Trendy Misinformation, by Dr. Lon Kilgore

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present this guest post by Dr. Lon Kilgore.

In October of 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine released a report and the attendant press releases regarding their annual survey that putatively identifies the top trends in the fitness industry.

This year’s top 10 trends as reported by the ACSM are:

  1. Wearable Technology
  2. Body Weight Training
  3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  4. Strength Training
  5. Educated and Experienced Fitness Professionals
  6. Personal Training
  7. Functional Fitness
  8. Fitness Programs for Older Adults
  9. Exercise and Weight Loss
  10. Yoga

But we need to ask—Is this really a list of the top 10 trends in which consumers are interested?

Let’s consider the merit of the ACSM report. The organization goes to great lengths to paint the report as the result of a carefully crafted, scientific investigation, written up for the world to see. However, while the paper is technically a scientific paper, it is grossly misrepresented in accuracy and generalizability—but certified ACSM members can still gain continuing-education credit for reading the ACSM paper, paying a quick $25, and passing an online quiz offered through the International Dance Exercise Association.

A major problem with the survey is the actual survey items included. This was not a consumer-driven survey, rather the staff and editors of ACSM’s “Health & Fitness Journal” made up a list of 40 items they believed were viable trends. There was nothing scientific about the method of item selection. Twenty-five of the items were simply repeats from the previous year’s survey and the other 15 “were some potentially emerging trends identified by the staff and editors.”

… certified ACSM members can still gain continuing-education credit for reading the ACSM paper, paying a quick $25, and passing an online quiz offered through the International Dance Exercise Association.

Who are those staff members and editors? More than 80 of the list of 90 staff and editors are from universities or are hospital based. This biases any selected item to a specific subset of ACSM membership and is not representative of the fitness industry or its consumers. They created a narrow list of survey items reflecting only academic opinion, clinical opinion and the ACSM agenda, which does not produce a valid instrument to capture consumer demand or interest. This restricts and biases results, regardless of whom is surveyed.

And this leads to another major problem, who was surveyed. The survey results are publicized to be applicable worldwide, implying that the results can be generalized to everyone, everywhere. This is a rather large exaggeration.

They sent out invitations to complete the survey to 26,933 ACSM members. There were 2,833 responses from the ACSM membership. They all received a free ACSM book product and a $100 MasterCard gift card for participation. It’s relevant to note that participation was only solicited with ACSM publications, ACSM websites and member emails. There was no effort to solicit input from anyone other than existing ACSM members or ACSM consumers. So approximately 90 percent of the fitness industry was not given an opportunity to participate. Although there were an undisclosed number of international responses to the survey from international ACSM members or ACSM consumers, they represented only 13 of the 196 countries in the world. Thus, the results are truly not representative of the term “worldwide,” and they can only be generalized to ACSM members and ACSM consumers.

So again we can ask—Is this really a list of the top 10 trends of interest to fitness consumers or trainers?

It does not appear to be.

If the ACSM methodology does not deliver a legitimate list of trends, how do we find out what the top trends are?

Well, most people would just Google it. A search trend analysis can provide evidence of what is being searched for by everyone on the Internet. While it’s not Google, another of the major search engine companies has actually done just this. Let’s counterpoint the ACSM trend list against a list generated from actual consumer searches through the Yahoo search engine.

According to the number of searches for exercise and fitness topics, the top trends are:

  1. CrossFit
  2. Zumba
  3. Pilates
  4. P90X
  5. Bikram (hot) Yoga
  6. Circuit Training
  7. Kickboxing
  8. TRX Suspension Training
  9. Vinyasa Yoga
  10. Insanity Workout

How could there be such a discrepancy between the ACSM’s list and Yahoo’s list?

Why wouldn’t there be? The ACSM survey assessed a very restricted and exclusive data set derived from and delivered to a very small sample population with a very specific organizational allegiance. The Yahoo list derived from the totality of searches conducted for relevant key words or phrases. It is inclusive and unrestricted.

Interestingly, if the ACSM is attempting to provide its members a heads up on what sells and what types of training they might want to learn to teach and sell, their list fails. With the exception of yoga, the ACSM list does not share anything that could aid in leveraging customer desires, as indicated by the Yahoo list, into delivery of desired systems of exercise to clients.

This might lead one to ask—Is the ACSM actually cognizant of the business of fitness and the needs of their commercial members?

Image by Dr. Lon Kilgore.

Image by Dr. Lon Kilgore.

About the Author:
Lon Kilgore earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Anatomy and Physiology at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He has competed in weightlifting to the national level since 1972 and coached his first athletes from a garage gym to national-championship event medals in 1974. He has also competed in powerlifting, the first CrossFit Total event, wrestling and rowing. He has worked in the trenches, as a qualified national level coach or scientific consultant with athletes from rank novices to the Olympic elite and as a consultant to fitness businesses. He was co-developer of the Basic Barbell Training and Exercise Science specialty seminars for CrossFit (mid-2000s) and was an all-level certifying instructor for USA Weightlifting for more than a decade. He is a decorated military veteran (sergeant, U.S. Army). His illustration, authorship and co-authorship efforts include several best-selling books and works in numerous research journals. After a 20-year professorial career in higher academia, he currently delivers vocational-education courses through the Kilgore Academy, provides online commentary and analysis of exercise-science papers, and works as a writer and illustrator. His training concepts and fitness standards have been included in textbooks and numerous websites. You can download free PDFs of his exercise performance standards here.

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