Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2015


ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal

By Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM
Reviewed By Marilyn Moffat, PT, DPT, PhD, DSc (hon), GCS, CSCS, CEEAA, FAPTA

As physical therapists become more and more involved in prevention, health promotion, and fitness models of service delivery, it is incumbent on each of us to understand the trends occurring in the fitness industry. Physical therapists involved in fitness programs have been aware of both the enduring trends and the transient fads within the industry for years. Thompson reported on the 2015 worldwide fitness trends and initially noted the differences between a trend and a fad.1 A trend was defined as “a general development or change in a situation or in the way that people are behaving,”2 while a fad was defined as “a fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period.”3 These definitions were used by the respondents when they were asked to determine if the item was a trend or not in the survey.

The annual electronic survey of fitness trends that has been taken by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for the last nine years included responses from the for-profit commercial fitness companies, the clinical medical fitness programs, the not-for-profit community fitness programs, and the corporate community. The purpose of the survey is to identify existing trends and present new trends that influence the fitness industry. There was no intention to introduce fads within the industry. The items on the survey were based on the top 25 trends in 2014 and 2013 and additional emerging trends that were identified by the Journal’s editorial staff. The survey was distributed by Survey Monkey to 28,426 fitness professionals who included all ACSM-certified individuals, nonmember subscribers to ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, and their editorial boards. In addition, the survey was posted on their Journal’s website, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Incentives of ACSM books and a $100 gift card were used to enhance participation in the survey. A 12 percent return (3,404 responses) was similar to returns received during the previous eight years of the survey and included responses from the United States and 24 countries worldwide. The majority of the respondents were individuals involved in the fitness industry, while 5.9 percent identified themselves as either physicians, osteopaths, nurses, physical therapists, or occupational therapists.1

The top 20 worldwide fitness trends for 2015 are compared with trends of the previous five years on Table 1.4-7 The top 20 worldwide trends for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 are found in Table 2.8-11 Between 2008 and 2012, the top trends identified were very similar with few exceptions, although the order may have changed.

Omitting the items related specifically to fitness personnel (educated, certified, and experienced fitness; and group personal training) from this discussion, it is interesting to look at the areas related to physical therapist practice that have been consistently in the top 20 lists for the past nine years. From a training perspective, these include strength training, sport-specific training, exercise and weight loss, functional fitness, and wellness coaching. From a special population perspective, these include fitness programs for older adults and children, exercise for the treatment/prevention of obesity, and worksite programs, the latter of which has appeared over the last nine years with varying nomenclature—worksite health promotion, comprehensive promotion programming at the worksite, and worker incentive programs.1, 4-11

If we then look at the less consistent results, yoga and boot camp have appeared consistently over the last six years, whereas Pilates and stability ball only appeared for three years during 2008, 2009, and 2010. Zumba® (2012–2013), Pilates (2008–2010), and indoor cycling (2008–2012) were no longer found as fitness trends in 2015.1, 4-11

Of note is the introduction in 2013 of the trend of bodyweight training, which then was ranked as number three and which rose in 2015 to be ranked as number one. Similarly was high-intensity interval training, which emerged as a trend in 2014 with a ranking of one and which was ranked as number two in 2015.1 Both of these forms of training are supported by data. Data support the use of body weight (e.g., in the form of bird dog and side plank exercises) as effective in increasing strength, and especially for abdominal strengthening in those with low bone mineral density/osteoporosis where flexion exercises are not recommended.12 These exercise forms require little or no equipment, which makes them inexpensive ways to develop strength. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) was initially reported in 1996 by Tabata, who used HIIT cycle ergometry with athletes. He had them perform supramaximal 20-second intervals at 170 percent of VO2max with 10 seconds of recovery. He used 4-minute exercise bouts (did 4x/week and one 30-minute endurance session on a separate day each week). Tabata found that compared with a group of athletes who did 60 minutes of continuous endurance training 5 days/week at 70 percent of VO2max that the HIIT group lost more body fat, had significant increases in fitness, and had a 28 percent increase in anaerobic fitness.13 Data now support the use of HIIT to enhance insulin sensitivity and glucose control,14-16 to increase VO2max over shorter periods of time for those in cardiac rehabilitation,16 and to increase endothelial function and elasticity of vessels.14, 17-18

The data in Thompson’s study provide physical therapists in private practice, and those with associated fitness centers in their practice, with information as to trends in the industry, especially activities which our patients/clients may be engaged in while participating in fitness centers or with a personal trainer. This knowledge also may provide physical therapists with a greater understanding of the etiological basis of problems that a patient/client may present as a result of engaging in fitness center activities or activities with a personal trainer. Most important from the perspective of the physical therapist is our use of these data in coordination with our knowledge of the scientific evidence to support any trend in clinical practice, thus using the evidence to include or not include a trend in patient/client management. A plethora of data exists to support the training and population trends for physical therapist practice, and the expertise of the physical therapist in selecting the appropriateness of any one or more of them yields the optimum patient/client outcomes.

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1. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2015. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2014;18(6):8-17. Accessed June 2015.

2. Accessed June 2015.

3. Accessed June 2015.

4. Thompson WR. Now trending: worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2014. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2013;17(6):10-20. Accessed June 2015.

5. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2013. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2012;16(6):8-17. Accessed June 2015.

6. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2012. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2011;15(6):9-18. Accessed June 2015.

7. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2011. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2010;14(6):8-17. Accessed June 2015.

8. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2010. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2009;13(6):9-16. Accessed June 2015.

9. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2009. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2008;12(6):7-14. Accessed June 2015.

10. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2008. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2007;11(6):7-13. Accessed June 2015.

11. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey reveals fitness trends for 2007. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2006;10(6):8-14. Accessed June 2015.

12. Olson M. The “anatomy” of investigating abdominal muscles. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2013;17(4):8-15. Accessed June 2015.

13. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996;28:1327-30. Accessed June 2015.

14. Kilpatrick MW, Jung ME, Little JP. High intensity interval training: A review of physiological and psychological responses. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2014;18(5):11-16. Accessed June 2015.

15. Lollgen H, Bockenhoff A, Knapp G. Physical activity and all-cause mortality: an updated meta-analysis with different intensity categories. Int J Sports Med. 2009;30:213-24. Accessed June 2015.

16. Karstoft K, Winding K, Knudsen SH, et al. The effects of free-living interval-walking training on glycemic control, body composition, and physical fitness in type 2 diabetes patients: a randomized, controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2013 Feb;36(2):228-36.

17. Guiraud T, Nigam A. Gremeaux V, et al. High-intensity interval training in cardiac rehabilitation. Sports Med. 2012;42:587-605. Accessed June 2015.

18. Wisloff U, Ellingsen O, Kemi OJ. High-intensity interval training to maximize cardiac benefits of exercise training? Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2009;37:139-46. Accessed June 2015.

Marilyn Moffat, PT, DPT, PhD, DSc (hon), GCS, CSCS, CEEAA, FAPTA, is a private practice owner in New York City. She can be reached at

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