This annual survey is now in its seventh consecutive year.  The 2013 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends asked respondents to first make the important distinction between a “fad” and a “trend.” A trend has been described as “a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving”. The definition of trend includes the phrase “general development” as opposed to fad, which is described as “a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period,” which is the definition of a fad.


There were 37 possible trends in the 2013 survey. To create a balance, the editors represent all four sectors of the health and fitness industry (corporate, clinical, community, commercial), as well as academia. In the survey, potential trends were first identified, and then short explanations were written to offer the respondent a few details without inconveniencing them with too much reading, analysis, or interpretation. The survey was designed to be completed in less than 15 minutes.

After the 3-week window of opportunity had been completed, 3,346 responses were received, which represent an excellent return rate of 11%. Responses were received from just about every continent, including Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, North America, and South America. Some specific countries included the United States, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Italy, and Russia. Demographics of the survey respondents included 67% female across a wide variability in age and 48% having more than 10 years of experience in the industry. Almost 37% of the survey respondents earned more than $50,000 annually, which included 5% who earned more than $100,000 a year. Respondents were asked to identify their occupations, and 24% indicated that they were full-time or part-time personal trainers, and only seven people reported to be unemployed.

1. Educated, Certified, and Experienced Fitness Professionals 

Holding on to the no.1 spot for the last 6 years, this is a trend that continues and drives the need for education and certification programs that are fully accredited by national third-party accrediting organizations for health and fitness and clinical exercise program professionals. There seems to be an exponential growth of educational programs at community colleges, undergraduate programs, and graduate programs at registered training organisations, colleges and universities, They go on to say “As businesses and insurance organizations continue to recognize the benefits of health and fitness programs for their employees, incentives to join gyms or other fitness facilities will increase the need for workers in these areas.” It has become clear that in this still sluggish economy, as the market for fitness professionals becomes even more crowded and more competitive; more regulation either from within the industry or from external sources (i.e., government) is needs with more and more health clubs address the issue of standardized facility practices. Fitness Australia and Service Skills Australia brings various industry initiatives and the public together to resolve the issues of facility standards (i.e., the characteristics of a health and fitness facility). Look for these standards to be adopted by the fitness industry, with a voluntary quality certification program to follow.

2. Strength Training

Strength training remains at the no. 2 position for the second year in a row but has been a strong trend since the first year of this survey. This trend calls for both men and women to incorporate strength training into their exercise routines or to use it as the primary form of exercise. Historically, many clients of both community-based programs and commercial clubs trained exclusively using weights, and there are still those who lift weights for body building. However, today, there are many other individuals (both men and women, young and old, and children) whose main focus is on using weight training to improve or maintain strength. Most health and fitness professionals today incorporate some form of strength training into a comprehensive exercise routine for their clients and for patients with stable diseases. It is not uncommon for cardiac rehabilitation, pulmonary rehabilitation, or metabolic disease management programs to include weight training in the exercise prescription. Strength training remains popular in commercial, community, clinical, and corporate health fitness facilities for many different kinds of clients.

3. Body Weight Training

Appearing for the first time in the trend survey is body weight training.  Body weight training did not appear as an option in previous surveys because it has only now become popular (as a defined trend) in gyms around the world; this is not to say that body weight training has not been used previously. On the contrary, people have been using their own body weights for centuries as a form of resistance training. Packaging it as an exercise program has now made it popular in all kinds of gyms. Body weight training often uses minimal equipment, which makes it an inexpensive way to exercise effectively. Most people think of body weight training as being limited to push-ups and pull-ups, but it can be much more than that. Body weight training may be a trend to watch as more people get “back to the basics.”

4. Children and Obesity

Retaining a spot in the top 10 in this year’s survey is exercise programs aimed specifically at the problem of childhood obesity. The problem with childhood and adolescent obesity continues to be a major health issue in most developed and developing nations. As public school systems continue to face the reality of cutting programs such as physical education and recess to spend more time preparing for standardized testing in a challenging economy, this is a trend toward more programs and a potential new market for commercial and community-based organizations. Health and fitness practitioners see the problem of childhood obesity and its associated co morbidities as an opportunity to positively influence a health issue that not only immediately impacts the health care industry but has an even greater effect on the health of these children as they mature into adults and have families of their own. The health and fitness industry should recognize this chronic health issue and start new programs targeted specifically at these children. Corporate and clinical programs also may see this as an opportunity to develop specialized physical activity programs for children of their staff and clients. Commercial- and community-based programs may find a receptive partner within public and private schools.

