The future of fitness

We explore what the future of the fitness category looks like, and what we can expect to see in the future with respect to products, services, and consumer behaviours.

We’ve also decided to try a slightly different format this time. Rather than hearing from us we’ve compiled a panel of experts in the category, whose backgrounds range from active fitness enthusiasts, to professional trainers and coaches, to product developers and designers.

Our panel:

  • Herbie Calves: President, MYXfitness
  • Will Rossiter: Partner, Melty Software, 5-time Ironman, Boston Marathoner
  • Richelle Aurora: Certified Nutritionist & Fitness Coach, 5x National Qualifier Bikini Comp
  • Delilah Corkery: ISSA & NASM — Fitness Nutrition Specialist
  • Devon Frohne: Senior Product Designer, Tonal
  • Adrienne Chambers: Fitness Manager, University of California @ SF

How have events in the last few years changed the fitness category?

Herbie: With the shutdown of gyms during Covid and the increased concern with spreading germs and airborne pathogens by working out in a congregate setting, the shift to home fitness was dramatically accelerated. This shift was already happening with the convergence of wearables, digital tracking on fitness equipment, and streaming services in products like Peloton. MYXfitness identified the opportunity to leverage these technologies to provide an offering tailored to a broader market and was well positioned when the broader market came looking for a home solution.

Adrienne: The areas most affected by Covid were in-person fitness centre workouts and personal training. We were not prepared for virtual programming, and with the uncertainty of how long our fitness centre would be closed we did not enter the online streaming of classes and personal training until later in 2020. We have seen success with virtual programming, but also challenges such as our instructors having the right equipment to stream from their homes, the in-home space to do exercise in and equipment, plus trying to keep members engaged during virtual class. And on the member’s side we saw many of the same issues.

Will: It pushed quite a few events. Many races were cancelled or deferred, so that’s definitely had an impact on triathletes. Most pools took a while to reopen.

Devon: For some, their only sense of community outside of their jobs was in a physical gym or fitness class setting. Those daily rituals and human interactions made up the holistic ‘gym experience.’ Once physical locations closed and people were forced to spend more time alone, those interpersonal connections were lost. I personally know of several yoga teachers who immediately started using Zoom to connect with their clients. They saw attendance grow and an increase in their social networks because they were able to connect with new followers who previously weren’t in the same geo-location as them.

Which shifts in consumer habits/behaviors do you think are short-term, and which are here to stay for the long haul?

Richelle: At home workouts via an online platform (for example Peloton) or personal training in the comfort of your own home are here to stay. I think outdoor workouts will be popular in some areas, but if people have the option to be inside a gym or their home they will choose inside due to weather.

Will: I know quite a few triathlon coaches and personal trainers who had to adapt their businesses quickly to delivering their services via video, as well as by supplementing their income with things like affiliate-linked content. Unfortunately Covid put a few of these folks out of business, but it also accelerated the inevitable video-gamification of life whereby more interactions take place through screens. Many people I know picked up Pelotons or Zwift (for cyclists) and comparable products. Probably 25 percent of the activity I see in my Strava feed is in-home workouts now. Cycling was first, but indoor running & races are accelerating. As part of the Great Migration, I think many people are now contemplating +1 bedroom for the in-home office AND +1 bedroom for the in-home gym.

Herbie: The 100 percent shift to home-fitness was short-term but the rise of connected home fitness is here to stay. Consumers have discovered the home experience can exceed a gym experience with personalised tracking and recommendations, a vibrant supportive community, and the convenience of not having to travel to a physical location. The future looks very similar to other technologically disrupted categories such as movies and retail where there will be a more hybrid model of both at-home and physical gyms. However, like in retail and movies, the in-person experience will need to step up to provide something special — an enhanced experience. The experiences of the past will not bring people out.

Delilah: Capacity limitations and gym reservations are current short-term changes that seem to be working well. Also, the habits of spraying, wiping down and sanitising the equipment after each use is probably something that should be done always and not just because of Covid.

Devon: Moving your body, elevating your heart rate and getting good sleep help many reduce anxiety to manageable levels. Before the pandemic, commutes in the US were at an all-time high, with Americans traveling an average of 27-plus minutes each way to work and back. With more people working from home now, they have taken that time back into their lives. 

Adrienne: At first I thought we would have to keep a lot of focus on virtual programming (and we may have to), but from what I am hearing from other facilities that have reopened members seem excited about returning to the gym! I am hearing folks wanting to use weight machines and pick up heavier dumbbells, work out in larger spaces and see old gym friends. Also, some people want to get back to the energy of attending in person classes as well. We are working hard to provide a somewhat back to normal experience but also making sure our members feel safe.

I see the current situation as short-term and I feel within time people will take advantage of going to the gym and sometimes streaming classes. So much has changed with this virus and we learn more each day about how we can return to the gym safely.

How has the fitness product category adapted to meet these changes? What do you think product makers could be doing better?

Herbie: ‘Brick & Mortar’ has not adapted yet and many are scrambling to meet Covid protocols at the moment. Once they get past this, they will need to see how they themselves can provide better data and personalization — the data consumers will have grown to expect from their home solutions. They should also look at how they themselves can provide hybrid solutions under one roof. Retro Fitness and Equinox with Equinox+ are following this approach with a hybrid model.

Will: As TRX demonstrated years ago, it’s often not a one-off product sale, but content that wins in fitness. As we get into tech and wearables, the winners will likely be who owns the relationship with the customer, which is why many fitness companies should be thinking seriously about Apple Watch in their own product strategies: collaborate or risk getting squeezed out.

Richelle: Product makers can adapt by offering virtual training or a physical product that people can buy and use in their home. For example, Equinox created their own fitness app with 3000+ classes from yoga, boxing to cardio that members can follow along at home.

Delilah: When Covid lockdown first hit, avid gym enthusiasts scrounged to get their hands on gym equipment which suddenly became a scarce commodity. A $40 pair of dumbbells became $200 on eBay. We ended up using a software bot that alerted us as soon as gym equipment became available just so that we can buy our current home gym equipment.

What has you excited about the future of this category? What are you bullish about in the next 3–5 years?

Adrienne: I think gyms will survive and the future is bright. We will have to understand that we do have a “new normal” and there will be things that will change how we do business. It’s okay to reinvent ourselves!

Devon: History has shown that major investments in technology and subsequent innovation happens within the years directly after major world events. Especially after pandemics and epidemics where one’s awareness towards their own health is highlighted. I anticipate a wave of new technology, devices and services within the fitness & wellness category that use big data to allow people to better understand how their body works and reacts to external forces. Even as cities start to open back up, I believe that personal investment in health and wellness will continue to increase over the course of the year and beyond. People who worked on building these new habits over the past year are seeing the positive results play out in real-time and want to continue that trend upwards.

Richelle: I’m excited to see companies become more personalized to in-home workouts. I personally think big box gyms will take a major hit the next few years. I do not see gyms being popular with the mainstream crowd anymore. I do think people want to be at home with their workout.

Will: I’m most excited about implantable bio-monitoring. I wear a Garmin watch, Oura Ring, and last year was a beta user of Levels continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which is an amazing company on the right track. Once Covid eases up and the FDA reattains the capacity to review non-Covid products like CGMs, we’re going to see a large wave of non-prescription, semi-invasive wearables and implantables. Once these devices are connected to the internet, we’ll see a massive new market for telehealth, remote nutritionists, remote trainers and remote coaches, which I think is going to have the net benefit of potentially slowing down the obesity epidemic.

Herbie: The rise of connected home fitness brings with it the opportunity to help millions of people who have not had access to gyms and expert coaching/personal training. The latest practices and approaches to fitness have for too long only been accessible to the affluent. Technology can help bridge this gap. This promise is a founding tenet of MYXfitness.

Delilah: There’s different reasons people go to the gym. Some go because they need motivation and going to the gym gives them just that. I enjoy working out at home, but I’ll go to the gym mainly to use equipment that I don’t have at home. My partner will never go to the gym now that we have our home gym equipment.

So where does this take us? After conferring with our panel we believe that digitally-empowered fitness was only accelerated because of the pandemic, and many of these current habits are likely to remain for a while to come. Having said that, the pendulum does tend to swing back, and humans do want in-person experiences, connections, and community. Things like races and competitions and social fitness activities like fun runs and even boot camps are likely to return to pre-pandemic levels, but the routine maintenance-type exercise will likely see less reliance on on-site facilities and in-person training.

Thank you for spending some time with us! Please do stay in touch and keep on the lookout for future dispatches from our insights and strategy teams. 

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