Executive Q&A: FitLab’s Michael Rutledge

After two years of on-again, off-again gym closures and a workout-from-home boom, we asked industry executives for their thoughts on the future of fitness.

In this Q&A, we spoke with FitLab Senior Director Michael Rutledge about experiential exercise, building community, and fitness x web3.

Shuttered during the pandemic, gyms/studios are rebounding. How do they succeed going forward?

Michael Rutledge: The pandemic was a trying time for everyone, with two years of lockdowns, uncertainty, and distance from our “normal” daily lives, uprooting our routines.

We adapted as best we could through innovative digital fitness options that blurred boundaries. But, as the world opened back up, we quickly realized that we don’t go to the gym to sweat — we go to the gym to be around other people who are putting in the work to be better.

Gyms and studios will excel going forward by becoming entirely community- and experience-focused. When a member enters a space, their connection with those instructors, other members, the workout, the products being sold, and the end-of-workout feeling needs to be felt on a visceral level.

Our society is inundated by distractions; the spaces we build must be a pull-back to reality and the bodies we have.

Omnichannel or hybrid fitness is gaining traction. How does it play out?

MR: Our world has evolved. As an industry and concept, omnichannel fitness offerings align with the idea that, as with human nature, we must be able to adapt and overcome.

As an industry, we need to provide the experiences wherever and however our members train and live. Being everything to everyone is near impossible, but building the tools, resources, and experiences for our members is not. We must focus on that.

Digital/connected fitness is facing headwinds. How will the category evolve?

MR: The strictly digital/connected fitness companies grew fast and were under heavy scrutiny from outside influences. I believe they succeed going forward by honing in on their core competencies.

In my opinion, there are too many pivots taking place experimenting in “new & exciting,” but none are mastering what made them who they are today. I think what we need is a back-to-the-basics evolution to honor their loyal customers and listen to what their wants and needs are.

From VR to web3, immersive exercise is trending. How will it impact fitness?

MR: I believe web3 needs to be researched, understood, and implemented across all fitness experiences.

It’s going to be a rough few years for the explorers trying to build in this space, but the winners will be revealed long after the dust settles from the ones who took missteps building.

The current web3 space is dealing with the normal growing pains of false prophets repackaging old marketing techniques. The real builders who are trying to optimize and build the bridges between community and protocols need to be encouraged to keep building.

And I believe whoever builds a great augmented reality experience tied to a token, a move-to-earn experience, and a rabid community will dominate in the next five to 10 years.

What trends will shape the future of fitness?

MR: The evolution of the consumer will dictate our next 30 years. We are about to enter an age where Gen Z and younger have been raised on social media/tech/connection and many once-in-a-lifetime global experiences. This cannot be understated.

We also face an era of an aging population whose health is in rapid decline. The industry leaders who can speak to every demographic can lead experiential outlets that connect community and family.

Wrapping up: Anything else we should keep in mind?

MR: Our industry needs to realize we are not competing against each other. We are competing against Netflix & Pizza (I stole this thought from FitLab CEO Mike Melby).

We are staring down the barrel of increasingly sophisticated technology that is changing and shaping our everyday lives. It’s easier and easier for people to pick up the remote, lay on the couch, and be distracted by everything else going on.

Our jobs are to get people moving — that’s it. Inspire them to move. If we do that, we win.