The Future of Fitness – What’s next?

Author : David Bergin, Health Promotion Officer

The global crisis has had a profound impact on physical activity and fitness in Ireland. For the fitness industry and gyms, it has been quite often negative as gyms have closed and Personal Trainers have lost in-person clients. For the public however, it seems we as a nation have never been more active.

The recent Sport Ireland report on physical activity during the Covid-19 restrictions indicate there was large increase in recreational physical activity with an additional 500,000 walkers, 450,000 runners and 220,000 cyclists. Yes, some of those will be from the cohort of regular gym goers, organised sport, and other modes of fitness. But another figure from this report is very promising – inactive adults has dropped 8% from the same time period in 2019.

The overall message here is that physical activity and the future of fitness is bright. So how do we as individuals capitalise on this and what is the future of fitness? We caught up with Spectrum.Life Health Promotion Officer David Bergin to get his thoughts.



1. How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on fitness and physical activity?

Go for a look yourself! On your next activity break, head outside for a walk and pay attention to how busy your area is with walkers, runners, scooters, and some park yoga. Due to the restrictions in the last few months, communities all over Ireland and beyond have looked to their local area to get active. Was it out of boredom? A coping mechanism to the isolation? For different people, you’ll find different reasons for this increase in activity.

On a personal level, it was an opportunity to get back to running, something I haven’t done much in years. I also got a break from the gym, which I felt I needed. Now my home HIIT sessions, whether these are by myself, with my partner in a park or teaching an online class, I’ve loved the freedom. The timer used in the HIIT class motivated too, as I was probably a little too casual when I was in the gym before the crisis.

Coming out of the crisis, I feel we’ll see a blended approach to fitness and physical activity with people mixing their routines to both at-home and in the gym. I know I will anyway. My hope is those who are new to fitness will have experienced all the fantastic benefits you get from being active and keep exploring new ways to be active. It’s certainly a silver lining to the crisis, a positive thought to counter all the sadness.


2. What is it about digital fitness that people have found appealing?

It’s opened so many doors. On speaking to colleagues in the area, it’s a general consensus that people new to fitness can try out a class without fear, stepping into a packed gym which is something that can be a little daunting in those initial few sessions. Now beginners can just watch a session without even taking part, trying a few exercises, and discovering that it’s more than just sweating and being out of breath. It can be fun too!

This fact alone will help so many more people get into fitness. When I’m communicating about a class, I emphasise that if people want, they can join in their PJs and there’s no pressure to turn on your cam. It removes any worries about those who may feel a little body conscious.

With digital fitness, it also removes other physical barriers such as not being near your gym. For example, if I go to the west of Ireland for a weekend where I don’t have any gym membership and I’m not staying in a fancy hotel, I can still get a workout in. All I do is load up a recorded session or join a live one. One of my main roles in health promotion is to remove barriers for people to be active. Digital wellbeing goes great lengths to help this.

3. How does wearable technology, GPS tracking and digital coaching work in the real world?

Let’s start with wearable technology and GPS tracking. If we look at motivating factors to be active, take part in sport, or go to the gym, the motivation can be described by either internal or external. Internal, or intrinsic motivation is when an individual is motivated by the enjoyment of an activity, e.g. someone who runs because they love that boost in mood following the run. External, or extrinsic motivation is when an individual is motivated by an external force such as money, kudos or winning a competition. One form of motivation isn’t better than the other and it’s all very individual.

Now if we go back to wearable technology and what that provides the user with – data. Data is a beautiful thing whether it’s telling a story over time or giving us a snapshot in time of performance. This feedback, with potential to share, can be linked back to external motivation. If there’s a charity campaign that encourages someone to run 5k and post to social media along with a donation screenshot, this is an example of external motivation. The wearable technology is the proof and the time may add a competitive nature, further motivation.
Wearable technology opens more doors and knocks down additional barriers to empowering people to be active. It’s part and parcel of fitness now and it’s only getting bigger. Add in digital coaching, whether this is a 10-minute 121 video consultation or an eLearning platform, an individual has never been more supported in their physical activity or fitness journey. From a health promotion perspective, the reach of one fitness professional can now be huge. Just look at Joe Wicks and his YouTube PE classes. With views in the millions, Mr. Wicks and this form of physical activity prescription has the potential to transform kids’ behaviours far beyond what traditional methods have done in the past.
Let’s just hope we don’t return to those 80’s aerobic videos!


4. Is there anything people should be aware of when it comes to digital coaching?

As with any industry that is client facing like the fitness industry, there will always be some people who attempt to fraud individuals. It really frustrates me, especially as those who fall victim to a dodgy trainer don’t realise the dangers it can pose to their physical health. It’s so important to correctly evaluate the source of the material you’re consuming and that it’s from a reputable source with accreditation.

Always check out a digital coach’s qualification and ensure it’s accredited by the appropriate association and don’t be afraid to ask them.
If you’re a complete beginner or returning after an extended hiatus, be honest with yourself. Training at a level beyond your capabilities can be harmful as some exercises require strict form to perform safely. I know my Healthcoach colleagues would be delighted to help you in your journey.


5. Never has the phrase “health is your wealth” become more apparent. How do you feel about this new view of health and fitness?

I can’t remember another time in my life when the population hasn’t been more health-aware. During my undergrad in Public Health, we learned about “heightened awareness” with respect to individuals in the hospital or primary care settings and how this is an opportunity to empower them to choose healthy behaviours. The public health crisis we’ve found ourselves in has brought forward a similar behaviour.

By rolling out campaigns in the workplace, such as digital fitness classes or step challenges, organisations have a captive audience and can encourage sustainable behaviours within the workplace. I would encourage decision makers to jump at this opportunity.


6. How has the pandemic shaped commuting and will this impact on the future of fitness?

At the beginning of the lockdown my messages to employees was to mimic their commute by going for a walk each day. As we move back to the office and the knowledge that even more people are getting active on a daily basis as part of their routine, my message will focus on sustaining these new behaviours.

It has been so rewarding to see the increase in leisurely activity in the community. With these new behaviours coupled with an avoidance of public transport, there’s quite the possibility that our footpaths, cycle-lanes and parks will be full of happy and healthy commuters like never before. I, for one, am very happy to share the road with other cyclists! Thankfully, we’re seeing more and more infrastructure cater for active commuting rather than vehicles although I’m aware there’s much work to be done in rural areas.


7. The gyms are about to reopen. How do you see this impacting the world of fitness?

It’s difficult to say, as with so much during this crisis, the unknowns have been ever-present. There may be an initial wariness of returning to the gym as people are fearful of a second wave of the crisis. I do believe the gyms will prove their capabilities in providing a safe, clean space to workout in. However, as space will be a factor to allow for social distancing, I don’t see digital fitness going anywhere. In addition to some of the benefits I’ve already mentioned, I see digital fitness very much working in tandem with gyms.
Digital fitness is a fantastic pathway for beginners to enter the world of physical activity and the gyms will be there for them when they’re ready to hit their Olympic-lift personal best.