Gyms Are Reopening in the UK – Here’s What You Need to Know

On 22 February, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the country’s ‘roadmap to recovery’ as part of its phase-by-phase exit strategy. As part of this roadmap, gyms in England were set to reopen on Monday 12 April.

This roadmap, or exit strategy, is a four-step plan that could see England to something akin to pre-pandemic life no earlier than 21 June – which, according to the Independent, would consist of five weeks between each step.

As part of England’s gym reopening plan, the government has prioritized outdoor exercise over the reopening of gyms and indoor fitness facilities.

“Outdoor activity will be prioritized as the best way to restore freedoms while minimizing the risk.” – Prime Minister Boris Johnson

However, the government has unequivocally stated that gyms will reopen on Monday 12 April, if all the criteria are met. The dates for reopening in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are subject to local discretion as the situation is being continually monitored.

Read on to find out the conditions for outdoor sports, gym reopening rules in the UK, what phases are gyms reopening – and what will gym reopening look like as a whole.

Further reading: A checklist for reopening your fitness centre

COVID-19 Rules for Outdoor Sports in England

At the moment, outdoor sports for adults are already allowed in England as long as the following conditions are met:

  • Organized team sports and outdoor swimming pools are open to the public from 29 March.
  • Outdoor sports including football, golf and tennis will be allowed to resume in England from 29 March.
  • Outdoor skating rinks and outdoor trampolining parks will remain closed until 12 April.
  • Minimal use of changing rooms.

There has been a huge push by both the gym industry and the mental health industry to reopen outdoor sports.  To quote Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden:

“Sport and physical activity will be at the heart of our national recovery and today marks a really important step forward” – Oliver Dowden

The rules for outdoor sports in the UK are:

  • Outdoor sport for all ages is permitted with any number of participants if it is organized by a national governing body, business, or charity.
  • If not formally organized, outdoor sports can only take place in groups of up to six people – or two households.
  • Participants should maintain social distancing when not actively participating.
  • When not actively participating, you must separate into distinct groups consisting of up to six people or two households.
  • Personal training is allowed to take place outdoors.
  • Face masks are not mandatory.

Indoor Gym Reopening Rules in England

Indoor fitness centers in England are set to reopen on April 12 if tests for easing lockdown are met.

This means that anything with a roof over its head, including gyms, fitness studios leisure centers, sports courts, dance studios, and climbing walls, swimming pools, as well as multi-sport facilities (driving ranges, archery venues, etc.) can expect to reopen in England on 12 April.

The gym reopening rules in England are:

  • Leisure centers, gyms, and swimming pools can open from 12 April.
  • Clients can only visit gyms alone.
  • Clients may also visit gyms with members of the same household.
  • Social distancing is mandatory in facilities.

* At the moment, there is no information on mask usage.

Further reading: Everything you need to know about keeping your gym safe during the reopening process.

In What Phases Are Gyms Reopening in the UK

As gyms are reopening in England, the rest of the UK will follow suit. Throughout the country, there have been several ‘indicative timetables for the re-opening of the economy in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales as the pandemic slowly wanes thanks to mass inoculation.

In fact, as of the end of March, 345 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide in just three months since mass inoculation began in December. So, we’d venture as far as to say that things are looking up.

When Are Gyms Reopening in Scotland?

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, stated:

On [26 April]… our expectation is that indoor gyms will also reopen for individual exercise. – Nicola Sturgeon

According to Scotland’s roadmap to recovery, gyms have been scheduled to reopen from 26 April for individual exercise. Indoor group exercise may resume from 17 May.

Outdoor non-contact sports in groups of up to 15 people have been allowed in Scotland since 12 March.

When Are Gyms Reopening in Wales?

Things are looking up for Wales, as the date for reopening gyms has been brought forward a week. The local government will continually monitor the spread of COVID-19 and when considering the definitive date for reopening Welsh gyms. As of now, this date is set to be 3 May.

