4 min read

Will The Fitness Industry Ever Be The Same?

A lot can change in a week. When we published our first report on fitness and COVID-19, trainers and staff were diligently cleaning exercise equipment. And, despite their trepidation, members filed into their favorite classes.

A few days later, most of the country is on lockdown. With a “stay-at-home” order in effect, gyms and studios have shuttered along with non-life-sustaining businesses. Now, the fitness industry, like the rest of the nation, is adapting in real-time.

Now Streaming

There has never been more digital fitness content created or consumed. From local studios and name brands to instructors and coaches, everyone is churning out workout videos.

While some share free content to remain top of mind, others are attempting to mitigate losses by monetizing their efforts. Another group, the clubs and studios who previously implemented remote coaching, streaming content, or on-demand offerings, are on more stable ground.

On the flipside: at-home and on-demand fitness companies are seizing this moment.

  • Mirror has seen a fivefold increase in exercise frequency and an “uptick” in sales.
  • Tonal’s sales have tripled in recent weeks. Usage is the highest in company history.
  • Hydrow saw sales increased 3x recently. Usage is up more than 40%.
  • FightCamp usage is at an all-time high and sales are up 6x.
  • iFit’s digital subscription + connected equipment from NordicTrack and ProForm has seen a 200% increase in sales versus a year ago.
  • Echelon’s sales are up 5x over average daily volumes and usage up 50%+.
  • Tempo users are working out 35% more often than the previous six months.

The big picture: this crisis is amplifying concerns brick-and-mortar operators have been wrestling with in recent years. Mainly, will on-demand and connected fitness offerings poach their members?

Prior to the coronavirus-induced shutdown, the problem was present but not immediate. Now, the shift to digital could be nearing a tipping point, in what could end up being an exodus—albeit a forced one—from studios to apps and at-home equipment.

No clear solution

Remember, most gym and studio owners aren’t backed by billion-dollar holding companies or franchisors. They’re not tech-savvy video producers capable of spinning up a digital offering, nor can they afford to. And, although a number solutions exist (more on that in one second), there’s no one-size-fits-all option for virtual training.

My recent LinkedIn post on the topic bears that out. With nearly 100 comments, some from industry-leading operators, no two replies named the same platform for creating, streaming, or monetizing digital content.

Among the more compelling concepts, the offerings break out across options for streaming live content, uploading on-demand workouts, instructor- or coach-driven programming, and licensing content that can be bundled with a gym membership.

  • Streaming/on-demand: Wexer, Intelivideo, Uscreen, FORTË
  • Instructor/coach-driven: Playbook, TrueCoach
  • Library/bundle: PEAR Sports, Wexer, Fitness On Demand
  • Music/playlists: FEED.FM, Struct Club
  • MINDBODY is accelerating the release of its video-on-demand product.

More telling, though, is the number of fitness providers turning to existing social and video platforms. From Instagram and Facebook to Zoom, Vimeo, and YouTube, trainers are hacking together video + programming (Excel) + payment (PayPal or Venmo) solutions to stay in business.

Steep Competition

For gym and studio owners to have launched digital content overnight, you have to respect the hustle. But trying to keep members engaged—and paying—during a lengthy shutdown is a tremendous challenge.

First, there’s the issue of equipment. Indoor cycling, for instance, doesn’t translate without a bike. Then there are concerns related to connectivity — if you’ve ever had a Zoom meeting… well, you know. Plus, with everyone working from home, members might not want to spend even more time exercising on the same platform.

That’s to say nothing of production quality and music, two costly hurdles.

Already, videos are being pulled down for copyright infringement. Meanwhile, the biggest names in fitness, from Peloton to Barry’s and retail brands like lululemon, are cranking out high-quality content from some of the top trainers in the game.

Speaking of Peloton, let’s not forget that they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on production studios, music licenses, and instructor talent to create a premium experience. So, when they heavily discount their app, making it free for 90-days, it’s hard to imagine fitness-seekers won’t defect from their local studios.

The Tipping Point

Around the web, the consensus seems to be that COVID-19 is an accelerant, fueling a shift to digital and at-home fitness. Depending on who you ask (and who you believe), once we hit this tipping point, the pendulum won’t swing back to exercising in-person.

For some, social isolation will leave them craving the community aspect of their favorite studio or gym more than ever before. Others who responded to the pandemic by purchasing a Peloton, outfitting a home gym, or downloading an app like Obé Fitness might not turn back.

Then there’s the heartbreaking reality that some businesses won’t survive this shutdown. And if that’s the case, there won’t be a gym to return to.

Right now, though, there are more questions than answers. But in this moment, it feels like fitness (and life) just changed forever.

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