Issue No. 240: Gen Z x Fitness

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Gen Z isn’t just hitting the gym; they’re reshaping the industry.

Youth Movement

The largest generation in American history, as members of Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) come of age, brands must adapt to new behaviors.

In particular, from mental wellness to healthcare to sustainability, this demographic is redefining well-being — while also making it a top priority.

As part of their routine, Gen Zers believe exercise helps them feel their best. And, more than a passing fad, their commitment to fitness just might transform the industry.

Surveying 4K Gen Zers across the US, UK, Germany, and China, a new Les Mills report highlights the importance of movement to a wellness-minded generation.

  • 30% regularly visit fitness facilities.
  • 36% are “regular exercisers,” working out at least once per week.
  • 72% of regular exercisers are doing both in-gym and out-of-gym workouts.

Only 14% reported no interest in exercising and, a promising trend, Gen Z is visiting the gym more than the general population.

Among young gym-goers, an overwhelming 91% choose a multipurpose (read: big-box) facility equipped with free weights, cardio equipment, and group classes — the latter of which is becoming nonnegotiable.

Better together. Citing atmosphere and community as essential to the experience, Gen Z rallies around the social aspect of the gym.

Drawn by the energy of exercising with others and music-driven workouts, 81% of gym-goers take group fitness classes. Aspiring to look better and achieve results, group strength training was the top modality, followed by stretching & mobility.

While this isn’t a huge departure from other generations, operators should pay close attention to how this younger cohort thinks about, discovers, and engages with its fitness community.

Tech Support

Despite strong gym attendance, Gen Zers who aren’t regular exercisers still need support, with 50% struggling to get started.

Looking closer, the main barriers center on a lack of confidence, including feeling intimidated, uneducated, or being on their own when it comes to working out.

Notably, at-home fitness companies built their pandemic empires by promising to fix those very pain points. Still, reaching audiences beyond the already-fit remains a challenge for gyms and digital brands alike.

Hybrid tribe. Hooked on their phones, 40% of teens use TikTok as their primary search engine. While mental health concerns abound, on the positive side, these online interactions can become a springboard to IRL fitness communities.

Using tech as training wheels, 68% prefer to start their fitness journey at home, but the digital tools they adopt aren’t tethered to a specific space.

  • 59% use a free fitness app or online option to support their training.
  • 35% started going to an in-person class they first discovered online.
  • 44% use paid fitness apps outside the gym, but 51% use paid fitness apps in the gym.

#influencer. Perhaps most popular of all, 76% use a fitness influencer’s free programming at home or outside, and 71% use it to guide workouts at the gym.

A recurring theme, high-quality instruction is critical for fitness brands. And to reach Gen Z, a modernized omnichannel offering is key — with 55% saying gyms should treat trainers as “local fitness influencers” to build a strong sense of community.

And both brick-and-mortar and digital operators are already working on the convergence:

  • After a rebrand emphasizing anywhere use of its app, Peloton launched structured strength content designed for the gym.
  • World Gym recently redesigned its clubs with tech-enabled group fitness studios, as well as social media-optimized “selfie” rooms.
  • Crunch Fitness enlisted studio instructors for content on its revamped Crunch+ app, positioned as an “alternative or enhancement” to the in-club experience.

Stack ‘em up. As more exercises opt for hybrid workouts, operators will have to account for fitness stacking — where members using digital apps bring their own content to the gym.

Takeaway: For Gen Z, the fitness experience of today and tomorrow cannot exist without socially inspired digital touchpoints. Put simply, if brands amplify the influence of their instructors, more exercisers will follow, online and off.

🎙 On the Podcast

Nix Biosensors founder & CEO Meridith Cass discusses real-time performance data derived from sweat.

We also cover: optimizing hydration and the broadening market for smart sweat patches.

Listen to today’s episode here.

💪 Tempo debuts new data-driven workouts

The smart strength company revamped its platform with the help of AI.

What’s new: Integrating wearable data, body scans, and 3D camera tech, Tempo’s latest updates promise to deliver a personalized, adaptable home training experience.

  • Training plans are tailored to fitness level or goal, with optional in-app body composition scans to measure progress.
  • Metrics like heart rate, sleep quality, and activity levels translate to a Readiness Score that’s used to generate an optimal workout each day.
  • A mix of user feedback, health data, and live form-tracking drives in-the-moment adjustments for reps, time under tension, and rest time between sets.

Of note, the ability to sync with top wearables like Apple Watch, Garmin, and WHOOP enables further optimization.

CEO and co-founder Moawia Eldeeb says the new vision for Tempo goes beyond home equipment; the company’s focused on perfecting workout programming:

“With the new Tempo, we’re creating training plans that put you at the center and deliver an experience that’s even better than the world’s best personal trainer. No matter your fitness level, every workout is optimized to your body’s changing needs, every time you come back to train with us.”

