the list for the first time in 2013 and has increased in popularity since then. According to ACSM survey circuit training is “a group of 6 to 10 exercises that are completed one after another and in a predetermined sequence. Each exercise is performed for a specified number of repetitions or for a set period before having a quick rest and moving on to the next exercise”.

Circuit training, though, has been fairly popular since the 60′s and the classic definition is a series of 9-12 consecutive exercises with no rest-pause or only a short rest-pause between exercises.
As part of the increasing popularity of short duration high-intensity workouts, circuit training has been marketed and implemented vigorously and is now super popular, e.g. in HICT termed ‘the 7-minute workout (partly wrong) by many fitness blogs and magazines’.

16. Outcome Measurements (17.)

ACSM defines this, outcome measurements, as “a trend that addresses accountability, the efforts to define and track outcomes to prove a selected program actually works. (…).
New technology has aided in data collection to support these efforts”.
Tracking outcomes not only has to do with compliance, but can also include fitness testing, the physical results (leading to succesful change of negative lifestyle habits).
Outcome measurements was on the list previously, fell out, but returned last year.

17. Wellness Coaching (20.)

Wellness coaching, which came on the list in 2010, is similar to coaching, but integrates behavioural science into health promotion, disease prevention and rehabilitation programs.
According to ACSM “Wellness Coaching often uses a one-on-one approach, similar to a personal trainer, with the coach providing support, guidance, and encouragement. The wellness coach focuses on the client’s values, needs, vision, and goals”.
This is really what a competent personal trainer does, but perhaps with an increased focus on total lifestyle; diet, sleep and activities of daily living.

18. Sports-Specific Training (back on the list)

Sports-specific training was on the list from 2010, fell out in 2013, but is now back again. According to ACSM this trend includes sports-specific training for sports like baseball and tennis and is designed especially for young athletes.
With this definition it is no wonder, that the trend is not higher on the list. If the definition included sports-specific training for all age groups and all sports, e.g. skiing, golf, soccer, basketball, etc. and even running and cycling, which are sports, too, sports-specific training probably would be higher on the list and permanently, too.

19. Worker Incentive Programs (15.)

This trend came on the list in 2011 and has been on it since then. This trend is about incentive programs “to stimulate positive healthy behavior change as part of employer-based health promotion programming and health care benefits”.
“Worker Incentive Programs are associated with the trend to provide worksite health promotion programs in an attempt to reduce health care costs”
As worksite health promotions affect a huge number of the population, they are essential to public health.

20. Boot Camp (16.)

Boot camp training appeared on the list in 2010, after having been just outside the Top 20 for the previous two years. ACSM defines Boot Camp, as a ‘high-intensity structured activity patterned after military-style training. Boot Camp includes cardiovascular, strength, endurance, and flexibility drills and usually involves both indoor and outdoor exercises typically led by an enthusiastic instructor. Boot Camps also can combine sports-type drills and calisthenics’.

The name Boot Camp is also used to market various 8-10 week fitness programs in which the workouts often match the above description, they can, however, also come in other formats of lower intensity.

The Top 20 Fitness Trends Survey
The Top 20 list covers the results of a Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends based on a list of 38 possible trends. 25 from the previous year as well as 13 new trends proposed by the staff of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. Survey participants must give a score of 1 to 10 and are invited to comment.

The survey was sent to 28.924 fitness professionals, 3.815 responded, a return rate of 13 %, which is an excellent return rate.

On this years list, Top 20 2014, Zumba is out, and Pilates, Spinning, Balance training and stability (exercise) ball training are out for the second time, which by ACSM standards indicate, that they are just fads. ACSM recognize though, that these activities still exist in the fitness industry.

It is not strange, that certain activities disappear from the list. This is bound to happen, not necessarily because they become unpopular, but to make room for new fitness modalities, either trends or fads.

As seen previously, also in ACSM surveys, certain fitness activities fall out and then enter again or enter again under a new name or as part of another trend.

This is the ACSM Top 20. Is something missing from the list? Some would say CrossFit a.o., however, this and some other popular fitness modalities are related to some of the above mentioned trends for instance HIIT, High-Intensity Interval Training, strength training or functional fitness and hence are covered for now.

The Top 20 list gives an exciting overview of the fitness trends of 2014. At the same time, take a peek at Google’s list of the most popular workout search terms, keywords:

Google Top 10 Most-Googled Workouts 2013

  1. Insanity Workout (US concept, intense cardio/strength workout)
  2. CrossFit Workout (international concept with high-intensity workouts)
  3. Ab Workouts (abdominal exercise in all forms is always a hit)
  4. Bicep Workouts (workouts for the arms are a male thing)
  5. 7-Minute Workout (a media name for circuit workouts with a 7 minute base)
  6. Kettlebell Workout (maybe this will be on the list soon)
  7. Shoulder Workouts (ever popular, ever overworked …)
  8. Back Workouts (back and lower back area; numerous exercises)
  9. Plank Exercises (planks, a core exercise stable, are still popular)
  10. TRX Workout (suspension training, e.g. TRX’s, is increasing in popularity)

You can read more about the different fitness modalities in books, at fitness sites and blogs, including this one. Furthermore there are millions of exercise videos and a growing number of apps for most of the above workouts.

Happy workout!


ACSM: Now Trending: Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends 2014 

ACSM: Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2013.

High-Intensity Training, CrossFit Top Google’s List of Most Searched Exercises

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