Though the fitness industry still seems like a relatively new market in actual fact the first gym popped up in the USA in the 1850’s. From a commercial standpoint, things really started to gain traction 120 years later with the body building boom of the 70’s led by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As I look back at my own journey in the gyms starting in the mid 90’s each decade seems to be characterised by a particular trend. Some have been great… some we would much rather forget (I actually used to teach Aqua Aerobics in my speedos pool side and I’m just glad no one had a camera on their phone back then because I looked like a twit!) But at the end of the day, with anything shinny and new, our motivation is increased to workout and that is always a good thing.
The 70’s was the golden era for all things Bodybuilding. The aim was the perfect physique and the likes of Arnold, Franco Columbo and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk himself) were admired and treated like super stars in the eyes of an adoring general public. The muscle bound he-men produced such a stir at the time that every man and his son would soon flock to their local gym which, at that stage, was just small room full of dumbbells.
As the latest in-home entertainment technology hit the department store, the VHS was the vehicle that transformed the fitness industry in this decade. Leotards, tights and leg warmers all in high-vis colours streamed from millions of TV sets all over the world providing housewives with a comfortable environment allowing to dance like no one was watching, working up a sweat without even leaving their homes (Dancing is actually a great way to exercise, read more about it here!)
With the exercise to music phenomenon already up and running the 90’s saw every single genre of music divided and every type of exercise known to man way packaged up in attempt to create the ‘latest trend’. We saw Karate instructor Billy Blanks lead the way with Tai Bo, a product sold on late night infomercials which raked in $75 million in just 12 months when it was at its peak in 1998. At this point the gym floor was all about the beach muscles and six pack abs, but that was soon about to change.
During this period the group fitness/aerobics part of the industry had hit a peak and finding quality instructors was difficult so large company’s like Les Mills began to pre-choreograph exercise routines to create quality control. Pump, Combat and Step took over the market at a rapid rate and the reign of freestyle aerobics was over leaving former Aerobics World Champions (yes there was a world wide competition) with a bad taste in their mouths. Outside of the gym another boom was happening in the form military style ‘Bootcamps’ with the aim of the game to punish its participants in the character of a drill sergeant.
Some big changes were now happening on the gym floor with a movement toward multi-joint compound lifts like Clean and Press that were preferred over isolation exercises like bicep curls. The term given was “Functional Training” where PTs taught clients how be better at everyday movements that would aid ‘putting the shopping away” or “getting up off the floor quicker” It was the decade of balance with many gimmicks and toys being bandied around the gym floor like wobble boards and Bosu’s and every workout would consist of 90% Swiss ball exercises. Nearly everything seemed like it had to be done standing on one leg.
Over the last 8 years we’ve seen the line between training and sport overlap on a number of levels with the rise, and decline, of CrossFit. CrossFit successfully created a pathway from being able to compete at an in-club event to compete at the CrossFit Games which are televised across the world. This movement saw a swing back from balance and three dimensional movement pattern training to tough, all out intense strength training.
Cycle became the alternative choice where cardio training was concerned and the biggest craze of the group fitness industry was Zumba. Zumba, a latin dance class that was all about the music and fun, took the strict form and the microphone out of the aerobics room. Participants were lining up for the new craze and gyms were offering the service at a premium of up to $15 per class on top of their memberships. Unfortunately for Zumba they did not employ the same quality assurance and dedication Les Mills and fallen away in recent years.
At the moment the fitness industry seems to be divided up into two main services:
1. A full service health club fit out with all of the bells and whistles, conveniently located at average weekly cost.
2. Small group training with little or no equipment with very high weekly costs.
The industry seems to have hit its maximum numbers of 24/7 smaller gyms that, 5 years ago, seemed to be popping up on every corner. Now there’s an emergence of a different type of facility opening up in light industrial centres slightly off the beaten track under the guise of Athletic/Performance centres. We are in the HIIT, KONGA, KETTLEBELL, OLYMPIC LIFT era right now and to be honest it’s not a bad place to be. However like all other decades what’s trending now will eventually change, and a new cycle will begin that is billed as the “best way to burn fat”.
The fitness industry will continue to grow as it has done year on year since the 1850s, but here are my predictions on what is next for 2018:
We are just scraping the surface fo what’s possible with wearable technology and app based tracking. This day in age we want instant feedback. As soon as we figure out to connect all of our devices easily and these items become a hell of a lot more easy to use they will be embraced by the masses.
We have been through the cycle of nearly every type of group fitness/aerobics class known to humans. In fact our group fitness manager at Southern River just sent me through info on a training course for a new class concept. The concept was aerobics while drumming with weighted sticks to the beat of a drum and bass soundtrack. Personally I think we are clutching at straws (or maybe sticks) with this idea!
In regards to the senior classes, our baby boomers are a health conscious bunch and will continue to be later in life. Meanwhile with the obesity epidemic and too much screen time for our kids, some parents have already started to direct them to their local gym for a structured workout (My kids are still young, but read this to learn how I inspire them to be healthy).
Though 1 on 1 personal training will always be a staple of the fitness industry there is no denying that YouTube tends to be the first place we look for exercise ideas. The problem we face with this is that exercise should be prescribed by a specialist. With communication and automation everything can now be done remotely and if its safe then I think it’s a good idea.
Some might think this one is little out there but I don’t think its too far away to be honest. I’m not talking about when your gym decides to play a DVD for a group exercise class to save $60 on having a real person teach. I’m talking about the full on VR head set, game based, exercise. There are already some great products out there already but as with any technology, it’s new and is costly at the moment. The only thing I don’t like about this is that we lose the community feel a good gym should provide but hey, some people people prefer to train alone with the head phones in and that’s all good. The main thing is that we are exercising.
I was not surprised to hear that a few years ago that Harvard University launched classes on “The Science of Happiness”. I don’t know what started the anxiety and depression epidemic we seem to be in the midst of at the moment, but I do know that it is serious. Until recently meditation was for hippies but is now being regularly prescribed by doctors. Mind/body classes are the way forward and have massive health benefits as we slowly start to understand that health is more than just skin deep.