FitTech Insider

The future of gyms, scenario I: Long live the gym, Gabriela?

Experts, gym owners, sport brands… Everyone seems to know where the future fitness market is heading. In this series, we examine possible scenarios. Episode 1: Why the good old gym will survive.

Who doesn’t miss personal interaction after months of lockdown and isolation? Working out in a group, at a place dedicated just for your workout, with a wide selection of equipment. Being pushed to exceed your limits - by a human instead of a virtual voice out of your phone... Yes - even this distinctive smell of stranger’s sweat and chalk. Going through the pandemic we became not only more health-conscious but also more aware of how well it all worked out at the gym ...

About this series
“Gym is dead!” claim those that make good money from virtual fitness. “Long live the gym!”, indeed is what gym owners want to hear. Fittech Insider spoke to those that ultimately decide where gyms are heading: The consumers.

The future of gyms, scenario I: Long live the gym!
The future of gyms, scenario II: The gym is dead!
The future of gyms, scenario III: The return of the gym.

Why will gyms survive?

Reason #1: Variety is the spice of life
A six-pack of water for bank presses, a chair for biceps curls, dips on the edge of the bed…. "The crisis has made me creative," Yannick Weingartz notes, "I've learned to think outside the box." Still, he cannot wait to get back to his regular studio soon. "Working out effectively is hard if you don't have the right equipment". The gym offers options you don't have at home. Experts think so too. Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer, founder of Germany's eGym GmbH, pointed out in a “Future of Fitness” interview that 80% of gym-goers expect personalization and variety. Gabriela Alexandru, who has been working out five to six times a week for two years, agrees: "Working out at home is boring”.

Reason #2: We remain loyal
A survey among 700 Mindbody users in May 2020 shows: The vast majority of exercisers remain loyal to their fitness temples - even when it comes to the virtual offering. For example, three-quarters of all respondents used live-stream workouts from their regular studios. Among 45- to 65-year-olds, the figure was even as high as 83%. 62% said they only used services from establishments they had already visited in person. Yannick and Gabriela also remain loyal to their gyms. "We are family," says Gabriela.

For this issue, FitTech Insider spoke to:
"Three is a gym": Gabriela, Simon and Yannick can't wait till gyms open again (@private)

Gabriela, 28 years old, works as a dentist. Fitness plays a big role in her life. “I have done sports since I learned how to walk”, she says. Movement makes her happy and comfortable in her own skin. She will start leading her own group fitness classes once the gyms open again.

Simon, 28 years old, works as an associate in a law firm. Once part of the Austrian national rugby team, he has spent the majority of his leisure time working out. Sports Currently focusing on Crossfit and weight lifting. Why is he keeping up a strict workout routine? “To stay fit and healthy”, he simply says.

Yannick, 25 years old, works as a part-time fitness coach in the gym, played high-level soccer for 18 years, where he took the role as a goalkeeper. Yannick is currently focusing on weight and cardio training and he studies Fitness & Health Management. He particularly likes to make his triceps grow.

Reason #3: We want a dedicated space to work out
Packing things, leaving the house, mentally preparing on the way to the gym: Working out becomes a ritual. "The spatial separation is important," Gabriela thinks. She says she also lacks space in her apartment. "Besides, it's too cold outside in winter for extensive workouts."

Reason #4: We want high-touch not high-tech
78% of mindbody users surveyed in May 2020 said they "usually" or "almost always" prefer in-person offerings. A greater sense of community and accountability are cited as the top reasons why. "The community helps me to go beyond my goals, to constantly push myself," confirms Gabriela. At home however, her motivation drops.
Yannick, who works as a PT at a gym alongside his job, emphasizes the important role of trainers: "Personal guidance, corrections and motivation - these are elements that you cannot substitute with tech." Not only trainers, but also friends are a decisive argument for the conventional gym. Simon misses his friends when working out at home. "We spot and motivate each other, I don't need a trainer to workout". It is indeed plausible that social isolation and lockdown would make people crave face-to-face interaction even more after a while.

Working out outside - that might work well in the summer. In the winter however, many prefer going to the gym. (Photo shows Gabriele Alexandru; Credits: Sigrid Mayer)

Reason #5: Our expectations haven't changed
Corona didn't create new habits, but rather reinforced and accelerated existing trends. Except for occasional HIT workouts streamed through her gym's Insta channel, Gabriela's gym offers no virtual content. And that doesn't bother her. "There were virtual offerings before that, too," she says, calling upon everyone not to over-interpret current developments. And she is indeed partly right: Peloton was founded in 2012, Zwift in 2014, and Strava has been around since 2009. Some people seem to have discovered the offerings for themselves during the crisis - others live well without them. "Tech doesn't give me anything," rejects Simon with a shrug. He might try virtual formats in his gym - "if I happen to have a bit of time".

Reason #6: … importance of health and fitness however did
A survey conducted among 4,000 participants from Europe by GSK Consumer Healthcare in July 2020 proves: The Corona pandemic has increased our health awareness. Yannick also says, "Corona makes me pay even more attention to a healthy lifestyle." According to a McKinsey survey among Chinese consumers in 2020, 72% of the urban population is striving for a healthier lifestyle. A May 2020 survey of 700 Mindbody users found 68% of respondents want to spend the same amount, and 13% want to spend more, on fitness once restrictions are lifted.

Gyms should thus strive to capitalize on the growing health-consciousness. Current economic data shows that this would be a good thing indeed.

Zooming out: An active population is worth billions of dollars

Reason #7: Our health awareness is increasing
The Global Wellness Institute estimates that the fitness and sports industry will be worth 1.1 trillion US dollars in 2023, and predicts that 90% of this spending will be in the Asian, North American and European markets. eGym founder Roesch-Schlanderer expects the industry to grow by four to five percent per year. Above all, the growth is due to increasing health awareness, he says. Already in 2019, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) spoke of a "year of abundance" for the fitness industry. Globally, the industry had generated about $94 billion in revenue, with close to 230 million gym subscriptions, it said.

Reason #8: Gyms make society move
Current surveys show that gyms play a crucial role in keeping society fit and healthy. By April 6, 48 out of 50 states in the US had forced gyms to shutter. During this time, physical activity levels in the U.S. declined by 48%, according to health data analytics platform Evidation.

The bottom line: Consumers still want the gym as they know it. If people like Gabriela, Simon and Yannick are to be believed, the future for gyms is rosy. However: "Fitness studios are perhaps a bit like the first beer in a pub - people are craving them now," says Simon, "but we'll see whether the boom really lasts."