After the global shutdown of 2020, this past year signified a tenuous return to normalcy. Mass-participation marathons returned. Gyms reopened. We had a summer Olympics. Many of those who were working from home went back to the office—some more reluctantly than others. It seemed like we were, if not quite out of the woods, then at least glimpsing the light at the meadow’s edge. Now, however, the rise of yet another ominous variant suggests that such optimism could be premature. It’s a reminder that we’re still very much living in the age of the pandemic and that it continues to impact our collective psyche.
As in Decembers past, we reached out to frequent contributors and other prominent voices in the health and fitness space to ask for their predictions about the year to come. More often than not, their responses didn’t attempt to forecast specific fads, but reflected shifting perspectives about what constitutes a “healthy” lifestyle. As Outside’s Sweat Science columnist Alex Hutchinson notes below, “all predictions reflect underlying desires or fears.” Hence, the following submissions are perhaps best read as reflections both on what is, and what ought to be.
More People Will Embrace a Weight-Neutral Approach to Health
There will be more focus on behavior (like eating, movement, and sleep) as a way to boost or maintain health regardless of what a person’s body looks like, instead of just pushing weight loss or so-called “healthy weight” as the answer to everything. It’s not a new idea, but podcasts like Maintenance Phase and books like Anti-Diet have helped spread it to more people, and intuitive eating has become so popular that even big diet companies like Noom and Weight Watchers are co-opting its language to appeal to consumers who are finally realizing that most weight loss attempts are doomed to fail. (Although, to be clear, these companies are still very much selling weight loss.) Friends and family members have told me that they’re hearing far less weight loss talk in spaces that are traditionally very weight-focused, like gyms and school health classes, which I think speaks volumes.
Athletes’ Definitions of Success Will Continue to Evolve
I’ve observed a growing trend of athletes across a number of sports—well-known elites all the way down to average-groupers—putting less emphasis on chasing results and not tying so much of their identity or self-worth to performance. I think we’ll see this shift continue in 2022 as more and more athletes learn to emphasize and identify with the intrinsic motivations for pursuing their chosen sport.
Menopause Will Have Its Turn in the Spotlight
Menopause has forever had an image problem, the term conjuring up white-haired women à la The Golden Girls who are considered old and irrelevant and whose needs have been largely ignored. But for people who menstruate, the menopause transition starts in one’s 40s, not 70s, and is a normal stage of midlife. And with over one billion people expected to experience menopause by 2025, we are finally paying attention. Menopause-related products and services—podcasts, supplements, health services, wearables, and skincare—have started to hit the market, a projected $600 billion industry, because women don’t want to have the same menopause experience as their mothers and grandmothers. We should expect more in 2022, with special attention on the fitness and performance-oriented space as more women want to remain active and competitive longer.
We Will Revert to Our Old Habits (for Better or Worse)
All “predictions” reflect underlying desires or fears, and this one is a bit of both: I think fitness in 2022 will be a year of reembracing the normal, the quotidian, the unremarkable. After a period of disruption during which—by necessity—we explored new and possibly better ways of doing things, we’re starting to pine for the old familiar ways. As I write this, Peloton’s stock is down 75 percent from its mid-pandemic high. Maybe the plain old gym, with its in-person classes and sweatily shared equipment, wasn’t so bad; maybe the beer leagues and boot camps and Sunday morning group runs are as good as it gets. On the other hand, it’s not like the world was super healthy in 2019, so reverting to normal may also mean deciding that, nah, we don’t need to go for that walk in the park that we decided was so crucial to our mental health during the pandemic, and we’ll just stay here and watch TV instead. In other words, it’s a mixed bag—but whatever happens, we’ll probably get bored of “normal” by the end of 2022. So don’t dump that Peloton stock yet.
The Quantified Self Wave Will Recede
In 2022, I think we’ll see people start to hit the point of data overload and move to a more tech-free training and exercise experience. For the past few years, we’ve seen a massive uptick in fitness and wellness wearables such as the Whoop strap, the Oura ring, and even CGMs for athletes. We are inundated with data on sleep, recovery, blood sugar, etc., all of which is eventually going to drive us batty through too many data points that may not even prove useful. We are constantly tied to tech in all areas of our lives, and primed to hit burnout. As a result, this year I think we’ll see more athletes shed their straps and rings and patches and watches and stop measuring and trying to quantify every metric of their training, rest, and recovery. It’ll be a time to go tech-free and get back to the basics of performance that an expensive wearable won’t help you with.
Most Runners Will Set a Personal Record, Get Injured, or Both
Next year will be the year every runner will own a pair of “super shoes”—high stack models with light, bouncy foam, curved, embedded plates, and pronounced forefoot rockers. No longer only focusing on $250+ marathon racers (although no one will want to run a marathon without a pair), brands are also introducing less expensive models durable enough for training, as well as adapting the tech to trail shoes—watch for plated off-road models coming from Salomon, Saucony, Craft and Hoka. And runners will find the shoes work, allowing them to run faster with less effort and leading to PRs. But they’ll work so well that people will not want to run in anything else—and there lies the danger. Physical therapists and podiatrists warn that the shoes not only enhance performance but also magnify imbalances and alter stride mechanics, introducing new stresses. Look for increased injuries ranging from shin splints to stress fractures, toe trouble to tendinopathies.
—Jonathan Beverly, Senior Running Editor, Outside
More People Will Realize that “Readiness Scores” Are BS
I think on the one hand, there will be an explosion of digital wearables purporting to deliver “readiness” scores and lots of people will swoon over them. On the other hand, I think people will increasingly realize that this stuff is a sham. Anyone who has ever done anything at an elite level for a long period of time knows the absurdity of trusting a “readiness score” that purports to quantify all the complex inputs of human performance from a device on your wrist.
Supply Chain Issues Will Inspire More Minimalist Running
Who knows? COVID keeps upending our plans and expectations, so predictions are a fool’s game. But I’d guess people will be desperate in the coming months to get out of their living rooms, meaning less Peloton or online yoga and a lot more traffic on trails and sidewalks. Maybe we’ll see a return to interest in barefoot running in 2022, too, since running shoes in common sizes are really hard to find right now.
Wellness Will Increasingly Be an End Unto Itself
The Great Resignation has shown that many people are leaving their jobs, but unemployment is actually at an all-time low. I think this has implications for wellness because it shows that many of us are overworked. We realize we still need a job, but want to do it on our own terms, so we are entering the freelance or gig economy. At the same time, millennials, who have pushed the wellness industry to what it is today, are also getting older and are starting to think about exercise in terms of longevity and pain management. People are still going to invest in mental health and fitness, but the focus will be on longevity and feeling good, rather than aesthetics or trying to become more productive in your job.