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Fitness Becomes Functional


According to the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association) the global fitness industry brought in a total revenue of $96.7bn in 2019. A substantial annual rise compared to $94bn in 2018. Pre-Covid growth rate, in terms of revenue, was 2.9% globally.

The IHRSA originally predicted the industry to hit $102bn revenue in 2021. However, due to the pandemic these figures were not met.

Although the fitness industry is not a recent phenomenon it is seeing a steep increase in popularity across generations. A Nielsen survey found that 81% of millennials exercise or would like to. In comparison, only 60% of boomers said the same.

The Pandemic Effect

Despite overall industry growth falling by the way side due to Covid, there has been growth of another form. The pandemic has led to previously less popular forms of fitness flourishing.

As gyms closed their doors people resiliently found new ways to exercise. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) saw a steep rise in popularity. Exemplified by over 100,000 people tuning in to a single episode of Joe Wicks‘s morning videos.

Joe Wicks. Credit: Lululemon

But people weren’t just jumping around their living room to YouTube videos. Online subscription coaching and personal training rose in popularity. The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) named “online training” as their number 1 fitness trend of 2021.

Fitness apps have also continued to grow in popularity. 46% of young adults (18-35) say they want as much quantifiable date about their health as possible. 54% of the same group agree that they are likely to buy a body-analysing device like Fitbit.

Across all of these trends one thing remains the same. The fitness industry seems to be moving towards a more holistic approach to wellness, towards what has been called “functional” fitness.

The Rise of Functional Fitness

The days of people flocking to the gym to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, doing bicep curls and living off the three food groups of chicken, rice and broccoli, seems to be over. The 1977 documentary film Pumping Iron not only put Schwarzenegger on the map but also made a huge cultural wave.

Leading to the male gym culture that has dominated the world for decades now. But a new wave of fitness is happening and the roots are equally as traceable.

Online coaching apps have meant that each “virtual” trainer needs to stand out even more. They now need to create something truly original in order to stand out from the competition.

Marcus Filly

This has led to new interpretations of fitness coming to fruition. Like Marcus Filly who preaches “functional bodybuilding” or Obi Vincent who offers a “crosslifter” programme.

Five times CrossFit Games champion, known as the “Fittest on Earth”, Mat Fraser now even offers his own online training. The HWPO (Hard Work Pays Off) Hybrid Strength training programme, created by Fraser, does however cost a not so modest $40 a month.

The Impact of CrossFit

Speaking of CrossFit, this fairly new sport/company has had a large impact on the future of the fitness industry. The training style initially filled the internet with toe curling videos of “fails” but has since become much more refined.

CrossFit defines itself as “a high intensity fitness programme incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise”. Although the now televised CrossFit Games would make it seems like a training method reserved for the most elite athletes this is no different from any sport. The company and training method predicates itself on accessibility for all.

Popular CrossFit Games competitor Elisabeth Akinwale / Credit:

Annual films are released by CrossFit such as The Fittest in Dubai and Redeemed and Dominant have had an impact on this decade just like Pumping Iron in the 70s. These films continue to shape the fitness industry of today.

Some people have criticised more “functional” fitness as dangerous and more likely to cause injuries. Others have labelled the idea of functionality as false and misleading, claiming it holds no added benefits.

The Future of Fitness

Regardless of the exact pros and cons of this new wave of fitness it seems to be here to stay. With the world being shaken by the global pandemic now is a better time than any for people to stay active in whatever way they can find and what better time than New Year.

As long as it is done safely it is surely nothing but a positive for both physical and mental wellbeing that people are finding interesting ways to get fit and stay fit.

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