What’s New in Exercise: Top 20 Fitness Trends 2018

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

HIIT, High-Intensity Interval Training, replaces wearables at the top of the international Top 20 Fitness trends list. ACSM, the American College of Sports Medicine, has just published the Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for the 12th time.

Here are ACSM’s Top 20 fitness trends for 2018. Only one new item on the list, and group exercise is surprisingly, but understably, a new # 2.
In addition to each trend, I’ve placed last year’s placement in brackets. Below the list are comments from ACSM and yours truly.

Top 20 Fitness Training Trends 2018

  1. High-intensity interval training, HIIT (3)

  2. Group exercise (6)

  3. Wearable technology, wearables (1)

  4. Bodyweight Training (2)

  5. Strength training (5)

  6. Trained, Certified and Experienced Fitness Professionals (4)

  7. Yoga (8)

  8. Personal training (9)

  9. Fitness programs for older adults (11)

10. Functional fitness (12)

11. Exercise and weight loss (10)

12. Exercise is Medicine (7)

13. Personal training for small groups (14)

14. Outdoor activities (13)

15. Flexibility and mobility rollers (20)

16. Licenses for fitness professionals (new)

17. Circuit Training (19)

18. Wellness coaching (15)

19. Core training (back in the list, out in 2017)

20. Sports Specific Training (Back in List, Out in 2017)

ACSM study

The survey, completed for the 12th time, was sent online to 114.455 fitness professionals and was answered by 4,133 worldwide, the largest group to date. There were 40 potential trends selected by the staff at ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®. Of these, 20 were chosen, ranked and now published.

ACSM has been studying what fitness professionals perceive as stable trends, trends, or fads, new phenomena, which are popular for only a short period of time after which they disappear.

The answers came from almost every continent and included Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Portugal, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Serbia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Taiwan, Switzerland, Jamaica, South Africa, Bermuda, Greece , Ireland, Finland, Kenya, New Zealand, China, Barbados, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.

What is HOT (on the list)?

HIIT, which was also number one in 2014, swapped place with last year’s number 1, wearables.

This year’s surprise is #2, group training / group exercise, which have been hiding under other trends has existed since the list started. Last year it entered the list in 6th place and has now reached 2nd place. Really not a form of training, but an organizational method … for all types of training. The year’s news is License for Fitness Professionals (16), for the first time on the list.

What is NOT (out of list)?

The trends that fell out of this year’s top 20 list include  workplace health promotion (16), smartphone apps (17)  and  outcome measurement (18).
However, some apps may be hiding under wearables (4) and outcome measurement is definitely to be found under personal training (8) (13) and fitness programs for the elderly (9).
Other trends that did not reach the top 20 include boot camps, indoor cycling, pilates, and children’s training to prevent obesity.

At the bottom outside Top 20 are: Fitness social clubs (40), dance cardio (39), pregnancy / after-birth team (38), weightlifting (37), water / aqua (36), walking / running / jogging clubs 35), Pilates (34), on-line training (33), and boutique fitness studios (32). These exist according to ACSM, but with less popularity according to this fitness trend survey.

However, this also depends on who you ask how and in what context: Running is, for example, one of the most popularrecreational exercise activity all over the world (a top 3 modality in my country Denmark).

Weightlifting training has been popular in training centers since the 1960s, and since 2010 especially so due to CrossFit, and is to be found under strength training and personal training and several other trends inn Top 20.

On-line training and boutique fitness (small specialty studies) are popular, but compared to the other trends with too little a percentage to be on the list. That online training is less prevalent in fitness centers (fitness professionals) is not surprising as these programs are typically for home use …


1. High-intensity interval training (3)

High-intensity interval training, HIIT , entered at the number one spot in 2014, second place in 2015 and third place in 2016 and 2017. Still popular despite the fact that several surveyed industry experts warn that it can be risky and cause injuries.

HIIT training consists of short periods of high intensity training followed by short (active) breaks; it typically lasts for 30 minutes. 2-3 workouts per week.

Interval training is very effective and is extremely popular both in sports and fitness. This form of training is also used in health care, e.g. health centers, where physiotherapists use it for patients. One can easily replace high-intensity with moderately intensity interval training.

2. Group exercise (6)

ACSM defines group training or group exercise, as deliberately designed training with (motivational) instruction for groups of five or more participants.
(Small group personal training is described as training for typically 2-4).

Group exercise was last year, 2017, new in Top 20 at 6th place; ACSM mentions classes like aerobics, indoor cycling and [fitness] dance and mentions, that it should be seen as a general trend and not specifically classes like Zumba and other fitness dance activities.

