Abdullah Al-Askari

Written by Abdullah Al-Askari,
Founder and Managing Partner of C Club, Riaya Physiotherapy Center, Bidaya Sports Academy, and Albidea Club

To accurately look forward, you should really start by looking back. The year 2020 was one filled with uncertainty and unavailability, two things that surely put a dent in your fitness dreams. With gyms closed and livelihoods at risk, health took a backseat, but not anymore. “The shutdowns and challenges the fitness industry has endured in 2020 have paved the way for large-scale technology disruptors and major evolutions in fitness offerings,” Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF) CEO, Steve Pettit said. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and as we’ve seen our social needs change, fitness professionals and consumers alike have embraced new fitness technologies and training models, and reconsidered the role that fitness plays in broader health and everyday lives.”

The pandemic might just have triggered the sharpest growth in the industry yet. In the months before the pandemic, fitness enthusiasts were starting to team their wearables with at-home fitness and outdoor workouts like cross-functional training, kickboxing, piloxing, and a variety of other new ideas. Fitness providers were also beginning to identify the demand for virtual training and recognize the potential of online services. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns pushed both to quickly embrace these technology-driven alternatives, giving rise to an era of technology-driven fitness around the world.

It is no surprise, then, that 2020 saw fitness enthusiasts make extensive investments in at-home exercise equipment. In a recent study, McKinsey noted a 12 percent increase in at-home exercising in the US. The trend is also prominent and is highly likely to become more popular as the country’s fitness demands continue to rise steadily. As a result, at-home gyms will be the new normal of the post-COVID world and emerge as a significant trend in the coming year.

In 2021, as the pandemic wears away, technology will unlock ways for the industry to boost both its online and offline offerings.

In 2021, gym chains and boutique studios will adopt technology faster to boost their services with modern equipment. Leveraging smart, cloud-based technologies, these intelligent fitness products will help gym owners and trainers improve member performance and enhance their workout experience by combining their expertise with real-time data. Technology will also provide solutions for hygiene concerns that have stemmed from the pandemic. For example, some fitness providers have begun using contactless or low-touch check-ins, facial recognition-based attendance tracking, and touchless payment options – thus minimizing the physical contact environment.

Woman using fitness watch

“Wearable technology has come a long way in a relatively short space of time and, these days, everyone from young kids to grannies are wearing devices to monitor their steps, sleep, heart rate and more,” Pettit said. “For some, the personalized data and insights from wearables have a novelty element – but for many others, wearable data is increasingly being used as a valuable tool to shape and track fitness, health and wellness progress.”

2021 is likely to see the continuation of exercise as a medicine. Following the imposed lockdowns of 2020, people learned the value of getting active, both physically and mentally. It’s a fitness trend that may be even bigger in the new year.

“This year, we’ve seen people spend more time in their homes and in isolation than ever before. People have moved and interacted less, which has been compounded by unprecedented stresses and hardships across the board. These challenging dynamics have had flow-on effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of many. And we know that poor fitness and physical health boosts risks associated with mental illness and chronic disease,” Pettit said.

The gap between mental and physical health is expected to shrink as people become more acutely aware of the overall health benefits of holistic training.

“The fitness trends for yoga, Pilates, breathing work, mindfulness, meditation and broader mental health training have intensified during the pandemic, with more people opting for combined training that involves both mind relaxation and physical fitness,” Mind and Body Training.

With the return to face-to-face contact likely to be a slow and steady approach, virtual training will remain a massive component to health in 2021.

“Virtual fitness has been emerging for a while now – however, 2020 has seen an explosion in this area in line with the increased need to train at home. Consumers were forced to go virtual and many discovered they liked it – as did many of the professionals delivering the programs.”

High Intensity Interval Training, (HIIT) has been the major winner in the fitness space over the past few years, and that’s a trend will likely continue in 2021. “HIIT training will continue its rise towards mass popularity in 2021, propelled by increasing service offerings and also the flexibility offered by this type of training,” AIF Master Coach, Brodie Hicks said. “HIIT training is quick and effective for weight loss and lean muscle building, which the majority of everyday fitness enthusiasts want – and it can be done with or without equipment, in a gym or at home.

Personal training, whether it be face to face or virtually will continue to be a massive drawcard for the fitness industry. One of the only mainstay fitness trends, personal trainers will become all the more important in 2021 thanks to their ability to adapt and introduce new training protocols based on the evolving circumstances.

Even if gyms remain closed, the ability to hit the park for an outdoor session will be a major drawcard in 2021. Make the most of the environment around you and you will be far more motivated to keep up the pace.

In Summary, times are changing, and technology is creating significant shifts within industries. Consumers now have many more options on how they accomplish wellness, and fitness clubs will need to make the relevant changes to allow for these advances.


For more insights and the opportunity to meet with leading brands and industry leaders, be sure to attend Dubai Active Industry Summit on 28-30 October 2021 at Dubai World Trade Centre.