The conditions for Welsh gyms reopening are:

  • Gyms and leisure centers will be able to open from 3 May.
  • On 3 May, two households can bubble up to meet indoors.
  • Personal training will be allowed on 3 May.
  • Group classes are still not allowed.

When Are Gyms Reopening in Northern Ireland?

Unfortunately, no information about gym reopenings in Northern Ireland has been made available yet.

The stay-at-home order is still strictly in effect, with much of the economy still closed. As it stands now, the conditions for sports during COVID-19 in Northern Ireland are as follows:

  • All gyms are closed – outdoor and indoor.
  • All indoor sport is still banned except for elite athletes.
  • Individual outdoor exercise is allowed.

Due to the unpredictability of the pandemic, news about reopening can change quickly and vary from country to country. Please use the following resources to stay up to date on COVID-19 and gym closures in the UK:

Looking for some no-nonsense tips on how to reopen your gym safely? Check out our scientific approach to good ventilation in gyms.

The Politics of Fitness and Moving Towards Healthier Nations

We already understand the importance of physical activity on our overall wellbeing; however, as sedentary lifestyles are on the rise, what can governments do to encourage and support healthier nations?

With fitness facilities closing their doors and more people than ever working from home, we are undoubtedly facing a huge challenge concerning keeping people active.

More recently, there has been an increased focus on how governments can help support, promote, and encourage sport and exercise. This month, the World Health Organization (WHO) released official guidelines for physical activity.

The guidelines, developed from evidence-based studies on physical activity and sedentary behavior, aim to help policyholders create effective change across nations.

For the First Time in a Decade, WHO Updated Its Physical Activity Guidelines

The biggest takeaway from WHO’s guidelines is that all movement counts. The report noted that globally about 25% of adults do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity.

According to the public health recommendations, included in the published WHO guidelines, children, adolescents and adults should all be engaging in ‘the amount of physical activity required to offer significant health benefits and mitigate health risks.’

These benefits range from improved sleep and mental wellbeing to a reduction in site-specific developing cancer, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

A sedentary lifestyle, on the other hand, has been linked to weight gain, osteoporosis, increased risk of cancer, and depleted mental health, amongst many other health issues.

Recommended Exercise per Week

The report states that the recommended amount of activity in children has been estimated at 60 minutes of aerobic activity each day, with two additional resistance-based activities where possible.

For adults, 150-300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week, and 3 resistance-based activities, could significantly improve physical and mental wellbeing.

The publication follows from a global action plan on physical activity from 2018-2030, agreed by health leaders in 2018 to reduce inactivity by 15% by 2030.

According to WHO, statistics indicate that one in four adults and four in five adolescents do not get adequate physical activity. The result of this is costs of approximately $54 billion in ‘direct healthcare’ and an additional cost of $14bn in ‘lost productivity.

Based on these figures, driving down inactivity across nations could prevent approximately 5 million deaths and save US$68 billion each year.

A Key Priority in the European Union’s Five-Year Strategy

Following publication, the EU has since begun drafting a new initiative to promote exercise as a preventative healthcare measure, in a document called The EU Work Plan for Sport 2021-2024.

Its central aim is for ‘the promotion of participation in health-enhancing physical activity.’ Other objectives include increased participation and awareness, promoting activity and social cohesion, and improving lifestyle.

There has also been a call for increased investment for purposes of sustainable growth, both socially and economically, and ‘future resilience’, following the pandemic.

It is thought funds that had previously been targeted elsewhere, may now be redirected into the plan. The published document also states that the rollout will use a combination of cluster groups, council meetings, conferences, and studies.

Maximizing the Opportunities for Our Physical Health

In the UK, The House of Lords’ National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee has ‘invited sporting organizations and members of the public in the UK, to provide their views on how to tackle the barriers which prevent people from taking part in sport and physical activity, as part of an inquiry into the government’s performance in relation to participation.’

