Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2023 : ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal
Thompson, Walter R. Ph.D., FACSM
Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM,is a recently retired associate dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the College of Education & Human Development at Georgia State University and a regents' professor emeritus in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, the Department of Nutrition, the Department of Physical Therapy, and the School of Public Health. He also is the executive director emeritus of After-School All-Stars Atlanta, a comprehensive after-school program for at-risk middle school-aged children. He is a former president of ACSM.
Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.
The annual ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® worldwide survey to determine industry trends by health and fitness professionals is now in its 17th consecutive year. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly made an impact on the 2021 survey and continued for 2022, but for 2023, some current trends are emerging whereas others are weakening because of the world's recovery from the isolation caused by COVID-19. The #1 trend for 2023, as it was for 2022, is wearable technology. Home exercise gyms was #2 for 2022 but has dropped to #13 for 2023. Fitness programs for older adults will make a comeback in 2023, breaking the top 10 at #4. Functional fitness training, a popular form of exercise for the older adult, is the #5 trend for 2023.
From this article, the reader should understand the following concepts:
• Explain the differences between a fitness fad and a fitness trend
• Use the worldwide fitness trends in the commercial, corporate, clinical (including medical fitness), and community health and fitness industry to further promote physical activity
• Study expert opinions about identified fitness trends for 2023
The results of this year's survey could very well be titled "postpandemic recovery impacts the fitness industry" or "what happened to online training and home gyms"? During the COVID-19 era of quarantine, face coverings, social distancing, and health club closures, fitness professionals turned in an impressive way to an online delivery of fitness programming. In fact, the 2021 survey placed online training as the #1 trend. It fell to #9 for 2022 and now is out of the top 20 at the #21 position. Online personal training went from #17 for 2022 to #26 for 2023. Home exercise gyms was #2 for 2022 dropping to #13 for 2023. The health and fitness industry is returning to the basics, with strength training with free weights the #2 trend, body weight training as the #3 trend, and functional fitness training as the #5 trend for 2023. Fitness programs for older adults was the #4 trend for 2023. As it has for the past 17 years, the results outcome of this annual survey helps health and fitness professionals make critical business decisions for future growth and development. These investments can be based on emerging trends that have been identified by health and fitness professionals all over the world instead of basing these decisions on the latest exercise infomercials found on television, social media, or the next hottest celebrity endorsing a product.
For the last 17 years, the editors of this Journal (HFJ) have developed and circulated an electronic survey sent to thousands of professionals around the world to predict trends in the health and fitness industry for the following year. The author is grateful to all those who have contributed to the success of these surveys through the years (see sidebar).
The author wishes to recognize and thank those who have participated in the creation and maintenance of ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends through the years, especially the following:
Past Editors-in-Chief Ed Howley, Ph.D., FACSM, and Steven Keteyian, Ph.D., FACSM, for considering this project important enough to include in this Journal more than a decade ago, and to current Editor-in-Chief Brad Roy, Ph.D., FACSM, for continuing the tradition.
This Journal's editorial team, especially those who contributed to the original survey in 2006: Paul Couzelis, Ph.D.; John Jakicic, Ph.D., FACSM; Nico Pronk, Ph.D., FACSM; Mike Spezzano, M.S.; Neal Pire, M.A., FACSM; Jim Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM; Melinda Manore, Ph.D., R.D., FACSM; Cary Wing, Ed.D.; Reed Humphrey, Ph.D., P.T., FACSM; and Steve Tharrett, M.S.
Associate Editor-in-Chief Paul M. Gallo, Ed.D., FACSM, and the Fitness Trends Working Group of Vanessa Kercher, Ph.D., FACSM, ACSM-EP, M.Ed.; Kyle Kercher, Ph.D., M.S., ACSM-EP; Trevor Bennion, DHSc; and Paul Levy, M.P.H.
The ACSM staff who have supported this study by assisting in the construction, formatting, analysis, and delivery of it to thousands of fitness professionals around the world. In particular, the author recognizes the important contributions of Francis Neric, Kela Webster, Heather Drake, Katie Feltman, and especially to Lori Tish, who has tirelessly worked on this survey since it first launched in 2006.
This survey guides health and fitness programming efforts for 2023 and beyond. The first survey (1), conducted in 2006 (for predictions in 2007), introduced a systematic way to forecast trends. These surveys have been conducted annually since that time (2–16) using the same methodology. Because this is a survey of trends (and not fads), respondents were asked to first make an especially important distinction between a "fad" and a "trend."
