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12 Fitness Trends to Watch for in 2012

Personalized Functional Training

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Although 'functional training' has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for several years, experts think we'll see an emphasis on a more personalized side of this style of training. "Functional training is not necessarily a new trend but is more of a continually growing trend as the general public becomes more aware of the benefits it has to their everyday activities," says Josh Proch, co-owner of Defined Fitness in Wexford, Penn. "A few years ago, [functional training] was way outside of the box of what most gym goers were used to. Today however, that's not so. They are seeing other people doing things with conditioning ropes, flipping tires, and bodyweight exercises, and they want to do they same."

The difference, Proch says, will be the shift towards personalization to help prevent the higher injury rate that high intensity, generalized functional training (such as exercises used in some boot camps and Crossfit programs) can cause when performed by someone that isn't ready to handle it. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, fitness professionals will provide functional movement screenings first for clients in order to assess their current movement patterns, and then an appropriate fitness program will be designed, Proch says. "It's still functional-training based, but it's designed for the client's current level."

Weight Loss Programs for Kids

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Obesity has more than tripled during the last 30 years (in both adults and children), says Dianne Sykes Scope, head exercise physiologist and owner of Achieve Fitness in E. Rockaway, New York. "Parents are recognizing the need to get their children involved in supervised, structured physical activity, and this trend couldn't be more valid: physical education programs around the country are being cut left and right, leaving kids far less active and more prone to weight gain—Facebook, television, video games, and a plethora of high-cal, sugar-loaded junk foods equals obesity and early onset disease."

Sykes says fitness professionals see the opportunity and past failure, and are digging deep to devise the most effective, results-driven fat loss programs to solve this problem this year. "As fitness experts we must act now to leave a healthy legacy for the future of this country. It's beyond a trend in 2012, it is a solution to a crisis."

Parents can find these types of specialized kids' fitness programs at their local health clubs or nearby personal training facilities. "Many clubs are now offering semi-private training to make it more cost-effective for kids to participate," Sykes says.

Small Group Training Programs

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Look for specialized, small group training such as TRX Suspension Training and ViPR programs in 2012, says Pete McCall, an Exercise Physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). "Small group training programs are a fun and cost-effective way that fitness enthusiasts can experience the benefits of working with a certified professional."

While working with a personal trainer can run upwards of $100 an hour, joining a small group program averages around $20 per person for group training that can still offer you the benefits of working with more personalized, skilled instruction. "In fact, this trend has become so hot that in 2012 ACE will be launching a workshop to teach fitness professionals how to design and run small group training programs to help make fitness available to everyone," McCall says.  

Fitness Coaches as Health Care Providers

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In 2012 we'll see the increased use of fitness coaches (multi-specialty personal trainers) as front line health care providers, says John L. Honcharuk, ATC, CSCS, SPARQ, Clinical Sportsmetrics Instructor and Facility Manager at AthletiCo in St. Charles, Ill. "As a result of recent economic conditions in health care, the fitness coach will be on the front line of the medical establishment. Individual co-pays and deductibles will force the general population to take better care of themselves."

Honcharuk points out the increasing number of insurance-subsidized fitness programs helping to lead this trend, and he says we will see fitness professionals being forced to seek out medically based certifications and referral relationships. "The accountability pendulum will swing hard and fast on the individual policy holder, and those that are in better shape will not need to access the traditional healthcare system. Our facility has seen a significant increase in patients and clients who want to take control of the preventative work on their bodies and minds."

Barre Workouts

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Barre workouts have already been going strong for a few years, but we'll see even more of them making their way across the US this year, says Linda LaRue, RN MEd, ATC, and creator of The Core Transformer workout. "Local ballet-inspired barre class studios are popping up everywhere; these small, local studios offer barre classes along with several boot camp style exercise classes."

Get in on this trend by searching online for a nearby class in your area, or try a barre workout DVD at home.

Plyometric Training

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"A big trend to watch in 2012 will be the emphasis on plyometrics for the general public (especially baby boomers)," says Ben Dearman, owner of KDR Fitness in Lebanon, New Hampshire. "As we age, working on power production is sometimes a better way to preserve and build lean body mass as opposed to traditional weight training because we can use a very light load to reap amazing benefits.This trend will be incredibly valid as we continue to learn more and more about how the human body ages and responds to exercise."

