We don’t always like it, it’s hard to find time to do it and experts always say we need to do more of it. For many of us, meeting our exercise goals can be a challenge. (Life has a habit of getting in the way, right?) Sometimes experts have to emphasize the basics, and sometimes they have to find creative ways to tackle tough health issues.

So what can we expect to see in 2012? Every year since 2006, the editors at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)’s Health & Fitness Journal poll fitness professionals around the world to see which trends they think will be important for 2012. This year, a total of 2,620 professionals across clinical, corporate, community and commercial sectors took part in the online survey. Participants were asked to rate 37 trends on a scale of 1-10 based their predicted importance for the coming year. The results were then used to rank each trend.

Some of the items won’t surprise you — after all, one of the goals of the survey is to see which trends have staying power and which ones turn out to be more of a fad instead.

Here’s a look as the ACSM’s Top 10 Fitness Trends for 2012:

1. Educated, Certified, and Experienced Fitness Professionals
For the fifth year in a row, educated and certified fitness professionals top the survey results, largely thanks to a growth in certification programs in North America. If you think this rank is a little self-serving — it was a survey of fitness professionals, after all — one of the driving forces behind this trend is today’s competitive job market. Without the right experience and qualifications, it can be tough to get a job.

However, consumers will benefit too — watch for more qualified instructors at health clubs and recreational facilities.

2. Strength training
No, it’s not just for body builders and professional athletes! Experts have long considered strength training a key component of a balanced fitness routine. It isn’t just about appearances: these exercises are essential for helping to retain muscle tone and bone mass, not to mention staying active and independent as we age. Strength training continues to be the focus of fitness programs for all ages — including rehabilitation and strategies to manage chronic disease.

3. Fitness programs for older adults
Once again, experts predict that fitness programs for people over age 50 will continue to grow throughout 2012. That means more programs designed for baby boomers and seniors — all with wellness in mind. Even retirement residents and long-term care facilities will also be benefiting with activities tailored to residents’ abilities.

From a practical standpoint, it makes sense for programs and health clubs to tap into this often under-served demographic. After all, baby boomers and seniors make up a significant part of the population, and they generally have more free time and more disposable income than younger generations.  

4. Exercise and weight loss
How often do we hear “diet” and “exercise” used in the same sentence? Health experts continue to advocate that exercise is a crucial part of any weight loss plan and should be part of our efforts to obtain and maintain a healthy weight. Since its debut at #18 on the list in 2009, exercise and weight loss has jumped to #4.

Why the jump? Where experts have seen the difference in recent years is that many popular weight loss programs are now incorporating exercise into their programs rather than relying on restricting calories alone. In other words, be ready to get moving if you’re joining a weight loss program in the New Year.

5. Children and obesity
A hot topic throughout 2010, thanks in part to the efforts of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, tackling childhood obesity will once again be a focus in 2012. In 2011, we saw ever more studies pointing to the risks of this health issue — like the risk of heart disease and diabetes in youth that is normally seen in older adults.

As schools in many countries cope with budget cuts, the ACSM predicts that communities will take on more of the programs and education this year. Activities aren’t just for kids: watch for sports, outings and activities that include the whole family.

6. Personal training
Sometimes you just need some one-on-one time, and a program designed just for you. Statistics show more university students are entering the realm of personal training — a sign that the field will remain strong with qualified talent entering the market over the next few years. With the economy recovering, more people are expected to start investing in themselves with some personalized attention from a fitness pro.

Clients aren’t just looking to “beef up” or lose weight — people will continue to look to physiotherapists, occupational therapists and sports medicine experts for some personalized advice.

7. Core training
While usually included as part of strength training, core training will continue to be a focus this coming year. Those core muscles — that is, the muscles in your abdomen, hips and back — are important for overall strength, stability and balance. Strengthening them can help prevent injury and support the spine, not to mention contributing to a leaner profile.

It’s another trend that adults of all ages and interests can do – and it’s as important for fall prevention in older adults as it is for agility in athletes. Many of the exercises can be done at home, or you can take special classes to zone in on your core or try an activity like Pilates.

8. Group personal training
Personal training can be pricy, but sometimes a class doesn’t offer enough individual attention. Enter group training: a personal trainer for a small group of like-minded individuals who share the cost along with the expertise. Groups can be as small as two people or as large as seven or eight.

This trend took a nosedive to #14 last year, but it’s making a comeback for 2012 as people are minding their health as well as their budgets.

9. Zumba and dance workouts
Dance workouts like Zumba certainly aren’t new to the fitness scene, but their fun factor keeps people coming back. Experts say it’s too early to tell whether these workouts are a fad or a long-lasting trend, but for now they’re an enjoyable way to work out.

Watch for dance to continue to get more creative. Though not covered in the survey, we’ve seen firsthand how some innovative new ideas are shaping the market — like Reshmi Chetram’s Bollyfit, a fitness program based on the moves of energy of the genre.

10. Functional fitness
This trend has had its ups and downs in the past few years but always manages to hover around the Top 10. If you’re not familiar with the term, this type of exercise uses the benefits of strength training — like improved balance, coordination and endurance — to help people perform daily activities. In other words, you will be doing activities to build the muscles you use every day at home and work rather than “artificial” activities like bench pressing and weight lifting. Not surprisingly, these activities are also part of fitness programs for people over age 50 and part of physiotherapy.

What about previous top trends like yoga and boot camps? This year, they dropped to #11 and #13 respectively but they’re still getting plenty of attention. Spinning settled in at #16, followed by sport specific training, worker incentive programs and wellness coaching.

Which trends fell off the list? According to the survey, stability balls aren’t seeing as much action as they used to, and balance training is slipping down the ranks. For the second year in a row, Pilates didn’t make the top 20 but it hasn’t completely fallen off the radar. The ASCM also notes that while unmonitored fitness clubs are gaining in popularity in some parts of the world, experts don’t see them as a trend likely to take off. (Again, it’s important to remember the poll’s respondents are fitness professionals.)

One trend we wish we would see is competitive pricing as more programs and instructors become available. (However, price wasn’t covered in the scope of the survey.) Fitness doesn’t come cheap, but more people now consider it an investment in their health and independence.

ON THE WEB
For a complete list of fitness trends see ACSM’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2012 and the ACSM press release./p>

Which trends do you plan to take advantage of in 2012? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Robert Churchill

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers