Coronavirus accelerates streaming fitness class industry

The $94 billion fitness industry is reinventing itself as Covid-19 spreads

Coronavirus accelerates streaming fitness class industry

New York (CNN Business)As the coronavirus continues to spread, fitness studios around the country are shutting their doors and adjusting to a new reality. The sudden shift has inspired creativity and flexibility for gyms and studios, which are largely dependent on physical locations and on-site staff.

The changes have rocked the fitness industry, which was worth $94 billion in 2018, according to The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Some studios — such as Modo Yoga, which has locations in the United States, Canada, Australia and France — are offering free classes on Instagram Live.

Other studios, including SoulCycle, closed all of its locations globally, hoping to reopen when conditions improve and the curve flattens.

The cult-favorite cycling studio doesn't have any online classes, but bikes are available for pre-order with a price tag of $2,500, and the company will release on-demand virtual classes later this year.

And as gyms and boutique fitness studios continue to close, fitness instructors are getting creative and amping up their side hustles.

“I've still been training clients that live in my building, though we've been using Lysol and in some cases latex gloves to be safe,” Julie Verhage, a group fitness instructor at Equinox, said. Verhage also said that startups are reaching out to her and asking her to lead virtual workouts “so they can still have team bonding while everyone is working remotely.”

ClassPass, a subscription service that partners with local boutique fitness classes, launched live workouts: More than 500 studios have added live, bookable classes to the platform, and 100% of livestream proceeds go directly to the studios.

The company is also encouraging users to donate directly to their favorite studios through the ClassPass app, and the company is matching $1 million in donations.

A library of more than 2,000 pre-recorded audio and video workouts are also available for free — without subscription — on the ClassPass website.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented a challenge un any other that the health and wellness industry has seen,” ClassPass CEO Fritz Lanman said in a statement. “Almost 90% of our 30,000 gym, studio and wellness partners across 30 countries have indefinitely closed their physical locations.”

Jessica Goldman opened Dance Forever Studio in Chicago in 2005, but she recently closed her studio amid coronavirus concerns.

“In the long term, the coronavirus will dilute the brick and mortar fitness industry model,” Goldman told CNN Business in an email, adding that “in an already crowded industry, the coronavirus will set the successful apart from the mediocre.”

The disruption is pervasive

Small studios are getting hit hard. In the hopes of reopening after closure, yoga studios Sacred — with locations in Brooklyn in Manhattan — are charging $10 for virtual classes on Zoom.

But some of the small studios probably won't recover, according to Nathan Forster, CEO of NEOU, an on-demand fitness video platform.

“I hope many of them can make it back, but there will definitely be some that don't,” he told CNN Business in an email.

Even big companies Flywheel are trying to figure out how to navigate the financial hit to its business.

On March 20, in a plea for money, the company sent an email to members, encouraging them to unfreeze their membership and continue paying a monthly fee even though the brick-and-mortar locations were closing.

In March, the cycling company shut down the virtual classes that are connected to its in-home bikes, and Peloton is letting Flywheel customers swap out their bikes for a used Peloton bike for free.

Many studios are creating video workouts in an effort to keep their clientele entertained and active. Cult-favorite HIIT studio Orange Theory, for instance, is sharing a free 30-minute workout on its website every day.

It's not a smooth road for the studios that aren't accustomed to being primarily digital. Boston rowing studio The Row House offers a variety of free live-streamed classes on , but you can only participate in the classes if you have a rowing machine at home.

To bridge the gap, the company is offering members 60 days of free access to on-demand content for other fitness studios that share the same parent brand, Xponential Fitness, including Pilates, barre and yoga classes.

Who benefits

Meanwhile, virtual and digital fitness companies are benefiting from the industry shift. MIRROR, an interactive at-home fitness system that sells for $1,495 and looks a full-length mirror, has seen an increase in sales.

“Sales have more than doubled since the advent of Covid-19,” MIRROR CEO Brynn Jinnett Putnam told CNN Business in an email. She added that MIRROR's team has been “working around the clock to launch our digital product earlier than originally planned.”

But it's not all uphill for primarily online fitness brands. MIRROR and Peloton both have brick-and-mortar studios.

MIRROR closed its three showrooms — one in New York City, one in Los Angeles, and one in Stanford California — and Peloton closed its New York and London studios to the public, but the company will “continue to produce live content without an audience,” according to a statement from Peloton's co-founder and CEO John Foley.

For online-only fitness services Obé, business is booming. The service gives members unlimited access to 14 live classes a day and 4,000+ on-demand classes. It costs $27 per month or $199 per year.

Co-founders Mark Mullett and Ashley Mills said sales are soaring.

“We have seen a considerable increase in membership across the US in the last few weeks,” he told CNN Business in an email. With an increasing number of parents and kids staying home, Obé released content for kids in partnership with KidzBop.

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Coronavirus accelerates streaming fitness class industry

It’s that time of year when we to look forward to the New Year and share our predictions of fitness trends for 2021. Although no one could have predicted 2020 and living in a global pandemic, the fitness industry continues to evolve and adapt.

The coronavirus crisis has caused a major shift in how and when we exercise. With a massive growth in digital, connected and social fitness, it’s been a year of community and social distancing.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year but the fitness industry is resilient. 

Whether you specialize in strength training, spin classes, or hiit training; every fitness professional needs to keep on top of the latest trends to stay relevant. In this article, we take a look at how digital fitness continues to influence the industry and 11 trends to watch out for in 2021. Skip ahead to: 

  • Fitness Fads vs Fitness Trends
  • How Consumer Behaviour Impacts Fitness Trends
  • Why Digital Fitness Will Continue to Dominate Next Year
  • 11 Fitness Trends to Watch Out for in 2021

Before we dive into the fitness trends of 2021, let’s break down the difference between a trend and a fad. Often, a fad is a quick fix. It’s an overnight solution that offers a short-term and temporary result. Generally, a fad is considered a short behavior that’s in ‘fashion’ for a brief period of time before falling off the radar. 

For example, the Shake Weight was a short-lived fitness fad that eventually lost its buzz. On the other hand, take a look at Jazzercize. The dance fitness franchise kicked off in the 60s, reaching the height of its popularity in the mid-80s. Still to this day, it’s a hugely popular way to exercise and is a great example of a fitness trend that has aged well. 

In the wellness world, you regularly hear about products or training techniques that will solve all your problems, practically overnight. This is regularly true and not sustainable.

Whereas a fitness trend is considered long-term. It’s something that alters behavior and changes the way we approach exercise and fitness.

While some trends end up being fads, others change the industry forever. 

Naturally, some people will always go crazy for new fitness trends. They want to see what all the fuss is about. Each year, we see trends evolve and adapt to the consumer.

It will be interesting to see how the pandemic shapes decisions and innovation. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, the digital revolution in fitness is well underway.

It’s exciting to see what the future holds, and which trends will stick around or fade away. 

Prolonged lockdown periods have had a major impact on the fitness industry. Traditional gym-goers are leaning on technology to support their fitness regime. Consumer behavior is a driving force behind change. As fitness brands continue to innovate and adapt to changing consumer behavior, technology-centered solutions are on the rise.  

The Fitness Insider Podcast has a great episode on wellness predictions for 2021 and a review of 2020. The episode takes a look at Well + Good’s wellness predictions from 2020 to see if they came true and talks about what’s in store for 2021 in the wellness world. 

Why Digital Fitness Will Continue to Dominate Next Year 

2020 has seen an explosion of digital solutions as fitness professionals adapt to a new way of delivering fitness services.

As nations launched stay at home orders, people began to work from home where possible and limit their movements. COVID-19 has rapidly changed the fitness landscape.

With a potential vaccine in the not-too-distant future, technology will continue to significantly influence the fitness industry, here’s why. 

Digital is driving growth for gyms, health clubs, and fitness centers. It’s easy to think that digital solutions could edge out in-studio experiences, but this really isn’t the case.

Digital solutions live streams and on-demand fitness platforms can help brands win over online audiences, build brand awareness, and eventually convert digital members to the in-studio experience. Home fitness and digital workouts are becoming essential.

But there will always be people who love to go to the fitness studio or gym. Even though you can create a great online experience, there’s nothing quite an in-person group training class to motivate your members. 

Technology will continue to be a key pillar in a fitness brand’s success.

As more people look for fully connected experiences, health clubs will need to create digital solutions to serve multiple personas, needs, and expectations.

Perhaps it’s incorporating the latest fitness tracker or fitness app – whatever it is, your entire offering, both digital and in-person, will need to be world-class to keep members coming back again and again. 

The host and founder of Impact Your Fitness Podcast and Impact Sport Science Group, Jennifer Schwartz, talks about fitness trends for 2021. Kat Zajac of Ascend Cycle and Ascend Lift Lab joins Jennifer to discuss the trends to look out for next year and looks back at 2020.   

You can’t speak about 2020 without talking about the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way people work and live. From virtual coaching and outdoor fitness to a new evolution of digital fitness, here are 11 fitness trends to watch out for in 2021. 

1. Outdoor Fitness 

In a RunRepeat study, just over 70% of participants said that outdoor activities and home fitness are the best ways for them to stay fit in 2021. Although outdoor fitness isn’t exactly brand new, lots more people have ventured into the great outdoors to get their exercise in.

With strict lockdowns and restrictions throughout the year, the local park or green space has been the go-to spot for many people. Whether it’s an outdoor boot camp or morning yoga class in the park, people are embracing al fresco fitness with open arms.

If you’re not offering outdoor fitness options, now is the time to get moving. 

2. Remote Personal Training and Wellness Coaching 

Remote coaching allows members to work with a personal trainer or well-being coach in a one-on-one setting. The pandemic has forced many businesses to expand their online offering.

Often, members use personal trainers and coaches for that extra level of accountability and motivation. Virtual coaching has room to expand in 2021 with it becoming more popular.

You have the opportunity to offer virtual coaching in multiple areas of health and fitness and even offer a more holistic approach to training. 

3. Hybrid Fitness 

Squeezing in lunchtime workouts with a quick fitness class has become much more accessible to consumers, and fitness enthusiasts have grown used to the flexibility and convenience of online workouts. Hybrid fitness businesses are showing no signs of slowing down.

While some brands had already begun the process of offering digital and in-person services, the pandemic forced the fitness industry to speed up. The year is now ending with a ton of new digital solutions from brands whose online platforms didn’t exist a few months ago.

As consumers grow to love the benefit of digital fitness and see home fitness as a sustainable way to workout, a digital online fitness solution will become the norm. Businesses will need to adapt to the consumer mindset and offer options that suit different audiences.


4. Impeccable Hygiene Standards at Gyms 

As restrictions change and cities go in and lockdowns, members are looking for safe ways to work out. This will mean that gyms will have to meet impeccable hygiene standards. We will see this grow well into the future. Consumers have a new awareness of how germs and disease spread.

It’s not only relevant for COVID-19 but future pandemics and even the common cold. Governments have reiterated time and time again how easy it is to transfer the coronavirus, especially in high-touch points and fitness facilities that deal with multiple people.

This could have a lasting effect on how consumers look at gyms and fitness studios.  

5. Specialized Fitness Programs for Risk Groups 

The pandemic has put people in new boxes. All of a sudden, you’re having conversations about people who are at risk. Whether’s it’s health concerns or older adults, some people are at higher risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19.

This could lead to a fitness trend focusing on specific groups. These could be either individual or small group fitness classes in a controlled environment or a special digital class.

It’s important to take into account that not all members are comfortable returning to the gym until the vaccine has been rolled out.  

6. Connection of Mind and Body 

According to ClassPass, yoga was the top digital work 2020. When talking about fitness, we often think of physical activity and health. But mental health is just as important and fitness goals now extend beyond physical activity alone.

With lockdowns across the nation and feelings of isolation rising through multiple age groups, mental health is a big focus this year, and for a good reason. The line between mind and body is merging with people looking for ways to exercise both at the same time.

Mind-body exercises yoga and Pilates will continue to be huge. 

7. At-Home Workouts 

It’s no surprise that home fitness is on the list of trends for 2021.

At-home fitness technology and equipment will continue to offer innovative ways for people to exercise from the comfort of their own living room.

While home workouts don’t replace the gym for most people, they do complement their fitness routine. It looks home fitness will continue to be a dominant trend in the year to come.  

8. Inclusive Fitness for All 

Although there’s still a long way to go, fitness influencers and brands are showing people of different shapes, sizes, and colors that fitness is for all. Consumers are more aware of social issues and looking to brands to see what they plan on doing and where they stand.

What’s considered the ideal body type is changing as fitness brands and influencers lean away from perfect visuals to something more true and relevant for today’s consumers. There is a collective effort to be more inclusive in fitness.

We hope to see this movement continue well into 2021 and beyond. 

9. Wearables and Fitness Tech 

Wearable technology, fitness trackers, and fitness tech continue to play a big role in shaping the fitness industry. Consumers are sharing more health data from smart watches and have access to a ton of information.

With AI coaches, personal training assistants, and fitness innovations in augmented and virtual reality, the future of fitness tech looks exciting.

Fitness brands that don’t integrate technology into their offerings will struggle to compete in a world of data and personalization. 

10. High Intensity Interval Training 

Every year you’re probably thinking how can high-intensity interval training still be a trend? But the buzz isn’t going anywhere. In 2020, HIIT came in at number two on ACSM’s (American College of Sports Medicine) Health and Fitness Journal Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends.

It looks HIIT remains to be one of the top ways to work out. A major benefit of HIIT is that you can burn a lot of calories through a combination of active bursts and a short period of rest. This makes it ideal for a population that’s busy and lacking in free time.

Popular HIIT workouts include a combination of cardio, bodyweight exercises, and free weights.  

11. Corporate Wellness is Essential 

This year, we’re ly to see an increase in companies with a renewed focus on wellness.

With mental and physical health being so important in the workplace, corporate wellness will become a necessity and potentially a decider when a person is looking to work for a new company. Exercise is medicine.

Healthy employees who exercise regularly and manage stress in a positive way tend to be more productive, less stressed, and require fewer sick days. Corporate wellness is an investment into a happier, more productive workforce with a healthy lifestyle.  

In Summary 

As consumers lean on technology for connection and experience, gyms and studios will need to create incredible digital and in-person experiences. Personalization and technology often remain at the core of innovation, especially in the fitness industry.

As interest in fitness continues to rise, members are seeking ways to exercise that fits in with their new way of living. No doubt, 2020 has been a strange year but we can look toward the New Year as an opportunity to grow and expand.

No one really knows what’s in store for 2021 but you can be sure that the fitness industry is resilient enough to take it on. 


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