Virtual Fitness Is More Popular Than Ever, But We Miss The Gym

Online and digital fitness adoption has been growing steadily over the past several years, but when pandemic restrictions shut down studios and gyms earlier this year, the virtual fitness industry exploded. A drastic reduction in out-of-home activity and an increased concern for personal health converged to boost virtual fitness participation exponentially in the first months of Covid-19 restrictions.

Now that fitness centers and health clubs in nearly every state have reopened, the fitness landscape looks very different than it did at the beginning of the year. But the in-person workout is far from obsolete. Rather than replacing the gym or studio completely, remote and virtual options are becoming a part of a hybrid approach to fitness, which includes both in-person and at-home workouts, and which may very well be here to stay.

Adapting to at-home fitness

Mirror, an interactive in-home fitness experience. (Mirror/Twitter)

At the start of the pandemic, the nearly-$100 billion fitness industry had to switch its focus from the growing boutique studio trend to live-streaming and on-demand workouts and classes that could be tapped into at home.

Equipment retailers like Mirror (recently acquired by Lululemon) and Peloton with their integrated apps and live-streaming workouts, achieved unprecedented sales, Fitness equipment sales in general boomed, and exercise bands were particularly popular, with sales jumping 725% from January.

To quickly cater to the sudden need for at-home workout options, Gold’s Gym started offering free online workouts and started selling workout equipment and vitamin supplements, while Orange Theory began offering a free daily 30-minute workout.

Smaller studios and independent teachers also quickly pivoted their classes online, many of them using ClassPass, which works with over 30,000 studios and gyms nationwide to help fill empty spots in fitness classes, both in-person and online.

Virtual fitness is here to stay

The popularity of online fitness grew steadily from 2014 through 2019, with on-demand streaming the most popular type of online class in 2019. 

Mindbody, a cloud-based scheduling software used by spas, gyms and studios, saw a huge jump in online streaming services during the pandemic. In 2019, just 7% of users opted for live-stream classes and 17% used pre-recorded videos, whereas in June 2020, 70% were using video-on-demand and 75% participated in live-stream classes.

In 2020, the live streaming segment has so far experienced the highest growth, indicating the popularity of scheduled classes that promote a consistent workout regime, accountability and the potential to build community.

We’re more concerned with health and fitness than ever

In a recent survey, 37% of respondents said they would work out more after Covid-19. For half of those, the reason was a new appreciation for health and fitness prompted by the coronavirus. People are increasingly concerned with health, which is influencing consumer behavior in everything from beauty products to fitness routines to food and clothing purchases.

Fitness facilities are uniquely positioned to address these concerns, and many users are also seeking a tailored experience that caters specifically to their own specific time constraints, health needs, and fitness goals.  

Klēn supports studios, gyms and health clubs in their efforts to mitigate risk by leveraging its proprietary AI to compile the specific CDC recommendations, industry, state and local requirements to follow, helping reassure customers and smooth the transition back into the gym.

In-person participation is merging with online

By taking their services online via Zoom, Instagram, Facetime or YouTube, fitness trainers and teachers have been able to reorient to streaming classes, workouts and appointments, potentially reaching a much wider audience outside the studio walls. 

Now, newly-reopened studios have strict limits on the number of in-person attendees, so streaming the live class can help keep classes financially viable through a combination of in-person attendance and online participation. 

People really do miss the gym

For many, going to the gym isn’t just about the mechanics of the workout, just like going out to eat isn’t just about the food on the plate: it’s about the experience. According to a recent survey by Healthline, a medical information website, just 26% of respondents said that they don’t miss working out in a gym or studio, and 80% said that participating in online events was a positive experience.

While at-home alternatives may keep some people away from the gym, the numbers so far are encouraging for brick-and-mortar facilities.

According to the CEO of Crunch Fitness which has more than 300 gyms in the U.S., while the facilities are hosting fewer clients at a time, the company is experiencing higher membership purchase rates than last year, without an offsetting spike in cancelations.

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) also reports that in the second week of July, club attendance in the U.S. and Canada rose by 40% over the previous week, and is continuing to rise.

It seems that gym-goers do indeed miss the experience, but studio, health and fitness club owners should expect people to be cautious about returning to a workout facility during Covid-19. Making online alternatives available when in-person slots are full, posting on-demand workouts, and offering personal video coaching and consultations, can go a long way towards retaining existing clientele and attracting new members.

When people are ready to get back at it in person, the Klēn app shows how well their fitness center is following regulations and CDC guidelines, so they can be confident in the precautions being taken to safeguard their health while they work on their fitness.

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