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With a new year comes new fitness resolutions, and as people return to or start new gym routines, we discover what exercise might look like this year. Covid-19 has shaken up the fitness industry, so what changes can we expect will endure? Here are five fitness trends the experts at Australian Institute of Fitness predict will shape fitness in 2021.

1. Exercise is Medicine

One of the biggest fitness trends we are likely to see this year is more emphasis on the Exercise is Medicine global initiative.

The initiative, managed by the American College of Sports Medicine, encourages primary healthcare providers to assess patients’ physical health and promote physical activity. Medical and fitness professionals are working together to help improve physical fitness and, in turn, reduce cases of mental illness and chronic disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults aged 18–64 participate in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. But studies show many of us are not reaching those targets. Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the 2017–18 National Health Survey shows 55% of Australian adults do not participate in enough physical activity. A WHO report, published in The Lancet medical journal in 2018, also reveals 42.4% of New Zealanders fail to reach recommended exercise levels.

When fitness centres closed last year and exercise was limited to home gyms and roaming around the block, we gained a newfound appreciation of exercise. During what was a challenging and anxious time for many, exercise helped boost our mental health.

“There is significant collective work to be done on the road to recovery. We expect to see an increasing emphasis on proactive referral and collaboration between medical professionals, health care providers and fitness professionals,” said Australian Institute of Fitness chief executive Steve Pettit.

Exercise is the best, cheapest and most accessible medicine available, so we expect to see more people focussing on their physical health this year. It is just what the doctor ordered.

2. Mind and body training

The gap between mental and physical health is expected to shrink as our mindsets change and we become more aware of the health benefits of holistic training.

Self-care and mental health are increasingly top-of-mind for many. The pandemic took a toll on our mental health, and this year it is likely we will see more focus on training that involves both mind relaxation and physical fitness.

Research by Roy Morgan shows Australia’s Covid-19 lockdown led to spikes in mental health conditions – particularly anxiety and depression. Data reveals 8.5 million Australians over age 14 reported suffering from a mental health condition in the June quarter last year, up from 7.7 million in the March quarter.

According to fitness platform Mindbody, restorative exercise classes are among the most popular in Australia. The Fitness Industry and the New Normal report by Mindbody found Pilates, strength training and yoga were the most in-demand classes when facilities reopened after lockdown.

“The fitness trends for yoga, Pilates, breathing work, mindfulness, meditation and broader mental health training have intensified during the pandemic, with more people opting for combined training that involves both mind relaxation and physical fitness,” said Kate Kraschnefski, Australian Institute of Fitness Head of Training.

A healthy body includes a healthy mind, so in 2021 we predict we will see more people place dual value on physical and psychological health.

3. Virtual fitness

Virtual fitness hit a new high in 2020. While we will continue to frequent the gym in 2021, some of us will make use of virtual options.

With gyms across Australia and New Zealand shut during last year’s lockdowns, trainers rolled with the punches and moved online. From streamed cardio classes to strength workouts and Zoom yoga, many found a way to adapt.

The Fitness Industry and the New Normal report found while Australians prefer in-person classes over virtual, many will continue to take advantage of virtual workouts. More than half (51%) of the 702 survey participants anticipate doing virtual workouts once a week, and 37% expect to work out virtually two or three times a week.

It is hard to beat the feeling of being in a group fitness class or hitting the gym, but digital fitness will be an effective supplement to a physical membership this year, and beyond. Gym apps like Jonas Leisure’s Group Move will be vital in helping gym members stay connected to the community at their gym and participate in live-streamed classes.

4. Personal training

Personal trainers will continue to be in demand this year. Many fitness enthusiasts want personalised assistance to achieve their desired results, and beginners want tailored programmes to get them on track.

One-on-one training continues to become more accessible online and in health clubs. People are realising the trainer’s role is important in assessing their condition, prescribing the correct training programme and offering achievable goals.

In a similar vein, health coaching has been a growing trend in recent years, which is predicted to continue. Using a one-on-one or small-group approach, health and wellness coaches focus on their clients’ values, needs and goals to provide support, guidance and behaviour-changing intervention strategies.

5. Group training

Now that gyms have reopened, we will see a resurgence in group fitness classes after gaining a new appreciation of face-to-face connection and the social aspect of fitness.

Group classes are designed to be motivational for different fitness levels and help people commit and get results. Defined as more than five participants, group exercise instructors teach, lead and motivate individuals through group movement. Instructors teach many types of classes and equipment, from cardio-based classes and indoor cycling to dance-based and step classes.

Feeling connected with a group of people and being led by an inspiring instructor will motivate gym-goers to keep coming back.

The fitness industry is still fighting fit despite the many challenges it endured in 2020. Fitness professionals and consumers embraced new training models during Covid-19 lockdowns, and many of the changes we have seen are likely to remain.

“There is plenty of positive takeaways for those willing to continue riding the wave,” said Mr Pettit.