For example, a 60 year old that plays golf (a plyometric sport) doesn't need to be able to lift a lot of weight, but does need to be able to control their body under low loads and high speeds (such as during a golf swing, racquet swing, etc), Dearman says. "Learning new tasks is a proven way to keep the brain young, so when someone has to learn a new physical task like a kettlebell snatch, they get a double whammy—the brain gets a work out as well as the body."

'Naked' Fitness (Barefoot Running and Bodyweight Training)

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This is not a gimmick or a fad, bodyweight workouts and barefoot training is steeped in hundreds, if not thousands, of years of human biomechanical movement, says Alex Figueroa, a certified fitness professional at The Sports Club/LA in Boston, Mass. "We as a fitness community are realizing more and more that natural movements are the way to make our bodies move more efficiently, more functionally, and for longer duration. We are moving further and further from machines, equipment, and shoes with more support and relying more on the strength of our bodies to keep us in motion. In short, our views of our bodies are becoming more and more like our views of the planet: the less human involvement, the better. Allow nature to be the answer."

Figueroa says we can expect to see more barefoot running clubs and trainers and gyms that work with little to no equipment in 2012. "The gym of the future is an empty room and your body—naked."

Heavy Strength Training for Women

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"More and more women are seeing the huge benefits of strength training, which include, but aren't limited to, greater fat loss and muscle tone compared to lighter strength training and hours of cardio, says Slade Jones, owner of Revolutionary Fitness in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And more and more women refuse to be intimidated on the weight room floor and are training alongside men.

"Women are also gaining more confidence in and out of the gym through heavy strength training. The results and confidence you get from heavy strength training speak for themselves; making this a 'hot trend' for many years to come."

Tabata-Style Interval Training

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This year, we'll see a whole lot a Tabata, says Michele Olson, PhD, FACSM, CSCS, professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery. "Interval training has become increasingly popular due to the enhanced results you get versus doing traditional, steady-state cardio at a moderate intensity, and Tabata is a revved up version of interval training—the intense effort bouts are twice as long as the recovery bouts. You work at a near-maximal to maximal effort for 20 seconds and "rest" for just 10 seconds (versus hitting it hard for 30 seconds and lowering your intensity for double the time—60 seconds)."

And because it offers valid, proven fitness benefits, Olson says Tabata-style interval training will start popping up in boot camp classes, kettlebell formats, and spinning workouts this year. "It is also being used in muscle sculpting classes as a 'finisher' for the lower body, where you do a Tabata of jump squats and a 'finisher' for the upper body, where you do a Tabata of push ups."

Multi-Tasking, Fusion Workouts

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People are having more trouble making time to work out, and as with everything else, they want to get more from their precious time, says Marta Montenegro, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, an exercise physiologist in Miami, Fla. Exercisers are more educated and know that endurance, strength, agility, power, balance, and flexibility are all important components not just to feel and look great, but also to be healthy overall. So, fusion workouts will be hot this year, Montenegro says.

From personal trainers adding cardio in between strength workouts to ending with a myofascial stretching on the foam roller to group classes that combine Zumba, strength training, and even yoga, look for this trend to pop up on gym class schedules, fitness DVDs, and even in personal training sessions, Montenegro says.


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Move over kettlebells, the hot piece of equipment for 2012 may just be a sandbag, says Cari Shoemate, a certified personal trainer in Houston, Texas. What makes these weighted bags of sand so great? "It's a training tool that is super versatile&mdashyou can use it in place of dumbbells or weights, and it's also easy to carry. Because it's softer than a set of weights (or kettlebells), you can even place it on your back during planks, lunges, and other moves, or use it to make your plyometrics more challenging." Try it out for yourself by purchasing a bag online or at a local sporting goods store, or make your own!

More Tech-Friendly Workout Options

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With more and more exercisers getting fit outside the gym and major advances in technology and internet access, plan to see way more electronic fitness resources in 2012. For instance, you can now download workouts to your iPad with programs like FitnessClass, upload a training apps (like SHAPE's Go Mobile Apps) to your smart phone, or 'attend' streaming exercise classes with sites like FitnessGlo. Will all of these options, there's no excuse not to stay in shape this year!


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