Pete McCall by Pete McCall

It’s time to dust off the proverbial crystal ball and look ahead to see what 2019 might have in store for the fitness industry. (You can see how previous prognostications fared by checking the archives: 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015.) These thoughts and observations were gleaned from a number of health and exercise professionals, executives and thought leaders who hold various roles in exercise equipment and health club companies. In other words, they are the very people who will be deciding how we will be sweating in 2019 (and beyond).

High-intensity interval training workouts will continue to evolve.

Because it delivers results, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will continue to boast a large and devoted following in 2019. However, because it has been popular for a long time, a number of variations on HIIT will emerge, particularly in terms of how interval training is applied to both group and individual workouts. The research shows that when it comes to HIIT, it’s the intensity of the workout, not the duration that can lead to desired changes. The good news is that fitness patrons are starting to understand that too much HIIT is unnecessary. As a result, short, 30-minute HIIT formats will become increasingly popular. In addition, group fitness formats will expand to feature a wider variety of shorter, high-intensity classes.

As Angie Anderson Gallagher, an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor in West Des Moines, Iowa, explains, “I include HIIT in my Pilates class and my members love the shorter, more intense workouts. They really feel like they’re getting a lot done in a short period of time.”

Variety is key for long-term success.

Tricia Murphy Madden, a Seattle-based ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and co-creator of the Barre Above program, believes that fusion workouts, which combine a variety of different modalities such as boxing and cycling or yoga and strength training, will continue to be popular.

“Many consumers are starting to realize that doing too much of the same workout is not good for the body,” explains Murphy Madden. “As a result, the idea of hitting different components of fitness in the same workout is becoming more and more attractive.”

Group fitness instructors will continue to change how they lead classes.

Group fitness has always been popular, but for years, making a room full of people sweaty was accomplished by an instructor performing the workout as everyone tried their best to follow along. Over the past few years, there has been an important and significant shift toward group coaching, in which instructors guide and coach a workout rather than ask participants to simply follow along.

“Due to the continued popularity of group programs like OrangeTheory Fitness or Barre,” explains Irene Lewis-McCormick, the 2018 IDEA Group Fitness Instructor of the Year and an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach from Ankeny, Iowa, “we are seeing a shift from teacher-centered behavior, where the instructor says, ‘follow me’ to a method of coaching in which the instructor uses verbal, visual and kinesthetic cuing to lead the workout.”

Instructor education will move away from pre-choreographed workouts.

Another trend on the horizon is a shift from pre-choreographed to pre-formatted workouts, according to Abbie Appel is a Boca Raton, Fla.,-based ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor, presenter and group fitness programming consultant. The primary difference is that pre-choreographed workouts require an instructor to teach an exact replica of a workout designed by a third party, while pre-formatted classes provide an overall structure that allows individual instructors to design workouts specifically for the participants in each group workout.

“Instructors always like having ideas for what to do when leading a group workout, but also want the freedom to design and lead their own workouts,” explains Appel. “Pre-formatted classes given them the best of both worlds.”

Functional training will return to mainstream fitness.

Several health and exercise professionals from across the country cited functional training as an area of growth in the new year. Fueled in part by the ongoing popularity of obstacle-course racing and the evolution of functional training, both group and individual workout programs will continue to feature a variety of non-traditional exercises using a variety of different types of equipment. 

“We all need to carry heavy things in our everyday life and the gym is one of the best ways to prepare for that,” says Kevin Mullins, a personal trainer and fitness writer in Washington, D.C. “Because they help people prepare for how they actually use their bodies, loaded carries are an integral component of the programs I design for both my clients and classes.”

Aimee Nicotera, an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor from Boston, Mass., agrees. “Training for an obstacle course race allows people to do movements and exercises they wouldn’t normally do in their workouts, which creates a carryover to strength and improved physical function for their everyday lives.” 

More pros will utilize unilateral training loads in their program design.

Most exercises utilize both limbs, either the arms or legs, doing the same movement at the same time (e.g., standard chest press or squat). However, in real life, we tend to use only one arm at a time, or plant one leg in a fixed position to create stability. If you adhere to the theory that exercises that mimic a certain activity can help an individual become better at that activity, it makes sense that unilateral exercises can help clients become better at the movements they use in their everyday lives.