3. Wearables (wearable technology) (1)

The sales of portable measuring equipment, heart rate monitors, fitness trackers, special goggles and textiles a.o. are still increasing and now represents a billion dollar industry, expected sales this year, 1.5 billion US dollars. Wearables include fitness and activity trackers from Misfit, Apple iWatch, Garmin, EFOSMH, Pebble Time, Juboury, Samsung, Basis, Jawbone, Fitbit and Polar.

ACSM found last year that it appears that the back-to-basics philosophy is disappearing. Maybe. Maybe not. Low tech workouts like CrossFit are still very popular and live side by side with high tech gadgets.

4. Bodyweight Training (2)

Bodyweight training did not come onto the list before 2013 (as No. 3) and went to first place in 2015, and then second place in 2016 and 2017.

Although body weight training was first defined as trend, it has been part of strength training for centuries. Modern packaging and smart concepts and novel names – such as calisthenics (an old name) – have increased the popularity with all target groups.

Typical bodyweight training involves no or minimal use of equipment; It’s cheap and efficient training and includes far more than just planks, push-ups and pull-ups. There is a wealth of possibilities, eg with suspension training (TRX training).


5. Strength training (5)

Strength training remains popular in all areas of the health and fitness industry and for many different types of sports. Although strength training has fallen a couple of places down the list over the past  years, it has been a strong trend since the start of the ACSM study.

Today, men and women of all ages do strength training. Both the healthy and those with chronic diseases, which use weight training to develop or maintain strength [related to functional ability].

Also programs associated with cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation or control of metabolic disease include weight training for the patients.

6. Trained, Certified, and Experienced Fitness Professionals (4)

This trend, which is jumping slightly up and down in top 5, and now number 6, has been at the list since the start of the study.

There is still strong growth in the number of educational programs in the US and Europe. More and more public and commercial fitness and health education programs are being offered. In the US, these education programs are even being offered at colleges and universities.

In Europe, the non-profit organization grows the Coalition of Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP), which offers certifications recognized by the European industry organization EuropeActive .

7. Yoga (8)

Yoga  has moved in and out and up and down the trend list: Yoga has moved from No. 10 to No. 7 and back to 10th place, last year 8th and now 7th place.

Yoga has been around for thousands of years, so the reason why yoga has become a ‘trend’, is that in latter years it has gained a broader appeal through positive pr in film and other media.

There are countless forms of yoga. According to ACSM, among others, Power Yoga, Yogalates and Bikram Yoga (Yoga) and Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Anuara Yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Sivananda Yoga.

8. Personal training (9)

Personal training  has been in Top 10 in the ACSM study for the last 10 years. More and more personal trainers start a business, so it has become more common for you to have a personal trainer. Personal trainers work either as an independent operator or affiliated with fitness centers or health centers.

According to the respondents, personal trainers are expected to be an important part of the health and fitness center staff in the future.


9. Fitness programs for the elderly (11)

ACSM encourages health and fitness professionals to take advantage of this exponentially growing market by offering age-related and safe training programs for the aging population.

Active seniors can work out in fitness centers where they can participate in more strenuous exercise programs that include strength training and HIIT.
Weaker elderly can improve their balance and ability to perform everyday activities when participating in appropriate functional fitness activities.

The interest in fitness for seniors has been at the top of Top 20 since the start. And since the “baby boom generation” is now in retirement age and has more money to spend than other target groups, fitness centers should service this growing market.


10. Functional fitness (12)

Functional fitness  can cover many types of programs. From simple exercises that simulate everyday activities to training for improving sports performance. 

ACSM defines functional fitness as: “Strength training in order to enhance balance, coordination, power, power and stamina to improve one’s ability to perform daily activities.”

Functional fitness first appeared in the 2007 survey, like No. 4, and has moved up and down the list since then.

According to the survey respondents, they often connect functional fitness with fitness programs for the elderly (Trend # 9) depending on the client’s needs. Functional fitness is also used in treatment programs to simulate activities in the home.

11. Training and weight loss (10)

The combination of exercise and weight loss is a trend that includes weight loss programs with emphasis on calorie restriction along with a sensible exercise program.

Training and weight loss programs has been a trend since the study started and has moved up and down the list; the last three years as No. 6, No. 9 and No. 10.

The combination of exercise and nutrition is essential for weight maintenance and can improve retention in diets with calorie limitation and weight loss programs. Many known diets integrate training in addition to healthy meals.

