Fitness fads come and go (remember Shakeweight?), but the real trends show the evolution of exercise. Here’s what we think will be hot in fitness for the coming year, and beyond.
1. All-in-One Fitness Wearables
Worldwide sales of wearable devices went up 163 percent in 2015 over 2014, and is expected to keep climbing, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker. With so much demand, the race is on for manufacturers to get as many possibly sensors into a wrist-based tracker as possible to capture all sorts of biometrics. Heart-rate monitoring and GPS are becoming as mainstream as step counters and accelerometers.
Indeed, Garmin, Polar, and TomTom have added activity tracking to their new running watches, as fitness tracker companies like Fitbit have worked in the athlete-focused GPS capabilities. The new Microsoft Band 2 even includes a barometer for measuring changes in elevation, and a UV sensor to alert you to put on sunblock.
2. Heart-Rate Monitor Madness
The craze to listen to your heart extends beyond personal monitoring and into the fitness classroom. A number of boutique studios and even mainstream gyms provide all participants with a heart rate monitor to encourage zone-training. Orangetheory fitness has exploded across the country, capitalizing on the popularity of combo workouts with sessions including bouts of indoor rowing, treadmill training, and weights. Similar boutique facilities from coast to coast include Afterburn Studio in Rocklin, CA and ZONE5 Fitness in Boston, MA.
Heart-rate monitoring pioneer Polar launched its Polar Club program in 2015 as a solution for gyms to include start-of-the-art heart-rate training in group fitness classes, enhancing their value. So far, Polar Club classes can be found in over 200 gyms and other locations nationwide.
“I see more and more men seeking these total conditioning workouts, and not just one where they can “bulk up,” which many group fitness classes provide,” says Robert Aguirre, Orangetheory Fitness' regional trainer for the Houston market. “Just because the workout is in a group setting, doesn’t mean it will not be a great workout that can get you the results you want.”
3. Back to the Basics
Good ole bodyweight training is making a huge comeback, according to the fitness experts surveyed in the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual fitness trends poll. Not that pushups, situps, and pullups ever really went out of style—they just never were stylish, until now. “You're now seeing a return to more 'basic' bodyweight movements that, when programmed smartly, are super effective and creative,” says Mike Donavanik, a celebrity trainer based in Los Angeles and FitFusion.com fitness instructor.
There’s even a World Calisthenics Organization, founded just a few years ago, that now hosts the Battle of the Bars, a baddass gymnastics-like competition showcasing the strongest, most agile bodyweight athletes on earth, demonstrating their skills at lifting, holding, and hurtling their bodies on an adult jungle gym. “Think exercises like muscle-ups, handstands, front and back levers, planche, along with more freestyle moves like 360's, neck holds, and spins,” says Chris Cooper, personal trainer and owner of Active Movement and Performance in Long Island, NY.
4. Retailers as Fitness Coaches
Athletic apparel and running retailers have offered free in-store classes and local group runs for a while, and why not: It’s a great cross-promotional opportunity with local fitness clubs and breeds brand loyalty. What’s new is the extent to which the retailers are inserting themselves into shoppers’ fitness lives, even becoming replacement gyms, all at no cost (aside from consumers’ potential sense of obligation to buy products, that is).
In November 2015, Athleta opened a full-on studio in its NYC store in the Flatiron district, offering up to five classes a day, all totally free. The next day, a new flagship Lululemon store opened in the same neighborhood, featuring a concierge to help you book classes at local studios, a community board to learn more about area fitness happenings, and a second-floor space, Hub Seventeen, for hosting free group fitness classes, wellness events, and more. These follow in the footsteps of Nike, which opened a women-only studio in its Newport Beach, CA store in fall 2014.
Options abound for outdoor exercise, as well. The Nike+ Run Club is now in 18 cities across the country, at which top coaches and pacers take you through runs and bootcamp-style workouts. And REI’s Learn initiative offers classes for both how to use your new equipment and fitness to get you there. They have both gear classes (how to pitch a tent, use snowshoes, navigate the wilderness, etc.) but also fitness classes that help you train to build the right muscles, flexibility, and movement patterns to get better at your chosen outdoorsy sport.
5. Butt-Kicking Workouts
That is, workouts that actually teach you to kick some butt, inspired by boxing, MMA, and martial arts, will be huge in 2016. Thanks in part to the hugely popular Ronda Rousey and 2015’s high-grossing movie The Avengers, martial arts are having a moment. It’s no wonder: not only do you learn self-defense skills, you get an incredible metabolic workout that improves coordination, balance, and power.
Mainstays like krav maga (the Israeli martial art) and taekwondo are seeing an uptick in membership while boutique studios, like Shadowbox NYC, are capitalizing on the fighting spirit, but without contact (or bruises). “Workouts that incorporate boxing, kickboxing, MMA, and other fighting styles have seen a recent increase in popularity among everyday gym goers,” says Dejuana Richardson, trainer for NYC’s Asphalt Green, which recently opened a dedicated martial arts studio at its Battery Park City location.
6. Wellness Tourism Boom
A recent industry report found that wellness tourism—vacations, resorts, and hotels that offer fitness and spa services—is growing over 50% faster than overall tourism. Business at fitness- and healthy-eating focused EVEN Hotels northeast locations is booming so much so that this year luxury health club brand Equinox announced plans to start its own hotel chain.
Traditional properties are also getting in on the act: Fairmont Hotels’ Fairmont Fit and Westin Hotels’ Move Well programs led the charge a couple years back in offering gear-lending programs and a Run Concierge to help visiting runners find local routes. Various Kimpton Hotels locations have partnered with local fitness studios to offer on-site fitness classes, and boutique properties such as The Buccaneer in St. Croix, USVI and Ritz Carlton-owned Penha Longa Resort in Sintra, Portugal keep fitness personnel on-staff for on-demand personal training and run-coaching.
7. Functional Fitness (Still)
Another highlight from the ACSM survey, functional training is also seeing a boost, thanks in part to renewed interest in bodyweight training. The buzzy term simply means training for function, as in to improve strength, coordination, and balance for activities of daily life as well as more specialized functions, such as conquering a mud run.
"The versatile nature of functional training systems allow exercisers to develop an unlimited amount of workouts that will best target the core, coordination, and movement needs,” says Erica Tillinghast, personal trainer and Global Education Manager for Precor.
Fusion classes that include both functional movements and cardio—such as treadmill running, cycling, or rowing—at studios such as Barry’s Bootcamp will continue to trend as they provide well-rounded workouts.
8. New Home Cardio Options
Move over, Elliptical, roll away, Treadmill, and step aside, Stairclimber. There’s a new kid making his move to your home gym, and his name is Alternative Motion. These machines—with their suspended pedals that are supposed to mimic running and/or stair climbing with the non-impactfulness of the elliptical—have been cropping up in gyms for several years and making fans of those who like the more natural movement without the pounding.
Now they’re poised a splash at home, with four major companies making introductions in the last year. The NordicTrack Free Stride, Octane Fitness Zero Runner, Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer, and Life Fitness FlexStrider (the first three of which were reviewed recently by Consumer Reports) can be all yours, with no lines or waiting—for a four or five-figure price tag.
9. Online Fitness
Streaming workout video services aren’t new. What is: the breadth of value-added options that services are touting in order to differentiate from each other in a very saturated market, and to compete for your cash against totally free options, like YouTube and Instagram.
The latest innovations: LiveStreamingFitness.com offers exactly what its name says—classes that stream live, on a daily schedule, along with interaction with trainers to answer your questions and provide modifications for less than $10 a month. On FitnessBlender.com, you’ll find all its workout videos for free, and can pay for plans ($10 each) that guide you on how to put the programs together to reach your goals. BooyaFitness.com is like the Netflix of boutique fitness, relying on names like DavidBarton Gym and Broga to draw users behind the about-$10-per-month curtain.
10. Spaces for Work and Workouts
With more and more people working as independent contractors or with flexible schedules, co-working spaces no longer just serve as an office option for freelancers to scrape themselves off their couch or their perch at a local coffee shop—they’re now aiming to motivate you to actually move.
Spots like MOVE Coworking in Cincinnati and Shift Workspaces in Denver (which is soon to expand to three area locations) have set themselves up as co-working spaces with in-house gyms and classes for workout work breaks. Some more traditional co-working spaces, such as WeWork, bring in instructors to teach yoga or other fitness classes.
And on the flipside, there’s the gym-with-office-space concept pioneered by the northeast rock-climbing gym Brooklyn Boulders, which designed co-working spaces into its facilities in Queens, Chicago, Somerville, MA and is currently retrofitting its original Brooklyn location.