The 21 Biggest Health and Fitness Trends Of 2021

These days, it’s hard to predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone in the coming months. But if anybody knows what lies ahead – in wellness, at least – it’s our specially assembled MH advisory board. One thing is certain: those invested in safeguarding your well-being will not down tools. This is how you’re going to be shaping up.


You’ll Bring Awareness to Your Breath

A rampant respiratory disease and mandatory mask-wearing will do that, true. But so will bookshop shelves and Amazon order-pickers wheezing under the expanding volume of pulmonology-heavy publications: The Wim Hof Method by the Iceman himself, Exhale by Richie “the Breath Guy” Bostock and Breath by journalist James Nestor. Controlled breathing techniques can confer “a number of positive health and performance benefits, from reducing anxiety to delaying fatigue”, says Equinox’s innovation manager, Matt Delaney. Even slight adjustments can be “transformative”, agrees the Global Wellness Institute’s director of research, Beth McGroarty. Promising science is adding weight to many of theclaims – but some may yet prove to be hot air.


Hybrid Models Will be the Driving Force

Back in 2019, MH published a feature titled “The Gym in 2029”, which predicted greater synergy between physical facilities and virtual home workouts. Well, that escalated quickly. Locked-down gyms pivoted more furiously than Ross in Friends to keep their clientele fit (and to keep them, full-stop). Even after reopening, reduced capacity and the caution of members are hastening the rollout of Fitness 2.0, “in which people can work out wherever and whenever they want”, says Les Mills’s CEO, Clive Ormerod (restrictions allowing). Senior editor of Welltodo, Laura Hill speaks of an “omnichannel approach”, which means that geography is no longer a barrier. Drop into one of Foundry’s live and on-demand classes or head (virtually) overseas to New York boxing studio Rumble.


Mental Health and Fitness Will Be Front of Mind

Les Mills’s yoga-themed Bodybalance workouts were up 600{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} after lockdown. “A year of mental and economic stress in 2020 has made coping and mindfulness even more of a persistent message,” says the founder of nutrition research group, Kamal Patel, though he warns meditation alone is no magic pill: it places the onus on you to be more resilient, when the problem isn’t always just in your head. But more robust and proactive solutions, such as online talking therapies, are already proving valuable.


Contactless Will Be a Currency

Touch is fundamental to wellness. There’s the rub – or not – in our brave new socially distanced world. Modern society’s “touch hunger” has become a physical contact famine that negatively impacts our health. McGroarty is keeping an eye on the hands-free alternatives: air chamber and sound-wave bed massages, fingernail-mounted “haptic interfaces” that can simulate the feel of skin and hair, even whole sensor gloves. The future: clothes that adjust the body positioning of the wearer.


Exercise Will Be Preventive Medicine

Until we all get a jab of the vaccine, exercise is, along with hand sanitiser, one of our best defences against illness and a key determinant of outcomes. Hence there will be a renewed emphasis on the first half of the phrase “health and fitness”, which sports scientist and trainer Luke Worthington says has “gotten a little lost”. There’ll also be a reversion to the tried and tested – and an aversion to the new and spurious. “I’m seeing more people wanting quantifiable results: asking for fitness and body composition assessments, then tracking their progress so they know they’re mitigating their risk factors,” says Worthington. Many gyms now offer these services. “It’s how the industry was 10 years ago, before Instagram,” he points out.


Sweatboxes Will Shop for New Premises

Some gyms may spring back to their pre-pandemic shape, but the outlook is less bright for those in office catchment areas, with limits on occupancy biting hard even without the continued appetite for working from home. “It’s exactly the same as for Pret and other retailers that opened to cater for huge numbers,” says LeisureDB’s director, David Minton. As well as relocating to residential areas, gyms could find a new home on the high street, thanks to change-in-usage legislation to reinvigorate ghost-town centres and a fall in rents. This could lead to a spread of studio-style options, which lend themselves to smaller retail units – so you can go shopping for your workout of the day.


