Weighty Trends for Fitness Marketers

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Americans pumped iron big time in the 1990s, as they moved away from fitness activities that were popular in the 1980s, such as bicycling, aerobics, and rowing.

In fact, the number of Americans lifting free weights surged 76 percent, from 24.5 million in 1987 to 43.2 million in 1997, according to a report produced by the Fitness Products Council and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

The boom in free weight lifting is one of eight fitness trends identified by the two industry associations. In addition, "Tracking the Fitness Movement" reports that between 1987 and 1997, the number of Americans aged 6 and older who participate regularly in sports, fitness, or outdoors activities grew faster than did the overall population: The total number of sports, fitness, or outdoor activities participants jumped 19 percent from 68.5 million to 81.5 million, while population growth was 12 percent in the same period.

In addition to the increase in the use of free weights, the trends cited are: 1) embrace of exercise machines, especially cardiovascular machines such as treadmills and stair climbers; 2) treadmill popularity, as seen by a 720 percent increase in use of such equipment; 3) broadening of health club popularity, as evidenced by their increasing presence in apartment buildings, office and colleges; 4) surge in home equipment; 5) continued commitment to fitness among baby boomers; 6) diversifying forms of exercise; and 7) emergence of personal trainers for the masses.

The big increase in free weights pushed lifting into first place among number of participants in fitness activities. And it isn't only men accounting for the increase. The report showed an increase among frequent (100 days or more) female participants from 1.4 million to 6.6 million. At the same time the number of frequent male participants grew from 4.4 million to 12.8 million.

Men and women alike reported that weight control, feeling good after exercise, increased energy, muscle tone, and cardiovascular benefits were their top reasons for participating in fitness activities, though the order of those reasons varied slightly between the sexes.

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