The committee held a session on 9th December 2020, which included ukactive CEO Huw Edwards, Sports Think Tank Director Andy Reed OBE, and Lisa Wainwright, CEO of the Sports and Recreation Alliance.

The main focus was to discuss the UK Government’s 2015 strategy on sport, called Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation. So, how does the government promote healthy lifestyles? The strategy lists five main areas of concern– physical health, mental health, individual development, social and community development, and economic development.

The aim of the session was to discuss how successful the strategy had been and to determine whether or not these topics were still the most relevant focus in 2020.

Reducing Inactivity and Sedentary Time

Lord Willis, of the House of Lords, spoke during the session on the notable change in how people now stay active. He also addressed the importance of correctly identifying key focus areas, to get people moving again.

Huw Edwards’ address, during the same session, mentioned the need for “a brand new vision and strategy, not just from Sport England and UK Sport, but from the government as well, to think about how we can reset some of those challenges that we still face.”

Andy Reed added:

“While shifting everything takes time, it’s clear that organizations have now recognized that their role has to change.”

It seems that the UK government is steadily becoming more aware of the importance of promoting physical activity for our health; it also seems there is more appreciation of the importance of supporting each of our nations in both delivering and receiving the opportunity for exercise.

A key focus for governments now, therefore, is not only to improve and act upon previous strategies to increase participation and access but also to recognize the importance of exercise moving forward and begin creating space for new opportunities.

How Will the Coronavirus Vaccine Impact the Fitness Industry?

“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.

Why Should Gyms Be Considered Essential Businesses?

The global pandemic continues to force unwanted change on almost every aspect of our daily lives.

One of the more controversial aspects of the various shutdowns, lockdowns and business closures was that of the extended closures of gyms and fitness clubs worldwide.

In the name of “flattening the curve” many gym members tried to do the right thing and change up their routines in order to include more at-home or socially distant outdoor workouts.

This has been sufficient for some, but left others without a place to truly continue their health and fitness endeavors, as there really is no replacement for the experience and atmosphere of the gym itself.

But as we’ve learned more about this virus and the various chronic diseases that make developing severe complications more likely, it has certainly come to light that access to physical activity and healthy lifestyles are essential.

As coronavirus cases are skyrocketing again, many cities wonder if gyms and health clubs should re-open or not.

The City of Philadelphia launched the new “Safer At Home” restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus infections, enacting stricter measures and demanding a city shutdown.

After the City Hall decided to close fitness clubs again on November 20, 2020, Philadelphia gym owners are begging city leaders to make fitness clubs essential businesses to allow them to reopen.

Now, as many other places face another potential lockdown, it begs the question- should gyms be considered essential businesses?

The Physical Benefits of (Re-)Open Gyms

The easiest point to make is the fact that health clubs and gyms help people get healthy. Physical activity has an almost unending number of benefits that go far beyond building muscle and supporting strong bones.

As we all know, exercise is able to both prevent as well as manage chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, among others, not to mention its role in combating obesity.

And while these benefits are nothing new, they are of increased significance now that we are realizing how those with chronic diseases are at a much higher risk when it comes to complications, hospitalization and even death from COVID-19.

The fact is there are millions of Americans – some 60% of American adults, according to the CDC – who struggle with these types of chronic diseases putting them at increased risk for the most serious complications from COVID-19.

These are precisely the people who have the most to gain when it comes to gyms and fitness clubs keeping their doors open.

Promoting a Healthier Lifestyle

While health complications stemming from chronic diseases have been an issue in the US for quite some time, it is now more important than ever that we place increased emphasis on good nutrition, physical activity, proper immune system function, and avoiding sedentary lifestyles.

It is increasingly clear that physical activity can improve the nation’s health as well as help mitigate the worst of COVID-19 symptoms and complications. So does that put fitness centers in the same category as supermarkets, pharmacies and others with essential service status?

