FitTech Insider

Natalia Karbasova: "Gym is not the synonym for health anymore"

Not long ago, a Spanish sports publication CMD Sport asked me for an interview based on my keynote at the European Health & Fitness Forum. I'm now starting a series of publications based on that interview to explore the long-term impact of COVID-19 and the rise of home fitness and technology-based fitness & wellbeing platforms on the traditional fitness industry.

The main threat to the fitness industry are its own outdated mental models

Fitness industry is facing a lot of threats nowadays.

Short-term, the obvious threats include the second shut-down and more people cancelling their membership.

Middle- and long-term, the changing fitness habits of the users who get used to training at home or outdoors, might lead to even more people not willing to return to gyms anymore and the whole business model of operators becoming obsolete.

Still, I believe the main threat is the wrong mindset of the operators. They have been in the business that was often a sure-fire success for too long, and the pandemic has shown that you actually don’t need a gym to keep fit.

Gym is not the synonym for health, the same way as a newspaper is not a synonym to being informed, or an owned car is not a synonym to moving from A to B. These are possible, but not the only solutions for consumers to reach their goals.

Gyms need to deeply understand the needs and jobs-to-be-done they are serving

I believe gyms need to rethink their competitive landscape and deeply understand the needs of the members they are serving. From this perspective, the so-called jobs-to-be-done framework could be a great help.

Gyms might be open or closed, but the jobs-to-be-done of gym members are still there. This is a concept popularized by the Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen which helps to understand why customers make specific choices that help them to achieve progress on something they are struggling with in their lives (read more here). So, the question is: What job would consumers want to hire a product to do?

In the context of gyms, broadly speaking, those might include some non-obvious jobs like being able to eat that yummy piece of cake at brunch without feeling bad, feeling connected to others to reduce their sense of loneliness, switching off mentally quickly after a stressful day, or gaining the control of their lives back during the mid-life crisis. Of course, needs like gaining muscle or losing weight to feel attractive, or avoiding pain and not wanting to suffer from that slipped disc again are also a huge part of the gym members motivation.

Digital fitness might become complementary to gym training - or completely substitute it

Still, the question is if gyms are offering the best solutions for these jobs, or needs. It’s for a reason that home training companies like Peloton, VAHA, Mirror, Tonal, or LiteBoxer are thriving and happily moving into the space previously occupied by gyms.

We still don’t know if home fitness solutions – from expensive connected hardware to smaller equipment, live-streaming services and apps – will complement or substitute gym-based training. This would hugely depend on lots of factors, including specific needs people are trying to fulfill by going to the gym, their willingness to pay, and the ability of gyms to engage their members.

One thing is for sure: Things will never be the same again in the fitness space.