As the Fitness Director at the University of South Carolina, I am always looking for future advancements in fitness in order to ensure our facility is ahead of the curve. Being ahead of the curve provides better amenities for the members and, through increased attendance and/or programming, has the potential to bring in additional revenue through the utilization of outdated/unused spaces. The gamble, however, lies in the potential that a new fad could fizzle out in a year or two, after you have invested in it.
Understanding the differences between a fad and a trend can help protect against the possibility of having a graveyard of underutilized equipment, due to classes with low enrollment. This distinction is important in order to ensure that the facility is properly using its budget and that the students who are intimidated by the gym may find comfort in a popular exercise regimen that they have read about and believe is entirely effective. The words “trend” and “fad” are commonly used interchangeably in the world of fitness, but there is a big difference between these two terms: trends have a much longer lifespan than fads, and trends actually have the potential to be long-term influencers on the fitness market. The ability to distinguish between the two could be the difference in a continued successful space and space set aside for useless equipment.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) releases an annual list of the “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends” for the upcoming year. The top three trends of 2017, in order, were wearable technology, body-weight training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Due to the high value of on-campus real estate, most campus recreation facilities have one or more racquetball courts (or other small areas) that they have thought about converting into something that would result in an increased profit for their facility. But what should one actually do with a 40 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet high racquetball court that sits empty the majority of the day? Using ACSM’s survey of trends, let’s see if this space could be utilized in some unconventional but profitable ways.
HIIT broke into the fitness scene rapidly and debuted at number one on ACSM’s list in 2014. Since then, it has held a spot in the top three each year. Alternatively, body-weight training ranked third in 2013, peaked at number one in 2015 (until wearable technology bumped it to number two), and has stayed in the number two position since then; suspension training bodyweight classes that use ropes and bands single-handedly keep body-weight training ranked so high on the ACSM’s annual list. One must wonder if their racquetball court would be better suited as a functional training room or high-intensity training area.
According to ACSM’s 2017 survey, indoor cycling, balance training, and stability ball exercises are gradually decreasing in popularity in the health and fitness industry. Although they are still popular amongst some gym-goers, these exercises will not act as catalysts for the next new fitness trend. Even though group fitness classes have recently risen in popularity, those previously mentioned formats are not the ones causing this increase in attendance. Gym patrons looking to get the best bang for their buck turn to larger exercise classes led by an instructor to get a motivating and efficient workout. Specifically, yoga has been a mainstay on the top trends list, and in 2017 yoga jumped up to number eight on the ACSM’s list. One must wonder if the enclosed and commonly empty racquetball courts could double as a room for a yoga class.
Now there’s the once-popular strength training circuit idea. It seems perfect: You can fit approximately fifteen strength training machines in a room and provide an area for people to get a quick workout. This has most famously been advertised as achieving your workout “in less than 30 minutes!” Circuit training did still reach number nineteen on the ACSM’s top 20 trends, however, the popularity of this style of training has declined consistently in recent years. Curves International, the most popular commercial circuit training gym, reportedly fell from around 8,000 facilities in 2006 to less than 1,000 in 2017.
Five years ago, no one was talking about wearable technology in relation to fitness. Fitness trackers, smart watches, smart fabrics and interactive textiles are the start of the fitness “technology” era that is destined to boom soon. Brainstorming potential future trends can help put your facility in the spotlight, but it can also be risky based on the high number of promising fads that fizzle quickly.
For fun, let’s take another step further into a future where you exercise in rooms that manipulate gravity. Increasing gravity’s force will provide resistance to the whole body, potentially resulting in society where barbells are deemed useless. One could crank up the G’s and feel gravity pulling them down while they squat instead of loading a bar on their back. Alternatively, anyone could go for a run while floating in an environment with near zero gravitational force; training cardiovascular fitness while avoiding impact on your body. In this future, the majority of your fitness facility might just be racquetball court rooms equipped to manipulate gravitational force. While this situation probably does not pinpoint how gyms in the future will operate, having the wherewithal to see how situations like these apply to the modern-day gym could be the difference between an empty racquetball court and an eye-catching new addition to your facility.
Thompson WR. Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2017. ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal: November/December 2016. 20:6, 8–17.
The Future of Working Out? Take A Look at The Gym Equipment of Tomorrow. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/23/the-future-of-working-out-gym-equipment-of-tomorrow_n_4149164.html.
Michael Lagomarsine, MS, CSCS, USAW, is the Fitness Director, University of South Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.