Trend: "a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving" (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/trend).
Fad: "a style, activity, or interest that is very popular for a short period of time" (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fad).
These annual ACSM Worldwide Surveys of Fitness Trends are used extensively in the commercial (usually for-profit companies), clinical (including medical fitness centers), community (typically not for profits), and corporate divisions of the health and fitness industry. They not only continue to confirm previously recognized trends but also identify new, emerging trends, along with COVID-19–related developments that appeared for the first time in 2021, continued for 2022, and seem to be resolving (or at least changing) for 2023. The fitness trends survey purposefully does not attempt to evaluate products, services, equipment, gym apparatus, hardware, software, tools, or other exercise devices that may appear in clubs or recreation centers or show up in television infomercials or on social media. The potential market impact of new equipment, an exercise device, or program is not evaluated by this survey.
The survey is designed to confirm or to introduce the latest trends that will have a perceived impact according to the international respondents. Higher ranked trends identified in earlier surveys would predictably appear for several years whereas fads may emerge but will expectedly drop off the list in subsequent years. The information provided in this survey is left entirely up to the readers to determine if it fits their own business model, and how to best use the information for potential market expansion.
The health and fitness industry should carefully consider and thoughtfully apply this information to its own unique setting. Commercial health clubs (the largest sector of the industry) can use these results for the establishment (or the justification) of potential new markets, which may result in increased and more sustainable revenue drivers. Corporate wellness programs and medical fitness centers will find these results useful through potential increases in service to their members and to their patients. Community-based programs can use these results to justify investments in their markets by providing expanded programs typically serving families and children.
Every attempt was made to replicate the survey delivery as in the past 17 years. For the 2023 survey, there were 42 possible trends. Top-rated trends from previous years were included in the survey, as were potentially emerging trends identified by the editors of this Journal. The editors represent practitioners from all four sectors of the health and fitness industry (corporate, clinical, community, commercial), as well as from academia. In the survey, potential trends were identified followed by a brief explanation to offer the respondents a few details without inconveniencing them with too much reading, analysis, or interpretation. The survey was designed to be completed in approximately 15 minutes. As an incentive to participate in the survey, the editors made available to 10 randomly selected winners, fitness-related books published by Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and Human Kinetics and a $100 MasterCard gift card.
As in the past, the survey was constructed using a Likert-type scale ranging from a low score of 1 (least likely to be a trend) to a high score of 10 (most likely to be a trend). After each scoring opportunity, additional space was provided for comments. At the survey conclusion, a place for the respondent to include comments or to list potential fitness trends left off the list to be considered for future surveys, as well as some anonymous demographic information, was included. Using SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com), the online survey was sent to 125,940 people including more than 32,000 ACSM certified professionals, those who registered to attend the 2022 ACSM's International Health & Fitness Summit, the Certification email opt-in list, ACSM Alliance members, ACSM professional members who have added an HFJ subscription, nonmember HFJ subscribers, HFJ associate editors, and HFJ Editorial Board members. A link also was provided on the HFJ web site and on various social media sites including the HFJ Twitter page, the ACSM Journal's Facebook page, and ACSM's Instagram page. The survey response total was 3,735. The response rate was 3%, which is comparable with previous years.
Responses were received from almost every continent, including the countries of Australia, Brazil, Barbados, Canada, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and the United States, among many others. Demographics of the survey respondents included 58% females (41% males) across a wide variability in ages (Figure 1), with 55% of all respondents having more than 10 years of industry experience (Figure 2) and 29% with more than 20 years of experience. More than 37% of the survey respondents earned an annual salary of more than $50,000, which included more than 7% who earned at least $100,000 a year (Figure 3). Respondents identified their occupations (Table 1), with 20% indicating that they were full-time or part-time personal trainers. Figure 4 shows where respondents work, with 33% indicating they were in private practice, or they owned their own business. Figure 5 specifies the broad range of certifications held by the survey respondents (23% reported not having a certification). When asked if they worked full-time or part-time (Figure 6), 64% indicated full-time and 28% part-time (less than 20 hours/week).