5. Exercise and Weight Loss

For many years, weight loss programs have been trying to infuse a regular exercise program into the caloric restriction diets of many popular commercial programs. Most well-publicized diet plans incorporate exercise into their daily routine of providing meals to their clients. The combination of exercise and weight loss is a trend toward incorporating all weight loss programs with a sensible exercise program. This has been a growing trend since the survey began. It appears as though people who are in the business of providing weight loss programs will incorporate regular exercise as well as caloric restriction for weight control. The combination of exercise and diet is essential for weight loss maintenance and can improve compliance to caloric restriction diets and in particular weight loss programs.

6. Fitness Programs for Older Adults

The concern for the health of aging adults has been consistently at the top of the survey. The baby boom generation is now aging into retirement, and because they may have more discretionary money than their younger counterparts, fitness clubs should capitalize on this exponentially growing market. Fitness programs for older adults will remain a strong trend for 2013. It is assumed that people who are retired not only typically have greater sums of discretionary money but they also have a tendency to spend it more wisely and may have more time to engage in an exercise program. Health and fitness professionals can take advantage of this growing population of retired persons by providing age-appropriate exercise programs. The highly active older adult (the athletic old) also can be targeted by commercial and community-based organizations to participate in more rigorous exercise programs, including strength training and team sports. Even the frail elderly can improve his or her ability to perform activities of daily living when provided appropriate functional fitness activities. Health and fitness professionals should consider developing fitness programs for people of retirement age.

7. Personal Training

As more professional personal trainers are educated and become certified (see trend no. 1), they become more accessible to more people in all sectors of the health and fitness industry. Personal trainers are employed by community-based programs, in commercial settings, in corporate wellness programs, and in medical fitness programs. Personal training has been in the top 10 of this survey for the past 7 years. Although there have been some minor variations of personal training (e.g., small groups as opposed to one-on-one), respondents to this survey believe that personal trainers will continue to be an important part of the professional staff of health and fitness centers.

8. Functional Fitness

Functional fitness may be defined as using strength training to improve balance, coordination, force, power, and endurance to improve one’s ability to perform activities of daily living. Functional fitness programs reflect actual activities one might do as a function of daily living. Some of the survey respondents said that there is a relationship between functional fitness and fitness programs for older adults (see trend no. 6). Many exercise programs for the older age group are composed of functional fitness activities. Functional fitness is often used in clinical programs to imitate activities done around the home.

9. Core Training

Core training stresses strength and conditioning of the stabilizing muscles of the abdomen, thorax, and back. It typically includes exercises of the hips, lower back, and abdomen, all of which provide support for the spine and thorax. Exercising the core muscles improves overall stability of the trunk and transfers that to the extremities, enabling the individual to meet the demands of activities of daily living and for the performance of various sports that require strength, speed, and agility. Core training often uses stability balls, BOSU balls, wobble boards, foam rollers, and other pieces of equipment. Some respondents argued that core training may be losing some of its popularity as new forms of exercise are developed. This will be an interesting trend to watch in the next few years.

10. Group Personal Training

This trend allows the personal trainer to continue providing the personal service clients expect but now in a small group of two to four, offering potentially deep discounts to each member of the group. In these continuing challenging economic times when true personal income may be decreasing (and almost certainly discretionary spending), personal trainers must be more creative in the way they package personal training sessions. Training two or three people at the same time in a small group seems to make good economic sense for both the trainer and the client. Group personal training will continue to be popular in 2013.


Some trends were once again embraced (e.g., educated and certified health fitness professionals), whereas others fell out of the top 20, and still others were not supported at all (whole-body vibration, gravity training, activity-based video games, sandbags, kickboxing, and unsupervised and unmonitored fitness facilities). In the top 10 fitness trends for 2013, nine have been on the list in previous years. Appearing for the first time is body weight training.

Reference Information

Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, Department of Kinesiology and Health (College of Education) at Georgia State University and in the Division of Nutrition (Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions)
ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal: November/December 2012 – Volume 16 – Issue 6 – p 8–17 doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000422568.47859.35

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