While critics might say that people can stay physically active through at-home workouts or even simply outside, beyond the fact that many people have a lack of space for such endeavors or even the financial ability to purchase at-home fitness equipment, the point is that they’re not.

A recent survey done by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), ‘The COVID Era Fitness Consumer,’ revealed that while 53% of respondents took outdoor walks more often than pre-COVID shutdowns, only 29% purchased at-home fitness equipment.

Perhaps even more revealingly, 50% of these self-reported gym-goers are unsatisfied with their new DIY fitness routines, with 54% finding them less challenging and 53% have been less consistent with their workouts overall.

Gyms Are Not to Blame for Infections

While campaigning for the fitness clubs’ right to be included in the category of essential business, we would be remiss not to mention the fact that data shows gyms are not guilty of spreading COVID-19 .

In fact, several different US states have shown, thanks to contact tracing, that fitness clubs are not contributing to the transmission of COVID-19 .

The fact is that gyms and fitness centers vary widely in terms of how much ventilation they have as well as how much available space there is for social distancing.

When talking about closures and lockdowns, it is impossible to make the case that all fitness centers should be forced to shut down since their differences in size and make it unfair to say that on the whole, gyms are a dangerous source of potential infection.

Fitness clubs certainly feel that they are providing an essential service to the public, and as long as they are taking all necessary precautions, safety and sanitization protocols, and adhering to strict cleaning guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 should be allowed to remain open.

The fitness industry as a whole is focused on improving public health, not jeopardizing it.

Not Only Essential, But Crucial

In making the case for essential service status for gyms and fitness centers, we’ve covered how important they are for overall physical health – but we’ve yet to talk about the mental health side of things.

When it comes to mental and emotional health, there is abounding research that shows how significant exercise and physical activity is to managing depression, anxiety, and even cognitive decline.

And, just like with the physical benefits, these physical activity side effects are always important, but perhaps even more so in the era of COVID-19 when so many have been forced indoors and isolated from friends and family.

Pandemic-related stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness have been a major drain on mental health across the world.

The number of U.S. adults reporting their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic has increased significantly from 32% in March to 53% in July 2020.

Being able to get to the local fitness club to not only stay active but continue routines that relieve stress and see friendly faces can have more of a positive impact that any of us realize. 

Physical activity is more essential now than ever, and medical experts agree. COVID-19 has exposed how unhealthy our lifestyles have become and how chronic diseases due in large part of inactivity are to blame. Health clubs play an essential role in promoting physical, mental and emotional wellness.

With proper safety and sanitization protocols in place, we feel that fit clubs should be seen as part of the solution to this pandemic as well as for the health and wellbeing of future generations.

New Measures in the UK for the Fitness Industry: How It Impacts You.

A new week, new measures, it seems like this is our “new normal”, but it’s not all bad news! Gyms will be able to open when the current lockdown measures finish, this 2nd of December.

You have probably gone through though times during this second wave, and probably can’t wait to reopen your business. You might be asking when and how you will be able to reopen.

In case you missed it, there was an important meeting this Monday 23rd of November, where they explained all the new measures for fitness businesses and others, don’t stress, we have you covered!

We are here to give you all the insights and information about new measures you need to know before opening.

New measures for fitness businesses in the UK

The past 23 of November, there was an announcement of the “COVID-19 Winter Plan” where the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed that fitness and physical activity facilities will be able to open this 2nd of December, and they will be able to stay open under all three tiers of the new COVID-19 alert system.

Let us clarify the measures during these three tiers:

  • Tier 1: All organized indoor sport, physical activities and exercise classes will remain open if they they follow the rule of six people max.
  • Tier 2: Same as in tier 1, but only if you can assure that people avoid mixing with others that are not of their households or bubble.
  • Tier 3: Leisure and sports facilities may continue to stay open, the problem comes with group exercise classes that will have to stop, including fitness and dance.

The fitness industry wants changes, ASAP!

