January 27, 2011 at 11:18 am EDT | by Kevin M. Norris
Trends triumph, fads fade

Pilates, which has waned in popularity, was more of a fitness fad than a trend, though that doesn't nullify its health benefits. (stock photo)

Every year since 2007, industry leader the American College of Sports Medicine has been conducting a survey among fitness professionals to determine the most widespread exercise and fitness trends in the health and fitness industry. The survey results in the top 20 predicted worldwide fitness trends that generally have health clubs and equipment manufacturers taking notice and making adaptations to support this valuable information.

What’s the difference between a fad and a trend? Fads are short lived and can often take the general population by storm. The fitness industry tends to avoids fads and looks to a trend that will sustain in the long run and avoid the stigma of being labeled a fad as fads often come and go quickly.

The College defines a trend as “general development or continued change in the way people are behaving” versus a fad described as “a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period.”

Trends are long-term changes or evolutions that fitness companies base their product development on and group exercise professionals will base their type of exercise classes upon.

So why is it important to distinguish between fads and trends particularly in relation to exercise options? Because generally fads as related to exercise tend be geared to quick fixes with often under-researched or unproven research. Fads are wide-eyed claims if you will. Whereas trends are more sustainable over time and often increases in popularity. Trends also tend to be more thoroughly evidence based.

Two popular fads were the no-carb diet, and spot-reduction exercises, both of which support little scientific evidence. A good example of a trend is the treadmill, which has been popular and effective for decades. The elliptical machine, while not as popular, is another trend. And strength training has been a consistent trend for years.

For the sake of brevity, I will not list the top 20 trends for 2011, but rather touch upon the ones that have been on the list for the past four to five years. The survey can be read in its entirety on the College web site at acsm.org.

The number one fitness trend four years in a row is “educated and experienced fitness professionals,” good news once more for the consumer. The number five spot goes specifically to personal training.  Respondents to the survey believe that personal trainers are here to stay and will continue to be an important part of the professional staff of health and fitness centers.

What this translates into is that more individuals will be certified fitness professionals through national accredited third-party organizations of health, fitness and clinical professionals. Also, it is projected that there will be exponential growth of health and fitness programs at community colleges, undergraduate and graduate programs.

According to Recreation Management Magazine, “the optimum workout involves cardio, strength training and flexibility training. All three of these components make for a comprehensive full-body workout.”

Strength training is number three on the list for 2011 and has been on the list and growing in popularity for the past few years.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (health.gov/paguidelines) indicates that adults should engage in muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week. Strength training has been emphasized as a crucial component of an effective well-rounded exercise program for years.

“Boot camp,” “core conditioning,” “children and chesty” and “fitness programs for older adults” all fall within the top 10 fitness trends for 2011. While all of these have been on the top 20 list for a few years, fitness programs for the older adults jumped from number six to number two. This upswing can be attributable to the baby boom generation aging into retirement and having more discretionary income. Both the U.S. Government (chapter five of the Guidelines) and the College publish tips for the older adults and can be downloaded on their respective websites.

Boot camp jumped significantly from number 16 to number eight. Boot camps are generally designed for the more experienced exercises, but various levels are often available.

So what fell out of popularity? Pilates. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pilates and it has proven core conditioning and strengthening elements, but according to this survey it did not make the top 20 after being at number nine last year. A possible explanation, according to the Personal Training Business School “is that perhaps Pilates was a fad and not a trend at all.” Next year’s survey will either embrace Pilates as a trend once again or relegate it to the fad category.

Fads are certainly OK to try, but I think the more tried and true trends that offer the most results are the way to go for a successful health and fitness program.

Over the course of the next few months I will tap more into this survey and focus on the other trends for 2011.

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