Covid-19 Recovery Plans Will Spread

Only time will tell what the full repercussions of the coronavirus will be. But the consequences for sufferers so far include lung scarring and reduced capacity, muscular deconditioning and pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, and gut, kidney and heart problems. All of which make returning to exercise difficult – even without the mental health fallout. With the Royal Gwent Hospital’s Respiratory Team, the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales has devised a bespoke programme for post-ventilation patients: 90-minute sessions of indoor cycling, treadmills, boxing and Pilates, plus support services such as dietetics, physio and psychology.


You’ll Drink Less and Hydrate More

“Eight glasses of water a day” is a myth: the ideal intake depends on the individual. And without electrolytes, it’ll go down the pan. “Mainstream hydration” will permeate, says the founder of plant-based nutrition and education platform Form Nutrition, Damian Soong. “It’s always been big for athletes, but it’s becoming more ‘lifestyle’.” With up to three times as many electrolytes as standard sports drinks, plus fruit juice, US hydration mix Hydrant is drunk first thing. Which you won’t be, as “nolo” or no- and low-alcoholic drinks will also be “massive”, adds Soong.


15-Minute (No Equipment) Calorie Burning Workout

You don’t need to spend hours working out to burn calories, especially if you’re working hard enough. This workout, created be trainer Bradley Simmonds, is designed to stoke your fat-burning into overdrive and will carry on burning calories long after you’ve finished


You’ll Get Politically Active

Minton predicts a “global fitness response” to the pandemic: countries such as China and Japan are already urging their populations to be more active. This has yet to spread to the UK. “But I think there’s a movement there,” he says, particularly as the Prime Minister suffered COVID-19, admitted he was “too fat” and hired a PT. Not everyone has that luxury, so lower-income communities may pool resources to save imperilled leisure centres. Minton says that the issue will become politically “charged”.


Steady-state Will Be Back in the Running

“Whether or not you like cardio, it’s impossible to deny its myriad health benefits,” says Delaney, who anticipates a shift in programming to prioritise the often unloved exercise form. Running might have overtaken other forms of training because of lockdown, but it will hold its position in 2021. HIIT rose in popularity fast, but it can have a detrimental effect on our well-being if done too frequently. Delaney predicts there’ll be a greater focus on “energy expenditure and renewal”, with those who are focused on gains “swapping out an extra high-intensity session for some lower-intensity cardio, or an extra rest day”.


Gyms Won’t Just Sell Memberships

Just as pubs all started to serve food because they couldn’t generate enough profits through booze alone, the pandemic has starkly demonstrated that gyms can’t rely solely on a steady flow of punters. So, as well as remote workouts, they will increasingly begin to tap other revenue streams: food and drink, body scans and health checks, and IRL and online shopping for active wear and training equipment. The purchase of gym chains Xercise4Less and DW Sports by JD Sports and the Frasers Group (Sports Direct’s parent company) hints at a hybrid retail model, says Minton – coming to a high street near you.


Big Tech Will Go Big on Wearables

Wearable tech has topped the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual survey of global fitness trends in four of the past five years. Now, the major players are muscling in. “Apple, Google, Amazon et al will tighten their grip on the space, with new technology, ecosystems and features,” says Hill. Apple’s Fitness+ subscription platform will host classes built around its Watch and Music – which may be an issue for less powerful fitness content creators. Amazon’s Halo band detects your mood from your tone of voice, while serving ads for stuff you talk about (sarcasm alert).


You’ll Take a Salubrious City Break

Hunching over a laptop while your sofa moulds to your body feels a long way from “digital nomadism”. With remote set-ups likely to remain a part of working life, we’ll rethink what constitutes a viable WFH venue to include anywhere with Wi-Fi (even those of us who aren’t lifestyle design bloggers). More of us are escaping crowded cities, even just to the suburbs, seeking nature and a cheaper lifestyle, says McGroarty. Related to this is the rise of the “workcation” among those who can’t afford to switch on the out-of-office. Tell your boss that Parisian vista is just a very lifelike Zoom background.


