Confused about fitness regimens? Poll tracks trends

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) Pilates or yoga? Kettlebells or free weights? Running or spinning?

A client pedals an exercise bike at the Bally Total Fitness facility in Arvada, Colorado June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

If you are dizzy from trying to choose among all the fitness regimens out there a new survey of fitness and health experts, who were asked to identity the top trends, may help.

Experienced fitness professionals topped the list while strength training, core work, special fitness programs for older adults, pilates and balance training also made the top ten.

“We give the fitness professional some idea of what they’re going to see,” said Dr. Walter Thompson, of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) which conducted the poll.

The ACSM, a nonprofit sports medicine and exercise science organization, tracks trends for the fitness industry and gives the public a heads-up about what they are likely to face at the gym, the doctor’s office and the workplace.

Thompson said 1,540 ACSM-certified fitness professionals from Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, North America and South America took part in the online survey.

“We really wanted to look at trends,” Thompson, a professor of Exercise Science at Georgia State University, explained. “We instructed the respondents to ignore fads, like the devices you see on late-night TV infomercials.”

So you won’t discover anything about those contraptions that promise miracle abs for 30 minutes’ work a week.

Thompson said it was no surprise that experienced fitness professionals and personal trainers captured the first and third spots in the survey.

“The fitness industry has increased exponentially,” Thompson said, but at a price. “There has to be some policing. People are getting hurt by trainers who just don’t have the qualifications.”

Personal training, introduced about 10 years ago and once a luxury for movie stars, is now provided by all gyms.

Children and obesity came in second in the poll, thanks largely to the development of more programs to attack the growing problem.

“For the first time in history the next generation of young people may not live as long as their parents or grandparents,” the ACSM said in a statement.

Strength training, increasingly a part of most regimens, and core training, which strengthens and conditions the stabilizing muscles of the abdomen and back, rounded out the top five.

The stability ball, which came in at number eight, did not even make the top 20 in an ACSM survey in 2007.

“Most professionals believed this was a fad,” the ACSM said. But the ball has morphed into a versatile teaching tool for stability, balance and strength.

And in a sign of the changing times, balance training, which includes yoga, Pilates, tai chi and exercise balls, came in at number 10. Two years ago it did not make the top 20.

Another surprise at number 12 was the emphasis on comprehensive health promotion at the workplace.

“The notion of wellness coaching (number 13) was also a surprise. Last year it was at the bottom.” said Thompson, adding that nutrition as well as exercise and wellness training points to a more holistic approach to fitness in general.

Thompson and his team don’t claim to predict the future, but they’re confident that the trends they track to inform the fitness industry can also educate the public.

He noted that physician referrals to exercise professionals is a growing trend.

“Exercise is medicine,” Thompson concludes. “We’re bridging the gap between fitness professionals and physicians.”

And just maybe between professionals and the public as well.