The new measures have been stated, now it’s time for the fitness industry to react, we have to say that these new measures haven’t been welcomed by everyone.

There has been a lot of criticism specially regarding the avoiding mixing with people that are not from your household and how this is going to be implemented.

Another measure that has been asked to be reevaluated is the plan for gym classes from next week. The fitness industry calls for a change in group class rules.

The Government has made the decision of banning group exercise classes during tier 3 because of the possibility of a quicker spread of Coronavirus in these type of activities. For example, if you offer yoga classes or others, remember that during tier 3, you won’t be able to offer them in your facility, and this hasn’t settled in well.

Although the announcement showed a positive shift towards the nation’s physical and mental resilience, Ukactive is still ‘disappointed’ that gym classes won’t be able to happen under Tier 3 in England, but announces:

“Our sector must continue to make the case for greater support and recognition as an essential service for communities across the UK, and we will continue to challenge the rationale for closing facilities in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

PM Boris Johnson is ‘Very Sorry’

There has been a petition going around for a couple of months now, and it is one of the main reasons why they had the meeting to talk about the new measures in fitness businesses this past Monday. The petition focuses on asking the Government to prevent gyms from closing due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, you can find it here.

The petition asked for the following things:

  • Not to close gyms as a measure to stop any spread of Covid.
  • Differentiate gyms from pubs in terms of risk or importance.
  • Assuring that gyms are following strict guidelines and most members are following rules.

The Government’s answer was that “sports and physical activity facilities are crucial for adults and children to stay active. The Government’s phased approach is based on scientific and medical advice to protect public health.”

They also assured that they would be in contact with local leaders to create further measures adapted to each area, going beyond the baseline measures. These schemes will be co-designed between the local authority and central government.

Members and fitness business owners are asking about the future

As stated many times, the future of the fitness business is unclear for all. The industry demands the Government to secure that their businesses will be open even if there is a future lockdown. They state that physical activity is basic for having a healthier lifestyle and overall favourable for the whole population.

Will gyms be closed in case of a future lockdown? The Government needs to secure some guarantees as the industry lives with the fear of a future lockdown and doubts that the re-opening of gyms will be long-lasting this time.

According to the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) and ukactive, up to 48 per cent of public leisure facilities could close by the end of 2020, resulting in the loss of 300,000 jobs.

A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI, states that there were low drops in activity levels during this year, despite an increase in cycling for leisure, running outside and exercising at home as people adapted their activity habits during the pandemic. That is why the industry is demanding a review into the role physical activity plays in society.

According to the Member of the Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne North, Catherine McKinnell, physical activity is fundamental:

“It’s not a ‘nice to have’. It’s not just a leisure activity, it’s a fundamental part of people’s health, their mental wellbeing and their ability to stay resilient and resistant to this virus”.

Fitness Act 2020: Why You Should Care

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.

  • Community

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.

  • Achieve Goals

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.

What Does Joe Biden’s Win Mean for the Fitness Industry?

President-elect Joe Biden has taken a slightly more informed route in his plan to combat the coronavirus compared to Donald Trump. In fact, the current POTUS went as far as to seemingly oppose his own administration’s policies, which led to much speculation regarding the country’s economy.

For business owners – and specifically, gym, fitness clubs, and studios – Trump’s lackadaisical approach towards the lockdown only reinforced the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. But, what will the fitness industry look like under Joe Biden?

Will Biden try to avoid a total shutdown, as is mentioned on his website? Or, will he opt for a nationwide lockdown to get the virus under control, as his COVID advisor is suggesting? To avoid jumping the gun, let’s break down the facts surrounding reopening, and what a Biden-Harris administration means for the future of the fitness industry; based only on credible sources.

“We’re not shutting down the country, we’re shutting down the virus”

Biden has been a strong proponent of a short and effective shutdown since March. During the Presidential Debate, he stressed that he would not rule out more shutdowns if it meant that the economy would bounce back faster than with partial shutdowns.