Wellness Will Move into the House

At times, our homes may have felt like prisons – but they are also becoming “highly policed sanctuaries”, says McGroarty. All of that time indoors is turning our thoughts from unfinished DIY to optimising the “home biome”: air and water purification; germ-killing UV lighting that is more in sync with our circadian rhythms; “wellness rooms” and “disinfection cupboards”. The need to compartmentalise (“Daddy’s working!”) is replacing the vogue for open-plan with an appreciation of modular set-ups, while lockdowns have made us appreciate the value of outdoor space.


Your Run Will Be Low Emission

While other trainer brands are taking steps to reduce their footprint, Allbirds is making strides. The first fashion label to print a calorie-style “carbon count” on its products, the Kiwi company believes that consumers will start to watch CO2 like they do calories. Alongside Adidas, it aims to launch the first carbon-neutral performance shoe this year. Swiss firm On Running will also pioneer a subscription service called Cyclon: for less than £30 monthly, you can send back your old pair of recyclable kicks (made mostly from castor beans) and receive a “new” one, so you’re always in an up-to-date model with low mileage. It’s like leasing a car but better for the environment – and you.


Fitness Will Be More Diversified

“The push towards greater diversity and equal opportunity remains a pressing priority for the whole of the fitness industry,” says Ormerod of Les Mills, which has set itself the goal of ensuring that women and people of colour constitute more than 50{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} of its senior leadership team. There’ll be “more diverse, inclusionary and relevant” solutions made for and by black and other underserved communities, says Hill, and a boom in LGBT fitness, says Leisure DB’s Minton, citing “the strength of the ‘pink pound’”.


Fitness Trackers Will Also Be Tracers

Your wearable will be an early-warning system telling you to self-isolate. In February, the Scripps Research Institution published a study undertaken before the pandemic showing that Fitbit heart rate info better reflected the real-time spread of flu-type illnesses than data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In May, West Virginia University revealed that Oura ring data was 90{b5d304c96e94113bdfc523ff4218a1efff4746200bdb9eeb3214a56a1302f2e4} accurate at spotting COVID-19 three days before symptoms. The NBA has since bought 2,000 of the hoops for its players.


Kettlebells Will Go on the Boil

No other piece of fitness equipment challenges your strength, cardiovascular capacity and coordination like a kettlebell, says Delaney: “With so many people looking for workout options that require minimal space while delivering maximum benefit, the kettlebell will take centre stage.” But it won’t take up much of it – which explains the global shortage during last spring’s lockdown. Wolverson’s bells are competition-quality and they came out swinging in MH’s product tests. Delaney advises approaching a coach, virtual or otherwise, for some tutoring.


Outside Will Be the Safest Bet

More than half of the respondents to Form Nutrition’s COVID-19 survey last April and May said they planned to get out more after lockdown, says Soong. And it’s not just cabin fever making fresh air so appealing: according to one study, coronavirus is 18.7 times more transmissible in an enclosed environment than in an open one. Industry publication Health Club Management reports that resourceful gyms have responded to pandemic-related restrictions by taking classes and equipment outside. It forecasts that “creatively weather-proofed” al fresco fitness will be a regular part of what clubs offer. In LA, Equinox – which needs no excuse for such creativity – has opened its first fully outdoor gym.


Immunity Will Become Big Business

The ’rona has lit a rocket under anything claiming to “boost” immunity (not quite possible, but that won’t stop the hype). “Immunity will become its own lane,” says McGroarty. Trial results on supposed anti-COVID supps will drop in 2021, says Patel, and there’ll be demand for them. Any wellness destination worth its Himalayan salt will tout “immunity-boosting” programmes, and disciplines from weightlifting to breathwork will preach “hormetic” or “positive” stress. The difference between medicine and poison? The dose.


Streaming Will Get a Lot Slicker

It was so nice of all those instructors to hold free virtual sessions during lockdown, says Minton: “But none of them seemed to have any idea how boring it was when they kept talking… Just get on with it!” Now that we’ve grown accustomed to streaming, we’ll expect far more, says Ormerod. “Thrilling, cinematic experiences that make users feel like they’re in the middle of a buzzing studio will prove more popular than a cheap video shot in someone’s garage.” Peloton, one of the pandemic’s big winners, understands the worth of high production values. It’s slated to open a (filming) studio in London in early 2021.

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