The Future of Fitness: Looking Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world, gyms and studios closed their doors for months. Many major chains, including Gold’s Gym and 24-Hour Fitness, declared bankruptcy because of the financial impact of the pandemic on their businesses. Other gyms remained open but with vastly different operating models than before.  

By the end of 2020, according to an industry report from IHRSA, The Global Health & Fitness Association, as much as 17% of U.S. fitness businesses — primarily small, independent gyms —  had closed and industry revenue had dropped by 58%. This drop is due in large part to the increase in digital fitness revenue and a decline in traditional club memberships.  

As one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, fitness businesses may not fully recover until 2023 or even 2024. And even then, the industry will be completely transformed with consumers looking for gyms to offer a mix of in-person, digital, and at-home health opportunities.  

In this blog article, we’ll take a look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic toward the completely transformed fitness industry of the future.  

Consumers Are Ready to Get Back to the Gym 

Within a month of the pandemic-induced shutdown of gyms and parks, many Americans were itching to get back to a workout routine. According to an April 2020 Pew study, 18% of Americans reported that they’d participated in an online fitness class or done an online workout video at home.  

More than a year later, many consumers are ready and willing to get back to in-person fitness, with some exceptions. According to IHRSA’s The COVID Era Fitness Consumer report, 94% of gym members plan to return to the gym in person. Prior to the shutdown, 42% of respondents went to the gym three to four days per week, and 35% say they’ll be going just as often once they’re comfortable returning. However, in-person participation at boutique gyms is expected to drop 10%, according to L.E.K. Consulting.  

Many gym goers may not return until the end of 2021 while others may wait much longer to return. Until more vaccine options are available, receive official FDA approval, and are widely administered — or until there are no more deaths related to COVID-19 — many members are in a holding pattern.  

Gyms Are Ready to Rally as the U.S. Opens Back Up 

By the end of 2021 — assuming vaccination rates continue to rise and infections continue to fall — most gyms should start to rebound. In fact, IHRSA found that 50% of gym goers are unhappy with their new fitness routines and 48% are struggling to find the motivation to workout at home, which will help nudge them back to the gym.  

But there are many unknowns, including whether this year’s flu season will be more brutal than past years because people are giving up mask wearing and social distancing. Whatever happens, we know from IHRSA that 59% of consumers miss going to the gym and are ready to head back. We anticipate traditional, commercial gyms to bounce back the fastest because these gyms have the resources to keep going and the price points that are most attractive to cost-conscious consumers. On the other hand, locally owned and operated traditional gyms will likely struggle to retain and grow memberships well into the next few years.  

Boutique studios, on the other hand, will lose membership in the aftermath of COVID-19, particularly studios that catered to pre-pandemic fitness niches that are now more accessible in the home such as spinning. This is due largely to rising stars like Peloton, which added three-quarters of a million new subscribers in 2020. Many of Peloton’s subscribers don’t even own a Peloton bike or treadmill, but they were drawn in by digital fitness classes. Similarly, low- or no-equipment studios that offered yoga and barre classes will continue to experience major competition from digital classes and apps.  

According to IHRSA, 95% of gym goers miss at least one aspect of physically being at their gym, with 54% reporting that they have limited equipment at home. Equipment-heavy concepts, such as CrossFit gyms, will rebound more quickly than other niche studios because most homeowners don’t have the space or funds to build out a CrossFit-worthy gym at home. Once consumers are comfortable handling the equipment again, they’ll be filling Orangetheory Fitness and CrossFit gyms will fill quickly.  

3 Tips for Appealing to Gym Goers in 2021 and Beyond 

We’ve got some tips for gyms and clubs to ensure a successful rebound throughout the rest of 2021 and well into the coming years.  

1. Get to Know Your Audience’s Fears and Hopes 

The most important piece of advice we have for gym owners trying to rebound from the pandemic is to know your audience. Spend time digging into who your current members are to better understand their demographics, challenges, and goals. The better you understand your current members, the better you can sell your gym and its value proposition to current and potential members.  

For example, if you operate an equipment-heavy gym, you need to understand the health and safety measures your members expect before returning in person. If you run a yoga studio in a suburban area and your clientele is mostly moms, you need to determine what their routine looks like with kids at home or back to in-person learning, what their stressors are, and what they need from your studio to feel confident in returning. 

2. Deliver a Complementary Digital Experience 

Ultimately, the gyms — whether traditional or boutique — that offer an app or other digital element and focus on building a community around their space will rebound the fastest. Over the past year, consumers have gotten accustomed to digital platforms being part of their fitness routine, and catering to that reality is going to be vital to gym success throughout 2021 and beyond.  

Consider ways to tie your gym into popular wearable fitness devices or digital fitness classes, and make sure you’re offering an app for your digitally minded members. Here are a few things that your app should offer:  

  • Easy class sign up, cancellation, and sign-up options  
  • Options for checking in with trainers or other staff members 
  • Ability to manage memberships and make changes  
  • Ways for members to track their progress and share milestones on social media  

3. Focus on Building a Fitness Community 

Health-conscious consumers miss the sense of community that a gym membership provides. According to IHRSA, 42% miss working out with others and 26% miss having people cheer them on throughout a workout. Of those who have returned to the gym, 53% say that one of their main goals in having a gym membership is to boost their mood.  

At a time when gyms are competing with each other in a big way, you can stand out by devoting resources to nurturing a strong sense of community at your gym. In addition to engaging with and celebrating members on social media, here are some community-building options:  

  • Group classes so friends join and come together 
  • Team challenges or bootcamps 
  • Referral discounts to get members’ friends to join 
  • Community event sponsorships or promotions 

Help Your Gym Bounce Back Faster with ASF 

Although the fitness industry has suffered greatly from the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has also benefited by being thrust into the world of digital transformation A full rebound may not happen until 2023 or later. Even so, the fitness industry is in the best position possible to meet consumers’ needs and demands throughout 2021 and well into the future.  

If you’re ready to help your gym rebound from the pandemic faster with digital solutions that put your members first, let’s talk.  

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About ASF

ASF is a leading technology company that provides software, payment processing and customer support to the fitness industry including gyms, health clubs and martial arts studios. Since 1973, we’ve given gym and fitness club owners the ability to generate more revenue through member engagement and stronger communities.

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