Fitting in. After raising ~$300M, Tempo gradually shifted focus from hardware to coaching — first by downsizing its product, then by rethinking its business model to keep pace in the hybrid landscape.

Now, it’ll join fitness tech companies in a novel AI application, all vying for a consumer that craves strength workoutstrainers, and personalized programming.

Meanwhile, other computer vision-assisted equipment makers have struggled since hitting pandemic highs, with Tonal’s valuation plummeting, sales of Peloton’s strength platform Guide flat, and lululemon looking to offload MIRROR.

Looking ahead: Tempo wants to remove the guesswork from workouts and the cost barrier to quality personal training — but time will tell if its personalized algorithms and wearable integrations are impressive enough to pull exercisers away from the in-person experience.

📈 Climbing gyms face growing pains

More popular than ever, climbing gyms are scaling up — if they can afford it.

New heights. Fueled by the pandemic, inclusion in the Olympics, and the success of films like Free Solo, the climbing business is booming.

Making the sport more accessible while appealing to the general fitness crowd, indoor climbing gyms have been on quite the run.

  • The number of indoor climbers surpassed 5.6M in 2021, up 7.1% from 2019.
  • There are ~620 climbing gyms in the US, with 43 new locations set to open in 2023.
  • Rebounding from the pandemic, 2022 revenue per climbing gym was up 19% from 2019.

Climb on. But, keeping pace with continued expansion is expensive, especially for independent operators.

Already strapped for cash, after struggling to weather COVID, smaller outfits are confronting rising costs and operational challenges. As former climbing gym owner Michael Cesari told the WSJ, the industry is at a crossroads: “It’s scale or get out.” 

  • 2021: Sensing the shift, Cesari sold Steep Rock Bouldering to national chain VITAL.
  • 2022: PE-backed Bouldering Project acquired three Brooklyn Boulders gyms.
  • 2023: Summit’s four Texas-based locations were bought by private equity-funded Movement.

Shaping up. With the US indoor rock climbing market valued north of $500M, there’s still more demand for gyms than supply.

As Climbing Business Journal points out, climbing gyms have grown faster than fitness facilities over the past five years. But, the two industries share similarities.

Both saw mom-and-pop shops disproportionately affected by COVID. Both are seeing deep-pocketed investors and acquirers reshape the landscape. And fitness amenities, like free weights, cardio equipment, and group classes, have become mainstays of climbing gyms.

Punchline: From niche business to lucrative enterprise, indoor rock climbing is following the path of gyms and studios in the pursuit of building billion-dollar empires. As the effort to scale intensifies, the tensions between climbing purists and bouldering barons will too.

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • BetterBrand, maker of low-carb, better-for-you baked goods, landed $6M in a Series A, reaching a $170M valuation.
  • Everytable, a multi-channel food company focused on equitable access to food as medicine, closed $25M in a Series C-2 round.
  • Private urgent care platform Sollis Health secured $15M in a Series A extension round.
  • Pendulum Therapeutics, maker of microbiome-targeted products for better metabolic health, landed $10M from NZ-based dairy giant Fonterra.
  • SnapCalorie, a computer vision-assisted nutrition platform, announced $2M in seed funding from AccelIndex VenturesY Combinator, and former CrossFit CEO Eric Roza.
  • Sweden- and Denmark-based Alba Health, a gut health platform for infants, raised $2M in pre-seed funding.
  • Caraway Health, a Gen Z-focused women’s mental and reproductive health platform, closed $16.75M in Series A funding co-led by Maveron and GV.
  • Earable Neuroscience, makers of a sleep-enhancing headband, secured an undisclosed bridge investment from Samsung Ventures.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Sleep Economy
  • Med spa operator SEV added an undisclosed investment from private equity firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners.
    More from Fitt Insider: Glow Up
  • AI-powered eldercare company DUOS added $10M in strategic funding from Primetime PartnersSJF Ventures, and the Aging Innovation Fund.
  • SOS, maker of smart wellness vending machines, secured $7.6M across two funding rounds.
  • SCAPE, a Mexico-based booking platform for spa and wellness services, secured $1.3M in an oversubscribed seed round.
  • evolvedMD, a behavioral health company integrating with primary care providers, closed $14M in a Series A round led by Conductive Ventures.
  • Cultivated meat producer Omeat emerged from stealth with $40M in funding.
  • The Boys & Girls Clubs of America secured a $10M grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to battle the youth mental health crisis.
  • Kanvas Biosciences, a firm mapping the human microbiome, landed $12M in a pre-Series A round led by DCVC.
  • Joyful Ventures closed a $23M fund it will deploy into sustainable and regenerative protein solutions.
  • Plant-based food manufacturer Wicked Kitchen landed an undisclosed investment from NBA star Chris Paul.
  • Private equity firm Convest Partners acquired Your Behavioral Health, a California-based chain of mental health clinics.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony Vennare, Joe Vennare, Ryan Deer, and Jasmina Breen.

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