Trump, on the other hand, stated at the debate that it should be business as usual, as “we’re learning to live with” COVID-19. In a case where it looks to be either one or the other, Dr. Michael Osterholm, coronavirus advisor to Joe Biden, has stepped in to advocate a four-to-six-week shutdown with wages paid.

For the fitness industry, this means closed doors and loss of client hours. Will this lead to more members ending contracts? We don’t know, but regardless, we should be prepared to expect a loss of client engagement and revenue.

What you do during the shutdown matters too. Don’t allow engagement rates to drop with client hours; find ways to keep your members engaged from afar. Livestream classes and online workout videos are the perfect tools to engage with your fitness community. Also, take this opportunity to build your brand up and promote your business on social media.

Joe Biden’s eight-part COVID-19 plan avoids shutdowns

On his campaign website, Biden and his 12-member COVID advisory board lay bare their eight-part plan to combat the coronavirus spread in the US. No part of the plan mentions a national lockdown.

This isn’t synonymous with anti-lockdown rhetoric – on the contrary, Biden has reiterated time and time again that he will follow the science and do what is necessary to ensure that the country can fully reopen safely.

Gyms and other fitness facilities can expect stringent measures on the following: mask usage, social distancing, reduced capacity, and a high level of accountability for their actions. His clear-cut measures, as mentioned in the Biden Plan, will be a top-down approach from the government.

Many gyms – especially ones that have been operating illegally during lockdowns – may not be able to enjoy the same levels of reckless freedom as they did under the Trump administration.

Small businesses will get a restart package

The Biden Plan also states that small businesses will be equipped with an ambitious ‘restart package’ that will provide small business owners support for retaining and rehiring workers, and covering other costs of restarting in this challenging environment.

The goal is to put as many people back on payroll, as quickly and as safely as possible. Nevertheless, there are innumerable unaccounted for obstacles and losses when it comes to gyms and studios. Many fitness business owners find it hard to quantify their losses, especially when you throw things like customer engagement, loss of brand awareness, and staff decline into the mix.

We’re an industry that’s built upon people supporting people, with health being the top priority. Recently, IHRSA crafted a letter to Joe Biden detailing the importance of not lumping fitness businesses together with other service sectors.

They suggested ways in which facilities can help counter the spread of the coronavirus through contact tracing and bettering people’s health. Gym management software should also offer a hand in this battle by developing corona-proof features to support fitness businesses.

It’s not going to be an easy start to the year…

Will Biden close gyms? Biden has repeatedly said he does not believe that a lockdown will be necessary to get the virus under control. However, politicians change their tune faster than you can think, and in Biden’s case, he isn’t afraid to bet his bottom dollar on science. Cases are rising, and almost a year into the pandemic, people are starting to suffer from so-called ‘pandemic fatigue’.

Expect stronger, albeit result-focused measures in the future. We are still at the precipice of this pandemic, and, until a vaccine becomes widely available, the fitness industry will need to innovate, and businesses must step outside of their comfort zones to stay afloat. This means hybridizing your business model and digitizing your offerings to stay relevant in the minds of your members. In the meantime, stay safe and keep washing those hands.

Speakeasy Gyms: The Rise of Off-the-Book Fitness

When the prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920, thousands of formerly legal bars and salons across the United States closed down. People who wanted to indulge in liquor had two options: to buy from questionable sources known as bootleggers or to visit unlicensed, private bars, aka speakeasies. The latter gains its name from the fact that you have to speak a password to gain access.

Exactly a hundred years later, a new type of speakeasy has emerged: gyms that have clandestinely opened their doors to select a few members. Lockdowns caused by the pandemic have inevitably created a black market for working out.

There’s a ton of reasons as to why gyms and studios are secretly opening despite the risk of hefty fines or even shutdown. From merely not knowing enough about the coronavirus, to an anarchic middle finger to The Man, illegal gyms are happening – and they’re happening across the world.

