The Health and Fitness industry pre-COVID was a booming market sector. In fact, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association ’s annual State of the Industry Report for 2019, the industry grew 3.9% in just one year- the largest annual growth in the last 17 years. Health and fitness was a core priority in the North American way of life, helping to drive the entire industry forward.
Perhaps this is why the dramatic effects of COVID-19 have been felt so forcefully within the industry as a whole. As the pandemic tore across not only North America but the world at large, the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the Health and Fitness Industry began to take shape. Currently we have seen 480,000 jobs lost as of October 1, 2020 with $15.6 billion in lost revenue.
As it stands, closures of health clubs are up 23% since July, with 6,024 total closures, 2,616 of which are permanently closed and 25% of clubs are projected to close by the end of this year. Large national fitness chains have not escaped the ramifications of the pandemic either, as some have filed for bankruptcy with expected closures of many facilities. (Source).
The Health and Fitness Recovery Act
For these reasons, on October 1, representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Mike Quigley of Illinois introduced the bipartisan Health and Fitness Recovery Act of 2020. The act seeks to establish a $30 billion dollar fund to provide grants to fitness clubs and gyms to offset the catastrophic effects of the pandemic.
Grants can be used towards payroll costs, rent payments, construction or reconfiguration to accommodate social distancing requirements, and supplies like personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, among other costs.
In a statement, Fitzpatrick said,
“Few industries have been as devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic as the fitness industry. From the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, state and local governments moved quickly to shut down health and fitness businesses, in order to enforce social distancing safety measures.
Unlike many other businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, health and fitness clubs could not pivot to new revenue streams and many in the industry failed to qualify for assistance in the first CARES Act. The men and women who work in the fitness industry need and deserve our help.”
Unfortunately, as much needed as this act may be, the probability of it passing in both the Senate and the House remains low, given the current turbulent political climate in Washington.
The Future of the Fitness Industry Under Joe Biden
Regardless of whether the act passes or not, the industry will go on. The next reality will be to contend with the future of the health and fitness industry under Joe Biden .
According to his campaign website , Biden and the 12 members of his advisory board have proposed an 8-part plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 and avoid unnecessary or lengthy shutdowns.
However, the fitness industry can expect the need to comply with social distancing measures, strict enforcement of mask usage, and operating on-site at a reduced capacity.
These measures could mean closed doors for some,lower member attendance for others and perhaps a higher rate of members cancelling contracts in general. On the whole, the industry should be prepared to expect both a loss of client engagement as well as overall revenue.
The Essential Role of Health Clubs
In order to successfully combat this, it is imperative to look at how the role of health clubs have become an integral part of life in North America and why the industry is worth saving.
Once identified, we may find ways to pivot the industry in accordance with both the new health measures as well as to fill the needs of the consumer. We have identified three main roles that gyms and wellness centers play in the lives of their members:
Health and Mental Wellness
One of the most fundamental functions that health clubs play is that of a backbone of physical and mental health and well-being for their clients. One of the factors behind the growth and success of the fitness industry is the growing awareness that fitness has an ongoing, positive impact on health and wellness.
COVID-19 only served to strengthen this awareness, as poor cardiovascular health became an obvious risk factor for severe illness or death from the coronavirus. Movement has been prioritized not only for it’s stress-relief and ability to help people cope, but also as a way to improve overall public health.
And yet, data from the Physical Activity Council showed that roughly half of all Americans reported a decline in physical activity while fitness centers were closed, while some 35% of people report having gained weight during the pandemic .
Clearly, simply knowing the physical and mental benefits of exercise are not enough and this is a clear window of opportunity for the health club to step up and provide this value for their consumers.
Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of a health and fitness center is the sense of community it provides for its members. A recent survey by IHRSA has revealed that: some 42% of gym members miss exercising with other people and 36% miss the sense of community that a health club brings them, while 22% miss their personal trainer, coach and/or class instructor.
The social element of the health and fitness club has a huge influence on the fitness market and the chance to foster this sense of community when so much in-person contact is being discouraged, is a perfect opportunity to engage current members as well as entice new ones.
Finally, it is impossible to deny the intimate connection between personal health goals and having a health or fitness club membership.
No matter the goal - overall health indicators, strength goals, mobility or flexibility goals, weight loss or maintenance, aesthetic goals or mood/stress-relief goals, the role of the fitness club is to provide the structure for its members to achieve and accomplish these goals, pandemic or not.
An Industry Moving Forward
So how do you take these essential roles the healthclub provides - wellness, community and accomplishing goals- and make the necessary shifts to enable them to continue to provide this value in a post-COVID reality?
Safety, convenience, value, affordability and social connection all must fit together in this changing business model.
First and foremost there is the pivot to virtual fitness trainings. Many health clubs have begun this transition already, be it with Instagram or Facebook live, Zoom classes or with their own branded app.
The future of fitness is digital and clubs will need to make the necessary investments to integrate fitness experiences across platforms so they are more than just a live stream and instructors are able to teach classes much as they would in-person. Check out this article for more details.
Secondly, now more than ever fitness facilities must find a way to foster the sense of community we touched on above. In a time where people are feeling increasingly isolated, the social aspect of a health club must be a top priority.
Community cannot be lost in the transition to virtual classes. Finding ways to allow your members to connect is critical: whether you offer a social component to your virtual offerings where members can see which classes their friends are taking or outdoors classes that allow for socially distant social activities.
Outdoor activities may have a secondary benefit in that many adults may be looking for ways to leave the house as it has become the epicenter of not only their home life but also work life and childrens school/daycare lives as well. Providing a space outside the home for physical activity allows for a sense of escape in addition to belonging.
The Changing Face of Fitness
Next the fitness industry will need to prioritize engagement. This will look like finding ways to keep clients engaged even if they are not physically attending in-person classes or training sessions.
Where and how will you connect with your members? Social media is a great place to start as you can focus on building your brand while simultaneously providing insane value for clients. Think about adding bonus live streamed classes , creating Spotify playlists, promoting fitness, health or wellness themed podcasts, sending out emails with self-care tips, recording guided meditations, etc.
Finally, a strong, sustainable future in the fitness industry almost definitely means coming up with a hybrid approach for your fitness facility. Members are likely going to want memberships that allow them to take advantage of both online workouts as well as in-person access to the studio. Health clubs will need to find a way to integrate their offerings with a cohesive, seamless system.
The goals of your clients might shift as well, to perhaps focus more on stress-relief and using exercise as a tool to foster better mental and emotional wellbeing rather than physical or aesthetic goals.
The industry will need to recognize this shift and pivot their product offerings to match, with wellness and well-being being the words of the year. Client retention will depend on offering online coaching, and repositioning your business in the market.
There are a myriad of opportunities for gyms, health clubs and studios to make the changes necessary to be competitive in this industry moving forward . Success depends on fulfilling members’ needs- achieving goals, creating a sense of community and fostering both physical and mental wellness- in a new virtual, on-demand setting.