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The New Fitness Club Dynamics in a COVID-19 World

Hybrid Classes Can Keep Group Fitness Alive When In-Person Slots Are Hard to Come By

Studio, health club and gym owners know very well that a workout is no longer just a matter of dropping in, throwing your towel on the bench and getting down to business. Athletic facilities have to comply with strict sanitation protocols and capacities have been severely reduced for workout spaces. In some regions, indoor group fitness classes are still not allowed. 

This is a hard blow for the fitness industry, but offering a combination of online and in-person class options can keep students engaged and will be a key component of any successful long-term group fitness strategy.

Why group workouts are so appealing

Studies have shown that group exercise can lead to better fitness outcomes than solitary workouts, especially when they involve a degree of competition. Benjamin Shibley, a professor of exercise science at Appalachian University also points to a sense of bonding and purpose and even “shared suffering” in a group workout situation that pushes people to reach their goals better than the solitary workout does. 

These shared goals and purpose help build a sense of community, which may in fact be the strongest draw for people to seek out group fitness instead of working out alone. This also speaks to motivation inherent in the accountability of working out with a group of people that expect you to show up, virtually or IRL, and will know if you don’t..

Barry’’s fitness studios, known for their popular HIIT classes, had offered their workouts exclusively in person until pandemic measures forced them to close their studios in March. They  now sell their resistance band kits online, and stream virtual classes from their signature ‘Red Rooms,’ so named for the red lighting in their studios. According to Chris Hudson, VP of the chain, shared workouts are a big draw because “it feels like a team sport, with everyone working toward the same goal.”

Crowded gyms are no more

In many regions, health clubs and fitness centers that have reopened are facing some very strict capacity limitations. Los Angeles county has capped indoor gym capacity at just 10% pre-Covid-19 numbers, while in New York State indoor gym capacity is 33% and classes are only being held outdoors. 

Complying with the CDC social distancing guidelines means ensuring a minimum of 6 feet between people at all times. This requires at least 36 square feet of floor space per person, and in a class or group workout, they might need significantly more depending on how much movement is involved.

Other states have more relaxed restrictions on athletic facilities, but not everyone is ready to go back or has the freedom to return in person. For those who want the advantages of group workouts but won’t yet attend in person, gyms can still keep them engaged online and with hybrid format classes, which offer virtual and in-person attendance.

Tips to keep hybrid classes thriving

Competition is fierce in the online fitness market, with thousands of on demand and live streaming classes available any time, from anywhere. Beyond offering a quality workout, there are a few other ways to keep students engaged and keep classes full, both online and in real life. 

Make it easy to join in

The transition to online should be as smooth and glitch-free as possible. Choose the platform that works best for your needs, like Zoom, YouTube, Instagram, or a more targeted platform like Mindbody. Make it clear how to log in, time (including time zone) and length of the class. Let people know how to participate if they want to and make sure they know that the class will be hybrid of online and in-person.

Create FOMO with unique classes

Mix it up and make each class different to encourage people to come frequently so as not to miss out. Consider doing an outdoor workout so more people can join in person or tune in from home and see interesting locations.

Offer flexible membership options 

Memberships should work for in-person, online classes, and on-demand classes. For bundles, you can decide if you want in-person and online classes to cost the same, or to scale the cost down for online participation. Memberships to some fitness clubs like OrangeTheory and Crunch Fitness include access to a library of different classes for on-demand workouts at home.

Track progress

To encourage friendly competition, you can help people track their fitness progress online through a message board and fitness activity trackers, which can keep them focused on their goals.

Build community and keep people connected

Social media groups can offer an outlet for participants to keep in touch out of class, share their progress, and keep each other motivated. Timely email reminders and group prompts can also keep people on track towards their fitness goals, which will help fill classes.

Group fitness is personal

Whatever part of the group dynamic has the strongest impact on your results, there are clear advantages to group fitness, but Covid-19 concerns  and restrictions make it harder than ever to get to the gym. Even though a recent survey found that only 22% of respondents were comfortable returning to in-person workouts, available slots can still fill up fast with such strict capacity limits.

Whether classes are full, the commute is too much, or you’re just not ready to go back in person, the flexibility to join online can attract new recruits and keep existing members committed to their fitness goals.

While studios work to make their classes dynamic and engaging, Klēn applies its proprietary algorithms to compile all the shifting rules, regulations and best practices for the industry, helping owners reassure clients that they’re providing a safe, healthy space to work out.

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