Overall, the employment outlook for the fitness industry was bright at the and of the decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that fitness trainers and instructors will experience 13 percent job growth through 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Trainers working in the personal care and services field may experience higher growth of about 22 percent.
Demand for these instructors will come from aging baby boomers who want to avoid chronic diseases that result from lack of activity, as well as young people who embrace a healthy lifestyle. Many health insurance programs now partly subsidize gym membership fees by offering monthly rebates for policyholders who visit the gym frequently. Some employers are setting up gyms on their premises. It seems likely that fitness centers will be created in retirement communities. Older fitness seekers will create an increased demand for low-impact forms of exercise such as yoga. Best opportunities are expected for job candidates with certification and increased levels of formal education in health or fitness.
The BLS does not release outlook figures for teaching specializations such as physical education. However, it projects 3 percent growth for elementary and middle school teachers, which is slower than average. The BLS attributes the slower growth to state and local budget constraints. Meanwhile, high school teachers will experience average, 4 percent growth through 2028. (These figures do not include special education teachers.) In recent years, however, school spending on physical education has been declining.
The industry of sporting and athletic goods manufacturing, like other manufacturing sectors in the United States, lost ground during the recession following 2007 and did not share in the comeback of business at the fitness and recreational sports centers. By 2011, the number of employees had shrunk by 48 percent from 2007 levels. This indicates that the job losses have been caused mostly by competition from imports. IBISWorld reported only 1.3 percent annual growth in the sporting and athletic good manufacturing industry between 2014 and 2019, though things were improving heading into the 2020s, with revenue increasing 1.7 percent in 2019 alone.
The American College of Sports Medicine conducts an annual survey of professionals in the fitness industry, asking about the dominant trends they perceive. For the 2020 survey, among the top trends that respondents identified were wearable technology and smartphone exercise apps. Other trends included body weight training (i.e., using the weight of the body itself as resistance, as in pushups); high-intensity interval training (short bursts of high-intensity activity); strength training; demand for educated, certified, and experienced fitness professionals; group training; training with free weights; and fitness programs for older adults. Other fitness programs that used to be among the top 20—Pilates, stability ball, and balance training—have not been on this list for a few years.
A periodic survey by the Physical Activity Council attempts to determine the level of physical activity of ordinary citizens. The most recent survey found that the percentage of inactive respondents—those who had not participated in active sports—was unchanged in 2017 and 2018, at 27.3 percent. The portion who had participated in fitness sports at a high-calorie burning level was nearly 55 percent. The survey also revealed that, toward the end of the decade, the most significant participation increases were occurring in the fitness and outdoor-based activities categories. Compared to 60.1 percent in 2013, participation in fitness sports reached 66.0 percent in 2018. During the same timeframe, outdoor sports participation levels increased from 53.9 percent to 59.2 percent.
One trend in fitness is the proliferation of bicycle-sharing programs in large cities. The goal of these programs is partly to increase the fitness of city dwellers but also to reduce automobile traffic. Successful programs have been organized in Denver, Minneapolis, Fort Worth, and the District of Columbia. In 2013, New York City inaugurated the Citi Bike program with about 6,000 bicycles available in lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn at 300 stations. Within 8 weeks, the program had expanded to more than 60,000 members and almost 34,000 trips on a single day. According to Statista, in 2018 there were approximately 1,608 bike sharing programs operating throughout the world, up from 1,400 in 2017 and 1,188 in 2016.
To meet social-distancing guidelines and comply with municipal restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic that began in 2020, gyms and other fitness services across the nation closed for an extended period. Some companies, such as SoulCycle, closed all of their locations globally. Loss of access to these facilities encouraged consumers to turn digital spaces. In 2020, 85 percent of fitness consumers in the U.S. were using livestream technology to work out as opposed to 7 percent in 2019. For the nearly $100 billion dollar fitness and training industry, the abrupt switch to digital exercise benefitted companies positioned to take advantage of it, such as Peloton, but left traditional gyms with uncertain prospects for reopening. At the same, trade and travel restrictions and disruptions to manufacturing led to shortages of home fitness equipment and delivery delays.
Consumers will continue to turn to fitness streaming services and apps in 2021, even with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and eventual reopening of gyms. It is predicted that it will take a while for people to feel confident and comfortable again working out with other people inside gyms. Many of those who have been working out at home will continue to do so, with some adding occasional in-person, on-site gym workouts to the mix. As described in an article by the research group CB Insights, "The difficult economic circumstances currently faced by gyms and health clubs will not disappear once the crisis ends. Once stay-at-home guidelines are lifted, consumers will continue to work out at home in numbers far beyond anything we saw prior to the crisis."
The U.S. gym and fitness franchises industry was valued at $3 billion in late 2020. It consists of nearly 8,600 businesses and employs about 57,734 people. As the vaccine distribution accelerates in 2021 and the social distancing guidelines loosen, business activity is expected to resume. Post pandemic, more people will be focused on leading healthy lifestyles and will return to gyms and fitness centers. The research group IBISWorld predicts that health club memberships will grow steadily through 2025, with gym franchises benefiting from a growing customer base. What will be of particular interest to consumers will be franchises that have "convenient establishments, around-the-clock services, and up-to-date fitness technology."