The top 20 fitness trends for 2023 are described in this report. For a comparison of the top 10 trends from the past 17 years' surveys (1–16), please see the comprehensive comparison table available online (available at https://links.lww.com/FIT/A288). The 2023 survey results (Table 2) reveal potential trends as defined in the survey. It is not unusual for potential trends to drop out of the top 20, and later to be labeled as a fad. New to the top 20 trends for 2023 include the #4 trend, fitness programs for older adults, the #5 trend, functional fitness training, and #9, employing certified fitness professionals. Online live and on-demand exercise classes was #26 for 2020, #1 for 2021, but has fallen to #21 for 2023. Dropping from #2 for 2022 to #13 for 2023 is home exercise gyms. Continuing out of the top 20 from 2022 include worksite health promotion and workplace well-being (#18 for 2020, #27 for 2021, #28 for 2022, and now #30), children and exercise (#20 for 2020, #28 for 2021, #29 for 2022, and #31 for 2023), and outcomes measures (#20 for 2021, #22 for 2022, and #29 for 2023).
Dropping out of the top 20 for 2023 were online live and on-demand exercise classes (from #9 to #21) and online personal training (from #17 to #26). New survey entries for 2023 were balance and stabilization training (#23), stretch-based training (#36), plyometric training (#38), virtual reality exercise training (#41), and medicine ball training (#42). Because of their lack of support in the industry in 2022, left off the 2023 survey were low-cost and budget gyms (#31), mind-body movement (#36), boutique fitness studios (#38), boot camp-style programs (#39), post-COVID recovery programs (#40), and blood flow restriction training (#43). Those trends receiving the least support in the 2023 survey include resistance band training, worker incentive programs, long-term youth development, stretch-based training, Pilates, plyometric training, dance-based workouts, aquatic exercise, virtual reality exercise training, and medicine ball training. Postpublication commentary on these results is always interesting, with one group or another arguing that their interest is a popular trend. Readers of this survey must understand that regional popularity does not always translate as an international trend.
Online training went from the #26 trend in 2020 to the #1 trend for 2021, likely because of a shift in the fitness market from clubs to homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it then dropped to the #9 spot for 2022 and #21 for 2023 as the world returns to prepandemic social interactions and exercise activities. Wearable technology has again taken the #1 spot in the global rankings, the same as 2019 and 2020. High-intensity interval training, the #1 trend in 2014 and 2018, has dropped slightly since, yet remains a consistently popular trend at #7 for both 2022 and 2023. Group exercise training made a significant return in 2017 as the #6 trend and was the #2 trend for both 2018 and 2019, #3 for 2020, fell to #17 in 2021, #20 for 2022, and now #14, possibly because of the rebounding effects of crowd avoidance caused by COVID-19. Popular low-cost exercise program delivery of strength training with free weights (#2), body weight training (#3), core training (#11), and circuit training (#12) seem to indicate that health clubs are emphasizing the basics. Fitness programming aimed at older adults had regained some popularity after falling out of the top 10 trends in 2017, appeared as #9 in 2018, #4 for 2019, #8 for 2020, #9 for 2021, #11 for 2022, and now #4 for 2023. Functional fitness training, which is popular among older adults, ranked #14 in 2022 and is now #5 for 2023. The COVID-19–related pivots seen in 2021 and 2022 including online live and on-demand exercise classes and online personal training have fallen out of the top 20 fitness trends for 2023.
ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends is now in its 17th consecutive year, with this being perhaps one of the more critical years because of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, the return to some form of normalcy within the industry, and shifting health club business models. The survey was designed to help and support the health and fitness industry when making critical programming and business decisions to capture additional business into the future, and maybe even to stay in business after these turbulent years. The results of this survey are relevant to all four sectors of the health and fitness industry (commercial for-profit clubs, clinical or medical fitness programs, corporate wellness programs, and community-based not-for-profit fitness programs). Although no one can accurately predict the future of any industry, this survey helps to track trends that assist owners, operators, program directors, and health and fitness professionals with making their important business and program decisions.
Commercial; Clinical; Corporate; Community; Expert Opinions; Future ProgramsWalter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, Disclosure Trend: Fad: 1. Wearable Technology 2. Strength Training With Free Weights 3. Body Weight Training 4. Fitness Programs for Older Adults 5. Functional Fitness Training 6. Outdoor Activities 7. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) 8. Exercise for Weight Loss 9. Employing Certified Fitness Professionals 10. Personal Training 11. Core Training 12. Circuit Training 13. Home Exercise Gyms 14. Group Training 15. Exercise is Medicine 16. Lifestyle Medicine 17. Yoga 18. Licensure for Fitness Professionals 19. Health/Well-Being Coaching 20. Mobile Exercise Apps Keywords: