January 2019 Issue

Focus on Fitness: Top Trends for 2019
By Jennifer Van Pelt, MA
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 21, No. 1, P. 52

Happy New Year!

This month, I summarize the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) annual survey on the top fitness trends for 2019.1 Each year, the ACSM surveys health and fitness professionals, asking them to rank their top 20 hottest trends for the next year from a list provided to them by the ACSM. The survey's intent is to distinguish trends from fads and flag those trends that may impact the different sectors of the health and fitness industry (eg, commercial, corporate, clinical, and community). This year, the survey included 39 possible choices, including 25 trends from previous years and potentially emerging trends identified by the editors of ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. The survey was sent to more than 37,000 ACSM-certified fitness professionals, attendees of their 2018 conference, professional members, and nonmembers who subscribe to the journal; a link to the survey also was posted on the ACSM's social media sites. Approximately 2,000 responses were collected from respondents worldwide. Demographics of the respondents were as follows:

• Sixty-five percent were female.
• Sixty percent had more than 10 years of experience, and 33% had more than 20 years' experience in the health and fitness industry.
• Approximately 34% were aged 22–34, 20% were aged 35–44, and 40% were aged 45–64.
• Nineteen percent worked as directors, managers, or owners; 18% were personal trainers; 10% were clinical exercise physiologists; 12% were teachers or professors; 6% were medical professionals; 4% were students; 3% were group exercise instructors; and 1% were RDs.

Survey Results
The top 20 trends are listed in the sidebar. What follows is an overview of some of the trends that have moved up in ranking since last year, as well as new trends in the top 20 and those that have dropped out.

Wearable technology—such as fitness trackers, heart monitors, and smartwatches—regained the No. 1 spot on the list for 2019, having dropped to No. 3 in 2018 after two years at No. 1 in 2016 and 2017. Fitbit and Garmin are probably the most well known of the trackers. The ACSM speculates that improvements in wearable technology glitches by manufacturers since 2017 boosted the popularity of these devices. Wearable technology enables users to track daily fitness activity, providing motivation to exercise in the form of incentives and long-term progress. Depending on the technology's capabilities, those with cardiac issues (eg, high blood pressure) may be able to monitor heart performance parameters. Wearable monitors increasingly are being used in the health club setting for monitoring during exercise. For example, participants in indoor cycling classes can wear monitors that connect to a large display in the studio and can see their target heart rate during the workout. They can then adjust intensity. Some gyms are now organizing teams of members who use wearable technology to compete in different fitness activities.

Other trends on the list this year are related to wearable technology. Mobile apps—the trend ranked 13th for 2019—integrate with wearable fitness trackers. For example, all Fitbit trackers use the Fitbit smartphone app to monitor activity, sleep, heart rate, and other parameters. Apps designed to incentivize exercise via competition among friends and other users collect wearable data as well.

Last year, mobile smartphone apps were ranked 26th. With the change in name to be more inclusive, mobile exercise apps jumped to 13th. In a previous column, I covered popular workout apps, such as Daily Burn and Yoga Download. Given that they're significantly less expensive than a monthly gym membership and enable exercisers to work out at their own convenience, expect mobile exercise apps to grow even more as a top fitness trend.

Wearable technologies also are being used by employers to track employee wellness, and many worksite health promotion and well-being programs—trend No. 15 for 2019—motivate employees by providing free or discounted fitness trackers and link daily physical activity to incentives such as discounted health insurance or fitness prizes, eg, a free spa day or tickets to a sporting event. Ranked 16th in 2017, worksite wellness dropped out of the top 20 in 2018 but has emerged again as a top 20 trend for 2019, likely due to health insurers focusing more on overall wellness and companies looking to improve employee satisfaction.

Another trend that made a substantial jump in ranking this year is health/wellness coaching—ranked 18th in 2018 and 11th for 2019. Health/wellness coaching involves one-on-one or small group guidance that combines behavioral change techniques with client values and goals to improve health. Clients who have difficulties with motivation, commitment, and focus may benefit from health/wellness coaching, especially if their physicians recommend lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation, dietary changes, and regular exercise to manage a health condition. Health/wellness coaching is also an option for nutrition professionals to expand their business offerings.

Postrehabilitation classes are new to the top 20 trends list this year. According to the ACSM, these exercise classes are specially designed for those with chronic health conditions (eg, cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease) and for stroke recovery. For example, someone who had a heart attack or stroke would complete prescribed cardiac or stroke rehabilitation and then "graduate" to a postrehabilitation class. Generally, these classes aren't covered by health insurance, but they may be organized and run by local health providers. My local health system advertises yoga and aquatics classes for those with cardiac, arthritis, and autoimmune conditions, as well as tai chi and balance classes for those with Parkinson's disease. Most can be attended for free or at a very low per-class cost. With the increasing number of older adults and those with chronic conditions, expect this trend to grow over the next few years. The ACSM notes that these classes also may be geared toward members of the military with posttraumatic stress disorder. Yoga, ranked at No. 7 in this year's list, is increasing in popularity among active military and veterans. In fact, trauma-sensitive and warrior yoga specialty certifications are now offered, and some yoga studios and community centers are offering classes dedicated to those recovering from trauma.

Three trends dropped out of the top 20 this year—circuit training, sport-specific training, and core training. As I've noted in past columns about the ACSM trends, the organization tends to conclude that trends dropping out of the top 20 were fads. Their survey methodology and analysis fails to account for trends that evolve into standard practice in the health and fitness industry. All three of these activities are still going strong in the industry and will continue to do so, as they've established themselves as effective conditioning methods since their introduction.

In reviewing the list of trends included in the survey for respondents to rank, I continue to be surprised by the omission of meditation/mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and tai chi in the choices each year. Numerous recent studies have proven the value of meditation/MBSR for whole-body wellness; the American Heart Association has recommended it for CVD risk reduction.2-4 Other recent studies have shown tai chi to be effective for fall prevention as well as a good alternative to traditional cardiac rehabilitation.5-7 Perhaps the ACSM considers these part of yoga and older adult fitness, respectively, but in my opinion these two activities deserve to be included separately on next year's trends survey, given the evidence and that both exercise modalities are becoming increasingly available in the health club setting.

— Jennifer Van Pelt, MA, is a certified group fitness instructor and health care researcher in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area.

1. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2019. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2018;22(6):10-17.

2. Levine GN, Lange RA, Bairey-Merz CN, et al. Meditation and cardiovascular risk reduction: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(10):e002218.

3. Spadaro KC, Davis KK, Sereika SM, Gibbs BB, Jakicic JM, Cohen SM. Effect of mindfulness meditation on short-term weight loss and eating behaviors in overweight and obese adults: a randomized controlled trial. J Complement Integr Med. 2017;15(2).

4. Edwards MK, Loprinzi PD. Comparative effects of meditation and exercise on physical and psychosocial health outcomes: a review of randomized controlled trials. Postgrad Med. 2018;130(2):222-228.

5. Lomas-Vega R, Obrero-Gaitán E, Molina-Ortega FJ, Del-Pino-Casado R. Tai chi for risk of falls. A meta-analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017;65(9):2037-2043.

6. Li F, Harmer P, Fitzgerald K, et al. Effectiveness of a therapeutic tai ji quan intervention vs a multimodal exercise intervention to prevent falls among older adults at high risk of falling: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(10):1301-1310.

7. Salmoirago-Blotcher E, Wayne PM, Dunsiger S, et al. Tai chi is a promising exercise option for patients with coronary heart disease declining cardiac rehabilitation. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(10):e006603.


  1. Wearable technology
  2. Group training
  3. High-intensity interval training
  4. Fitness programs for older adults
  5. Bodyweight training
  6. Employing certified fitness professionals (formerly "educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals")
  7. Yoga
  8. Personal training
  9. Functional fitness training
  10. Exercise is Medicine
  11. Health/wellness coaching
  12. Exercise for weight loss
  13. Mobile exercise apps (formerly "smartphone apps")
  14. Mobility/myofascial devices (formerly "flexibility rollers")
  15. Workplace health promotion and workplace well-being programs
  16. Outcome measurements
  17. Outdoor activities
  18. Licensure for fitness professionals
  19. Small group personal training
  20. Postrehabilitation classes
— Source: American College of Sports Medicine