September 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm EDT | by Kevin M. Norris
Fads vs. trends

It’s always interesting to monitor what the current fads — fleeting popularity contests susceptible to hype and marketing — and trends — longer-lasting waves that tends to have more merit and basis in research and study — are in the fitness world.

A fad can become a trend if enough people deem it worthwhile and stay with it, but most fall out of grace within a year or two when their novelty wears off.

Some of the latest fitness fads are CrossFit, Kettlebell training, P90X, Insanity and pole dancing. It is yet to be seen if any of these exercise modalities will be around long enough to convert to a trend. A few of those deciding factors that will shift a fad to a trend in the fitness world is on whether the fad is evidence based, safe and effective or if it’s a one-trick pony. Also, unsafe or downright dangerous exercise fads or those geared to a small and specific population will often and thankfully disappear. It’s the exercise modalities that engage the general population that tend to become trends.

Trends are the direction in which a fad can move and they last far longer — generally at least a decade. Trends hold far greater merit than fads and garner more wide-spread popularity. Business leaders in the health and fitness industry look more toward investing in trends because of their staying power and ability to produce revenue for longer periods of time.

Fads are viewed as quick fixes and trends as long-term solutions. Quick fixes generally do not work and long term behavioral changes do. This is one of the biggest factors that separate a fad from a trend in the industry.

The American College of Sports Medicine produces the most widely regarded top 20 yearly fitness trends. The ACSM is the premier gold standard association in the health and fitness industry and essentially bridges the gap between the health and fitness industry and the medical and scientific community.

For 2012, the ACSM has some notable differences from 2011 with some trends dropping off the list and several others moving up the ladder.

The only fad to make the list once again that solidifies its trend status is Zumba at number nine. There have not been any other fads to convert in a few years and it will be interesting to see what fads convert to trends in the coming years.

New to the list at number 19 is wellness coaching which should, in my humble prediction, quickly move up the ladder and become a more wide-spread and embraced trend and very much part of the health paradigm.  Exercise is not just about sets and reps, it’s about behavioral changes that supersede the short-lived bout of inspiration. Wellness coaching addresses these elements and embraces health and fitness as lifestyle fundamentals.

Interestingly, both Pilates and Swiss Balls are off the list and Pilates for the second year in a row. Both of these have been trends for more than a decade and it’s important to note that just because a trend is no longer in the top 20, that doesn’t mean it no longer has merit. It can simply mean that is has fallen out of popularity.  Pilates and Swiss Balls have made their impact and will be around for years to come.

Baby boomers and training specifically for older adults are indeed here to stay and have moved up from number five to number three and as most experts will agree, this population will grow and more rapidly over the next 20 years.

Still at number one since 2008 and hopefully stay there is accredited and educated fitness professionals.  Hopefully we have seen the last of weekend-based personal training certifications and with the introduction of third party accreditation associations, our industry will continue garnering wide-spread respect and credibility.  Thankfully personal training is revered as a profession and no longer a hobby.

It’s hard to predict what else is knocking on the fitness trend door. Could it be anti-gravity Yoga, Physique 57 or Piloxing or will CrossFit and kettlebells keep moving up the fad ladder and solidify into a trend? And what about the latest “diet” Paleo that is quickly gaining momentum? It will be interesting to see what prevails and I will keep you abreast in subsequent columns.

I will predict and can stipulate with certainty that dumbbell utensils will not become a trend and will fall by the wayside much like vibration belts and thighmasters. Also “extreme” workouts that are scary to the general population and beyond their ability will lose popularity. This is a good thing because in extreme workouts, most people can’t maintain perfect form and aren’t in total control of the weight, which doesn’t equal successful completion. Let’s see if controversial workouts like CrossFit and weighted box jumps fall from grace.

  • Hey Kevin, I agree with a lot of what you say. The more extreme forms of fitness experiences (Crossfit etc.) may turn into trends for the extreme groups (but not stay on the ACSM’s top 20 list). The risk of injury is way higher for people of average or less than average fitness levels. Like you, I hope any discipline that focuses on facilitating behavioural change will become a long-term trend. This is the only chance most non-exercisers have of changing their ways.

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