“According to the research that I’ve read, using only one arm or leg at a time allows you to recruit and engage all of the muscle fibers involved in the movement,” explains Amy Dixon, the Director of Group Fitness Programming for Equinox. “What really surprised me is the finding that using only one limb can actually help both become stronger. In addition, using only one arm or leg at a time requires higher concentration and focus, so participants are more engaged in the workout.” With so many benefits, Dixon is confident more exercise programs will begin to utilize unilateral training.

Fitness consumers will actually move away from technology in 2019.

When it comes to fitness in 2019, many consumers will come to the gym or fitness studio because they want to disconnect from the ever-present screens. According to Josh Meltzer, the Fitness Manager at Equinox in Carlsbad, Calif., the coming year in fitness will see an increase in the use of meditation, float tanks, breathing exercises and other alternative methods of creating and enhancing a strong mind-body connection.

The type of exercise equipment people use will change.

In 2019, we will continue to see two important shifts in the types of fitness equipment used for both individual and group workouts. Thanks to the popularity of high-intensity training, barbells, kettlebells and heavy medicine balls will continue to be put to good use in gyms and health clubs. However, smaller equipment such as mini-bands, sliders or gliders, super bands and foam rollers used for myofascial release are increasingly becoming “must-have” workout tools.

“Using smaller equipment enhances body-weight movements that require more attention to how an exercise is performed, thus creating a strong mind-body connection,” argues Marc Coronel, a Las Vegas-based strength coach and international presenter. “Using smaller equipment, specifically foam rollers, allows people to do low-intensity exercise, which can be an excellent way to recover from a challenging workout or to do a workout without thrashing the entire body.”

The new year will also likely see a shift back toward the use of strength-training machines. Barbells and other free weights provide numerous benefits, but can be intimidating, especially for older adults. As increasing numbers of baby boomers retire from their careers, they will have more time to return to the gym and many will look to strength-training machines as a safe, yet extremely effective method of getting results.

“We hear from consumers that they love the workouts they get on our equipment, yet the newest generation of trainers have very little experience using strength-training machines,” explains Jeff Dilts, vice president of product development for Core Health & Fitness, the parent company of Nautilus. “We see this as an opportunity—if we help fitness professionals learn how to use our equipment, they will have the ability to teach older adults how to safely achieve the benefits from resistance training.”

A possible economic slowdown will affect the health and fitness industry.

It’s important to look outside of our industry to identify what might happen in other areas of our economy and how these factors might affect the fitness world. After the last recession, the United States Federal Reserve, which controls how much money is available in the economy, lowered the cost of borrowing money in an effort to fuel growth. After years of dumping dollars into the economy, the Federal Reserve is in the process of reducing the amount of money by increasing how much banks will have to pay to borrow funds. Many economists believe that interest rate hikes are necessary to help reduce inflation, but the danger is that increasing interest rates too fast could be creating a situation that leads to the first economic slowdown in a number of years. The technical definition of a recession is a lower Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for two quarters in a row. While the U.S. economy is far from a recession, we are about to enter the tenth year of relatively continuous growth. And since the 1940s, the American economy has experienced a recession about every six to seven years, which means we’re overdue for an adjustment. The coming year could see a change in the overall economic climate, so it might be a great idea to start planning now so that your business can weather the potential storm.

To sum it up, there is not one single game-changing trend that is likely to emerge in 2019. Instead, we’ll likely see an ongoing evolution and growth of existing trends, many of which center around the continuing popularity of group fitness. “Whether it is in a boutique studio or big box health club, group fitness continues to be popular because it is a fun, effective and social way to get results from exercise,” says Brandon Wagner, a Tuscon, Ariz.-based strength coach and master trainer for TRX and Trigger Point.

Only time will tell how accurate our experts’ predictions prove to be, but one thing is for certain: 2019 will be filled with challenging, yet fun workouts that will continue to deliver the results that our customers and clients want in their quest for a happier and healthier life.