Woman Stepping onto Scale --- Image by © Royalty-Free / Corbis

12. Exercise is Medicine (7)

Exercise is Medine®, EIM is a global ACSM health initiative aimed at encouraging GPs and other health professionals to include physical activity in their treatment plans for patients. Physical activity and exercise can prevent, cure or relieve at least 32 different iseases.

13. Personal training for groups (14)

Small group personal training continues as a popular trend in 2018. Personal trainers will continue to provide the personal service expected by customers, and increasingly more often with small groups of 2-4 [5] persons.

It enables discounts for each member of the group and creates an incentive to form small [training] groups. Training for two or three persons at the same time is economically advantageous for both the coach and the coach.

14. Outdoor activities (13)

Outdoor activities, outdoor sports and outdoor activities include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, games and sports. Outdoor activities can also include adventure-like activities, camping and rock climbing.

This recent trend in fitness, that fitness and health professionals offer outdoor activities for customers, emerged in 2010 as No. 25 in the survey.

Outdoor activities – including outdoor fitness – can be performed with family and friends, together with a group or on your own – and is highly popular in bootcamp programs and personal training.


15. Flexibility and mobility rollers (20)

Foam rollers a.o. deep tissue rollers, are designed to massage, reduce muscle tightness and muscle spasms, increase circulation, reduce muscle fatigue and assist in return to normal activity after injury. This trend includes so-called myofascial release and trigger point relief.

The rollers are often used for the legs, hips and upper back. Some rollers are made of foam, foam rollers, others hard rubber depending on the desired effect.

Foam rolling has been known since 2000, but only in recent years has the phenomenon emerged in fitnesscentres and continues to spread.
Activities and tools that increase mobility are an important trend.

16. Fitness Instructor License (New)

Some professions in the United States and around the world are regulated by licenses. For example, a person can not call himself a doctor or nurse or physiotherapist or dietician without having the relevant training (or in certain states / countries a license). This is a trend in the fitness industry for creating better programs, certifications and professional frameworks for fitness professionals such as personal trainers.

17. Circuit Training (19)

Circuit training first appeared on the list in 2013 as No. 18, and has since moved up and down.

Circuit training is a series of 6-10 [9-12] exercises that are performed sequentially in a predetermined order. Each exercise is performed a number of times or for a certain period of time before taking a short break [or no break] and moving on to the next exercise.

According to ACSM, some survey respondents note that circuit training corresponds to high-intensity interval training, but at a lower intensity.
However, this is a bit of a misunderstanding. There is a marked difference between circuit (minimal/no rest-pause) and interval training (rest-pause essential).

18. Wellness coaching (15)

Wellness coaching has been on the Top 20 list since 2010 and integrates knowledge of behavioral change with health promotion, disease prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Wellness coaching often involves one-on-one coaching and the coach provides support, guidance and encouragement. The Wellness Coach focuses on the client’s values, needs, visions and goals.

According to the current study and results from previous studies, more personal trainers seem to gradually offer wellness coaching based on behavioral changes (habit change).

19. Core training (back on list)

Core training is about strengthening the stabilizing muscles in the centre of the body; especially the abdomen and low back.
Core training typically includes exercises for the lower back and abdominal muscles and hips, which provide stability around the spine.

Strengthening the core muscles creates overall stability in the body and transmits power to the limbs so that it is better equipped to meet the demands of everyday activities and sports.

Core training often involves the use of equipment such as stability balls, BOSUs and balance boards [popular activities, but not on list] as well as foam rollers.

From 2007 to 2010, core training was found among the Top 5 fitness trends.
Since 2010, core training has been moved down the list to No. 19. (2016), back in 2017, back at No. 19. (2018).

It is worth noting that core training is also part of:
Body Weight Training (4), Strength Training (5) and Functional Fitness (10), as well as in several of the other programs, core training is still a stable trend.


20. Sports-specific training (back on list)

Sports-specific training has moved up and down and in and out of the list. According to ACSM, it is a trend that includes sports-specific training for sports such as baseball and tennis, designed especially for young athletes.

It is an interesting trend for the fitness industry to keep an eye on over the next few years, despite the fact that the popularity according to the survey has moved up and down.

Sports-specific training can potentially attract a brand new, or under-serviced market, for commercial and community-based clubs, as well as offering a different kind of offer that can lead to increased revenue.

In Denmark, many sports clubs collaborate with fitness centres offering sport-specific training for sports such as handball, soccer, ice hockey, tennis, badminton and skiing.



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