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How Will the Coronavirus Vaccine Impact the Fitness Industry?

By Neesha Kanaga

Published 15 December 2020

“The effectiveness of these two recent vaccinations exceed 90% – which is super high. And if you get, you know, just about 50% of the population, or 55% of the population to take it, you’re going to reach herd immunity.”

– Bryan O’Rourke – CEO, Entrepreneur, Keynote Speaker & IHRSA Board of Directors

It is no secret that COVID-19 has derailed a $32 billion fitness industry in the US. Small gyms, boutique fitness locations, and big-box gyms alike were shut down back in March to try to control the rapid spread of the coronavirus and because of this, many have seen their businesses pushed to the brink of collapse.

We’re talking big players like Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness, both of whom filed for bankruptcy protection, not to mention the thousands of small gyms and studios who’ve had to close their doors over the last few months.

COVID cases continue to increase not only in the US but worldwide, and another set of lockdowns are potentially looming. Yet, there is hope for the fitness industry. The November 2020 announcement that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing infection is nothing short of a godsend for our industry.

Though some questions remain to be answered – and there is more testing and approval that needs to happen – the mere thought of a vaccine against COVID-19 has got many of us collectively letting out the breath we’ve been holding for months. So, just how will the approval of the coronavirus vaccine affect the fitness industry?

Showing signs of recovery

The arrival and pending availability of a coronavirus vaccine can only mean good things for the struggling health club industry. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) about 20% of Americans have a membership to some type of fitness club or another, and members are tentatively ready to return to gyms.

As it turns out, quarantine and other stay-at-home orders have increased members’ desire to get back to working out in their fitness club. How do we know? Well, according to Placer.ai, in September five of the biggest national gyms (Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Orangetheory, Anytime Fitness, and 24 Hour Fitness) have shown signs of recovery as visits are down just 46.5% from the previous year, compared to down 84.5% in back in May.

In fact, Anytime Fitness and Planet Fitness’ recorded visits are down only 23.7% and 35.4%, respectively, from the previous year. This shows us that people are ready and willing to return to the gym, and the vaccination should only advance these statistics even more rapidly.

The second show of good faith recovery can be found within the stock market. IHRSA Interim President & CEO Brent Darden points to a 14.5% drop in Peloton stock and a 10.5% gain in Planet Fitness stock, meaning that the market also foresees a resurgence of members back to health clubs and gyms.

Finally, since we are now just coming to terms with how important physical health has been to reduce the devastating impacts of COVID-19, the health and fitness industry has the potential to become a bigger player than ever before. The arrival and approval of a coronavirus vaccine will facilitate the return to on-site fitness clubs as people look to return to or begin an exercise regimen and sustain their overall health.

Thanks in part to the increased awareness of the benefits of physical fitness and its role in immunity, as we ‘return to normal’ you can expect a significant increase in the market for fitness services.

When will the situation in the fitness industry get better?

The question many of us are asking, of course, is when will we see things take a turn for the better? Though a definitive answer has yet to present itself, we can definitely say we are moving in the right direction. The good news is, there are things you can do in the meantime to lessen the pain.

Here are our top tips to pandemic-proof your business as we strive towards a feasible vaccination process

1. Offer digital products

Even pre-COVID, the trend towards digital fitness was already starting, but the pandemic certainly hastened its approach. As a fitness business in today’s market, you need to be offering digital products now. Consumers want home fitness as well as fitness technology and this is where we see the potential for major growth in the industry.

Fitness technology and digital membership will allow you to reach beyond local members and potentially reach anyone with an internet connection. At-home workouts, online classes, live-streaming workouts, on-demand workouts, and online coaching are all potential sources of digital revenue.

The trick is to combine these online workouts with on-site or in-person classes in order to incorporate a sense of community which is one of the main reasons people belong to a gym in the first place. For more info on offering digital products, see The Impact of Tech Giants on the Fitness Industry.

Even if your club has yet to reopen, research from Alliance Leisure found that a whopping 96% of consumers who tested an online workout from a fitness facility during lockdown said they would use that facility when it reopened – so there is no excuse not to go with your digital launch right now.

A digital alternative for your gym or studio simply means more avenues for you to engage with your members, and as a result, keep turning sales. It is for this very reason that Virtuagym has created PRO+, a digital gym membership solution for current times. With PRO+, you can provide your members at home with 200+ pre-made virtual workouts, over 1,000 workout videos, health challenges with leaderboards, and not to mention, meditation content.

It’s a complete wellness experience that adds a further layer of value to members’ in-facility subscriptions. And the best part is that you can customize every aspect of it as you see fit!

Learn more about PRO+

2. Have a plan

A vaccine will go a long way to reassure the vulnerable population that they have less to fear when returning back to fitness clubs, but you can also work to bridge this gap by having a solid plan in place of what your reopened gym will look like.

What are the social distancing requirements? What are the sanitation measures? What is the capacity, etc? Make sure to post these things clearly for members to see and reinforce their continued trust in both your brand and their health.

3. Work with public health officials

We are seeing that many of the rules and sanitation measures for health clubs are coming from the local level. You can try to get in touch with your local government offices to have your voice heard when it comes to implementing new measures for gyms and health clubs in your area.

By working with public health officials and medical experts you can find out first hand what the concerns are regarding open gyms and help to offer solutions that are in the interest of public health as well as your business.

4. Become essential to your community

Finally, it is time to really start looking at the big picture when it comes to what gyms can offer in terms of positive health outcomes. Far beyond weight loss and strength gains, health clubs have the ability to deliver even more impactful outcomes like protection against infection, disease prevention, reducing the risk of long-term health issues like diabetes, and heart disease.

By shifting the focus from weight loss or aesthetic outcomes and making the fitness industry feel more like an extension of healthcare services, the industry as a whole will have the opportunity to serve a larger percentage of the population. These types of clients will need in-person training services with professionals in the field.

What it comes down to is that the health and fitness industry has been forever changed by this pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad news. The businesses that will not only survive but thrive are the ones who are able to shift the focus. They must work with their local government agencies, have strong sanitation measures and offer some form of digital or hybrid products.

On top of that, keep providing what you always have: the environment of the gym. Give people the social feedback they may have been craving during the lockdown. Make sure group fitness is available and safe. Have trainers on the floor giving feedback and sharing knowledge.

The gamechanger we’re looking for

We can confidently say that people, as a whole, want to continue working out and this promise of a COVID-19 vaccine will allow them to safely and quickly return to the gym.

However, it is important to bear in mind the hurdles we will face in rolling out a vaccine. It will not happen overnight. Will everyone get the vaccine? If so, will certain groups of people – such as those who are more vulnerable to the virus – be first in line? And then, there are also people who are adamantly opposed to it.

But one thing that’s certain is that a coronavirus vaccine will be a total gamechanger – not just for the fitness industry, but for the world as a whole. We’ll just have to sit back and watch how this new advancement unfolds as we continue finding a solution for this pandemic.

Neesha Kanaga

Neesha is a copywriter and wanderer who currently finds herself bound to the weather-challenged Netherlands due to the unforeseen circumstances of 2020.

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