Every year, the $94 billion fitness industry (this number is according to The International Health, Racquet, & Sportsclub Association) informs us of the new fitness trends. Like clockwork, our insecurities—love handles, arm skin, thighs in general—are targeted and advertised to in updated ways. If we're lucky, we get offered hilarious products, such as the Ab Rocker and Shake Weight. More often, boutique studios and Instagram fitness models seep into our consciousness on the street or through our phones. Keeping up with the trends is as exhausting as the actual workouts. But this year's trends aren't shaped by marketers as much as they've been shaped by a global pandemic. A new survey from RunRepeat has tracked the data from active adults themselves (as compared to the people trying to sell you stuff) to see what the real, happening fitness trends are for 2021.
First, an introduction: RunRepeat is a Danish website that reviews running shoes and conducts research. This makes sense when you learn that the firm was founded by Jens Jakob Andersen, who in addition to being "among the fastest 0.2% runners," is also a man with a background in forecasting and statistics. According to the RunRepeat website, they are: "shoe fanatics. This site is run by shoe fanatics. We judge people by their shoes." Martin Luther King Jr. suggested that we "judge a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character," but shoes are cool, too. Despite the hint of jocular mischievousness in RunRepeat's self-description, their work is legitimate. Over the summer, when the world saw a series of civil rights protests, the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post covered RunRepeat's study on racial bias.
RunRepeat's most recent study, titled "Fitness Trends: Achieving Fitness Goals in 2021 vs. 2020," ran for 24 days in November 2020 and surveyed roughly 4,500 active adults from 122 countries. While not the largest study or the longest, the broad swath of nationalities covered is notable. In America, the rules for health changed instantly and drastically in 2020. First, we stopped scratching our faces because the virus might get into our eyes, mouths, noses. We began standing six feet apart. Gyms that never close were forced to, labeled as non-essential. This all happened within days. COVID-19 arrived like a meteor—if meteors were imperceptible to the naked eye. Eventually, the CDC finally recommended that everyone wear masks in public. Illness was in the air.
With these changing regulations for public health, our personal behaviors shifted to match. In early 2020, RunRepeat found that only 14.6 percent of active adults said that activities like running, hiking, walking, cycling, and climbing were the best way for them to achieve their goals in fitness. By late 2020, that number had vaulted to 59.1 percent. Dining shifted towards becoming an outdoor activity because of "key factors that make indoor sittings higher-risk, in particular, poor airflow, difficulties in distancing from others, and prolonged exposure," according to The Guardian. Following that logic, it makes sense that people turned towards open-air exercise activities, making outdoor exercise the most popular trend in fitness.
RunRepeat also broke down the top three fastest-growing fitness trends in 2021: at-home equipment, personal trainers/nutritionists, and online workout courses. The biggest loser? They tracked that too, and the answer is memberships to gyms, health clubs, and group exercise classes. RunRepeat found that 60.5 percent fewer people saw those establishments as their best way of staying fit. While gyms might have the equipment you might want to stay lean and strong, in a pandemic, that route of fitness comes with the ironic risk of personal and public health.
Fitness trends did not stay consistent across countries or gender lines. RunRepeat found that in the UK, they were 30.28 percent more into outdoor exercise than the U.S. But Americans overcompensate for that gap in buying at-home equipment, which went up by 218.3 percent as compared to 11.8 percent in the UK. Women preferred outdoor exercise at a rate 4 percent higher than men, and they dropped sports at a rate of nearly double that of men. RunRepeat attributed the decrease in popularity of sports to social distancing, the same thing that brought down all other forms of social gathering for the past year.
For many active adults, these survey results will simply echo back to them what they've already been doing. In normal times, the value of a study that tells you what you already guessed would be negligible. In pandemic times, it's heartening to hear that while you've been isolated in your workout routine, you haven't been alone. In fact, you're in the supermajority, with compatriots in 122 different countries.