The pandemic prohibition

People want what they can’t have. During the first lockdown, we saw an unlikely demographic of protestors taking to the streets of Florida to demonstrate against gym closures.

Hundreds of people clad in workout gear protested against working out outside by working out outside. While that really seemed like a problem that solved itself, such acts inadvertently put pressure on fitness facilities to open up in some form or another.

Many facilities offered virtual training, digital fitness options, and outdoor group sessions; some chose to throw caution to the wind and stay open off the books.

Members who were deemed worthy of keeping the secret were informed via word of mouth. According to the BBC, some even guilted their members into supporting them through the message of empowerment.

Speakeasy gyms: It’s worth the risk

An abrupt loss of revenue is a driving factor for gyms opening illegally. Mandates and messages of ‘we’re in this together’ don’t pay the bill of business owners who are on the verge of bankruptcy.

The risk is worth the revenue. Many couldn’t afford to stay closed, especially during the second lockdown that threatened to push businesses over the edge they were already teetering on.

“But… we’re keeping things safe”

Germs spread fast in gyms. Humid and confined spaces with shared equipment are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. Couple that with people breathing heavily and sweating profusely, and you’ve got a potential outbreak zone on your hands.

Nevertheless, gym owners who chose to open covertly have rationalized their actions: we’re being safe, we offer hand sanitizer, we’re encouraging masks/social distancing… you name it.

The other justification is that people who attend fully understand the risks associated with speakeasy gyms. The decision doesn’t weigh too heavily on their mind knowing that their members are fully in on it.

Illegal gyms are a lifeline for some people

If there’s one thing that’s become clear during this pandemic, it’s the fact that we’ve taken so much of our freedom of mobility and means of forming social connections for granted.

While some of us may put off making full use of our gym memberships, for many people, fitness is a lifeline.

A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows that exercising regularly can be just as effective as antidepressant medication for mild to moderate depression. Exercising for just an hour a week prevents 12% of depression cases in the future. Exercising causes actual, observable structural changes to the brain.

Working out facilitates the development of neural pathways, reduces stress, and does all those good things that make you feel like… well, you.

For many people who see themselves deteriorating both mentally and physically as a result of not working out, speakeasy gyms are the fix they needed – coronavirus be damned.

The first rule of speakeasy gyms

You don’t talk about speakeasy gyms. They don’t tout their questionable business model from the rooftops. To get invited to a speakeasy gym, you have to be ‘in the circle’. These gyms only open their doors to long-term or high-paying clients, and even then, they do so with discretion.

Another rule is to not give the gym away. Whether it’s parking your car a little down the road to not overcrowd the parking lot, or not explicitly carrying in a gym bag dressed to the nines in Nike, there’s a playbook to keeping an illegal gym on the down-low.

But, why did digital workout options not suffice?

A lack of training equipment at home and basic gym equipment being back-ordered until the end of space-time as we know it is cited as the main difficulty when it comes to working out at home.

But there’s more to it than that, especially in this day and age where fitness apps and wearables are dominating the health scene. When you lift the veil on who’s actually patronizing these speakeasy gyms, you’ll see that the digital fitness crowd is very different from the illegal gym crowd.

Hard-core gym-goers have favorite machines and favorite exercises that are non-negotiable. They love to push their limits with equipment that you simply do not have at home.

Furthermore, there’s the community aspect of gyms . People who depend on group classes like yoga or spinning tend to feel disconnected. The fact that these classes are already ‘socially distanced’ makes it easy to justify attending illegal gym classes.

On top of that, there are specialized gyms like bouldering and rock climbing – have you ever tried building a climbing wall at home? Many climbers did, but route-setting was another problem altogether.

If the tide does end up turning sooner than later, speakeasy gyms will go the way of speakeasy bars and become a thing of the past. A jarring difference is that one is inherently more dangerous than the other.