The fitness trends that will shape 2021 – Sydney Morning Herald


But it’s likely those pricey new dumbbells will gather dust under your bed. Most of us who started working out at home or in the park did so because we had no other choice – and when our gyms reopened, we rushed back.

“Most larger gyms are getting back to what their membership figures were pre-COVID,” says Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish. He says the five per cent yet to return to the gym are mostly older members concerned about safety. “The younger cohorts come back straight away.”

Technology intersects with fitness

In 2020, Zoom provided better-than-nothing virtual exercise, while dozens of fitness influencers scrambled to release their own apps. But they were playing a losing game of catch-up to the existing players — like Les Mills on Demand, a world-class service that boosted its sign-ups this year by 800 per cent.

Tech will continue to disrupt the fitness industry into 2021: big players to watch for include Apple’s highly polished Fitness+; Mirror, the virtual personal trainer snapped up by Lululemon in June for US$500 million; and at-home spin class Peloton, which has a cult following in the US (Beyonce signed on as a partner in November) and seems like a natural fit for Aussies.


Steve Pettit, CEO of the Australian Institute of Fitness, predicts that wearables – Garmin, Fitbit and Apple Watch – will only get bigger as technology improves. But he’s also got his eye on “earables”, devices that plug into your ear to monitor your activity and instruct you using artificial intelligence.

These developments will transform fitness tech from nice-to-have to need-to-have — “from the peripheral to the central,” in Pettit’s words. “We’re only scratching the surface with respect to how technology will influence our movement behaviours.”

Exercise for mental health, not just physical health

Last year, Fitness Australia listed “exercise for stress management” as one of its top 10 trends for 2020 — little surprise at the time, given the long-established link between physical activity and mental health.

But we gained a powerful new appreciation for that link in 2020, especially those in Melbourne. My mates there will attest that their precious daily hour of outdoor exercise helped them endure the extended winter lockdown.


“I don’t believe people even realised the part exercising played on mental health until it was taken away from them,” says Michael Ramsey, founder of the Pilates/rowing hybrid workout Strong. “It’s certainly something we’ve been taking for granted.”

At the Sydney fitness club where I work, the end of lockdown in June was a chance for members to reunite with friends we hadn’t seen face-to-face in months – affirming the added social benefit of exercise. “That sense of community is really critical. When that’s taken away, that can be quite detrimental to mental health,” says Pettit.

Exercise as an essential service

Gyms were first to close during lockdown and last to reopen – highlighting the heightened fears of infection transmission at fitness clubs compared to those places deemed an essential service like a bank or supermarket.

Elvish predicts that the fitness sector will tighten its safety regulations in the next 12 months, to prove to authorities that health clubs can operate safely amid any disaster. “[Fitness] is an essential service and we need to get it closer to being seen as an essential service,” he says.

That’s how the general public sees it — at least judging from how keen everyone seemed to get back into the gym. “I described COVID as the world’s biggest New Year’s resolution,” Pettit laughs. “I haven’t seen our society that motivated to get back into shape in a very long time.”

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