Pete McCall by Pete McCall

It’s an exciting time for the fitness industry in general, and for health and fitness professionals in particular. Overall, the industry is doing well and many businesses, from studios to equipment manufacturers, experienced success in 2017. Furthermore, over the past 12 years the fitness industry has experienced a net growth of 36%, as measured by the number of fitness facilities estimated to have reached more than 36,000 in 2017, with almost 20% of Americans having a membership to a health club, gym or studio. This growth has been attributed to a wide variety of programming options, including new operating models for health clubs and new entrants to the market who are interested in establishing healthy habits or using exercise as a means of staying healthy.

Technology has also played an important role in how fitness is delivered and consumed. On one hand, the industry is in the process of evolving to incorporate more technology, such as being able to sign up for memberships or classes online, using trackers to promote physical activity and quantify results, relying on social media channels to engage clients or class participants, and live-streaming workouts so more people can have access to more fitness choices. On the other hand, it is ultimately the individual instructors, trainers and coaches responsible for engaging with their respective audiences, whether online or in real life, that implement and lead the programs that lead to both industry and individual success.

As we shift into the end of the year, it is the time to review what we’ve accomplished and reflect back on what our industry has achieved in 2017. This is an opportunity to celebrate our successes, learn from our mistakes and continue to evolve to have an even greater positive impact on countless lives.

1. Live streaming of fitness classes online is on the verge of changing how fitness is delivered. 

Daily Burn, which produces both recorded, on-demand and live-streaming workouts, received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination in the Best Interactive Media—Digital Content category, which greatly enhanced the awareness of this new mode of fitness. Additionally, Peloton, which uses live-streaming technology to offer the indoor cycling experience from the comfort of home, saw rapid growth in 2017 as consumers embraced the in-home use of technology for instructor-led workouts. Not to be outdone, Flywheel Sports, the parent company of the popular FlyWheel indoor cycling studios, introduced a FlyAnywhere live-streaming option for indoor cycling enthusiasts who want to take a class anytime and anywhere they can access a stationary bicycle. Regardless of the format, the common denominator in the success of an online program are the instructors responsible for delivering the live workout experience through digital media.

2. The fitness industry includes a diverse array of successful business models that are generating income for owners, while helping members and participants live healthier lives. 

The Wall Street Journal featured a story on how shopping malls are courting health-club companies like Life Time Fitness as anchors because traditional retailers like department and specialty apparel stores are closing their doors. In addition, according to Entrepreneur magazine, five of the top 100 franchise companies are fitness studios or health clubs: Crunch health-club franchise is #88, Jazzercise studio franchise is #81, Planet Fitness health club franchise is #32, Orangetheory Fitness studio franchise is #19 and Anytime Fitness health club franchise is #14.

3. While group exercises classes have long been a staple of health-club programming, how these classes are taught is changing. 

Many group fitness instructors now focus on coaching participants through workouts, as opposed to leading the workouts while doing the exercises with the class. “At Equinox, we place an emphasis on our instructors’ ability to coach a class through a workout,” says Amy Dixon, senior creative manager for group fitness programming. “We have designed a number of signature group fitness class formats that allow our instructors to connect with our members as they coach them through a class, as opposed to physically leading the class while members follow along.”

4. For years, health clubs have been popular among people who make fitness a priority. In 2017, however, a new evolution in branded health clubs emerged that may encourage people to increase their physical activity levels.

New health club concepts like Cowboy Fit, which opened at the Dallas Cowboys stadium and retail complex in Frisco, Texas, and the Spartan Gym in Miami, Fla., which is a partnership with Spartan Race, offer a specific type of fitness experience. In addition, Spartan Race created the Spartan Strong group fitness program and instructor certification process to deliver the experience of an obstacle course race in the group fitness studio. Finally, the rapid growth of studios that offer specialized classes, from barre to indoor cycling to yoga, demonstrate that consumers want a wide variety of fitness options that offer both a workout and a unique experience with a like-minded tribe.

5. HIIT continues to grow in popularity. 

For more than a decade, Martin Gibala, a professor at McMaster University in Canada, has been researching the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), specifically for overweight, sedentary individuals and those who have been diagnosed with onset diabetes. He published his findings in The One Minute Workout. In addition equipment companies including Core Health & Fitness, the parent company of Stairmaster and Schwinn Fitness, and Matrix have created specific products and education programs for HIIT, both of which may explain why it is a trend that continues to grow in popularity. “We’re finding that our club and studio customers are enjoying the diversity of our MX4 programming for a wide variety of members who can all be successful in the workouts,” explains Jeremy Shore, group education director for Matrix. For fitness professionals who want to improve their skills in delivering HIIT workouts, the Metabolic Training Workshop by ACE is based, in part, on Gibala’s research.

6. One area where the industry can improve as a whole is in helping people establish healthy habits once they join a health club. 

A study published by Case Western Reserve University found that offering incentives for visiting a health club did not increase visits. “Despite timing incentives to when people were already more motivated to exercise,” the researchers noted, “the approach proved ineffective at initiating a healthy behavior.” This study suggests that now, more than ever, ACE Certified Professionals can play an important role in helping club or studio members establish healthy habits like regularly visiting the facility.

7. Intermittent fasting made the transition from a niche fad practiced by specific populations of die-hard fitness enthusiasts to being recognized by the mainstream medical community as an effective nutritional strategy.

In 2017, intermittent fasting, which cycles between periods of nutrient intake and lengthy periods of not eating, made the transition from a niche fad practiced by specific populations of die-hard fitness enthusiasts to being recognized by the mainstream medical community as an effective nutritional strategy. Research published over the course of the past year suggests that intermittent fasting could be an effective, long-term approach to dietary intake that produces a number of positive result,s including reducing effects of the human aging process. See links here, here and here for some of the latest findings on intermittent fasting.

8. The American Council on Exercise has implemented new branding to promote the mission to get people moving. 

We’ll use this opportunity to point out that, as an organization, the American Council on Exercise, which for years has performed outreach to help promote physical activity, has implemented new branding to promote our vision of becoming, “The leading non-profit advocate for achieving health through physical activity and other lifestyle changes by providing accessible NCCA-accredited certifications and scientifically rooted education to fitness professional and health enthusiasts to significantly impact preventable, inactivity-related lifestyle diseases by 2035.” To read the full Impact Report 2016 about how ACE is working with the medical community to provide activity-related solutions for promoting optimal health, click HERE.

As we reflect on what our industry has accomplished over the past year, keep in mind that we need to constantly be on the lookout for new education and learning opportunities so that as we can become more effective in promoting positive health outcomes for the people we serve. As an industry and profession, we have accomplished a lot over the past year, yet the ongoing obesity epidemic and rates of sedentary behavior suggest that we still have a lot of room for growth, so let's get to it!

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