People exercising in a fitness studio with masks on.
The fitness industry is seeing more and more people wanting to return to in-person physical fitness, as well as a boost in people looking to improve their mental wellness. — Getty Images/vgajic

Why it matters:

  • A mini-boom in the fitness industry is being triggered by COVID-fatigued consumers who have missed social interaction and motivation from in-person classes, as 80% of consumers said they’re open to hitting the gym again.
  • Mental wellness is becoming as big a priority as physical fitness, judging from the surge in downloads of meditation and mindfulness apps.
  • Athleisurewear, which was on the upswing pre-crisis, has been enjoying a pandemic-fueled boost amid the remote-work boom.

We know that the pandemic took an outsized toll on public health and a far-reaching impact on all busines sectors, including the fitness industry.

State mandates, social distancing, remote work and contactless everything led to $15 billion in lost revenue for clubs and fitness studios in the U.S. last year, according to a recent report from the Global Health and Fitness Association. This has profound implications on the future of the industry.

A surge in home-based workouts wasn’t surprising during widespread stay-at-home orders and mandated gym closures in 48 of the 50 states at the beginning of April. However, now that vaccinations and other safety measures are in place in many areas, fitness clubs reopened.

Although new habits were formed and a majority of those polled in a Future of Fitness survey say they plan to continue exercising at home even after they feel comfortable returning to a gym, some see that tide turning, just as COVID-influenced extensions of the fitness industry log growth, from mental-wellness apps to athleisurewear, sources said.

A majority (80.4%) of consumers polled by Upswell Marketing are open to going back to the gym, and 40% said they’d actually prefer to work out at a gym rather than home — as long as the space felt safe and clean. Nearly half (46.8%) of those surveyed said sanitation is one of the deciding factors for choosing a gym.

"The fitness industry is seeing a mini-boom. Consumers who have missed the social interaction and motivation of in-person classes are excited to be back and are spending more than ever,” TeamUp's head of marketing and partnerships, Tim Green told CO—. The company has more than 2,500 gym clients worldwide and facilitated over 50 million customer bookings through its software platform.

[Read here about 10 fitness industry small business ideas.]

For Jonathan Hicks, a commercial photographer based in New York City, his local Planet Fitness reopening was necessary for him to continue his exercise routines. “I do a lot of compound movements that require much heavier weights than I could have at home,” he said, “and living in a small space doesn’t accommodate equipment.” Hicks said that numerous stations around the floor hold sanitizing spray and wipes for the machines. “Employees all wear masks and are constantly walking around cleaning,” he said, “and social distancing is being reinforced by having every other machine off limits.”

That said, Hicks began doing yoga at home during the height of the pandemic, aided by video routines on YouTube. He plans to continue supplementing his gym workouts with online yoga for the foreseeable future.

Data from MindBody Business found that yoga and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) were among the most popular classes. The report revealed that many consumers plan to continue with a hybrid exercise mix: Nearly half (43%) expect to go back to their previous routines and add prerecorded videos and/or livestreaming fitness workouts.

That dovetails with TeamUp’s findings, according to Green. Company data shows that the site has delivered over one million hours of online classes since launching its Zoom integration in March 2020. For the industry as a whole, said Green, there has been a complete shift back to on-site working, even if customers are still of a hybrid mindset. “The smart business owners have seen that trend and have embraced on-demand content [and are also] continuing with online classes for those who can't be physically present,” he said.

The fitness industry is seeing a mini-boom. Consumers who have missed the social interaction and motivation of in-person classes are excited to be back and are spending more than ever.

Tim Green, head of marketing and partnerships, TeamUp

The rise of mental workouts via mindfulness and meditation apps

While online yoga offers fitness as well as stress reduction, the use of mindfulness meditation apps soared over the last year, suggesting that people were wanting more than to stay physically fit. Data from SensorTower from the early days of quarantine in April 2020 revealed that globally, top 10 English-language mental wellness apps had close to 10 million downloads, which represents a 24.2% increase from January 2020.

Liam McClintock, the founder of FitMind, told CO— that over the past 12 months, it’s seen exponential growth in members on the FitMind app with over 200,000 downloads in 2020. “People are evidently starting to pay more attention to their minds,” said McClintock, “realizing that mental fitness is as important as physical fitness—in fact, much more so."

In addition to individuals downloading mindfulness and meditation apps on their own, employers have begun to take notice. McClintock believes companies have a responsibility to provide resources for their employees' mental wellness. It’s a win-win, he said, noting that multiple studies concluded mindfulness and meditation practices can boost productivity.

Such practices can also reduce the effects of burnout, which surged alongside the pandemic last year, particularly among remote workers, according to a Gallup report.

“I've had more companies than I can count reach out about offering mental fitness training through the app and workshops,” said McClintock. “In conversations with them, it seems that more are starting to include mental health perks as a part of their benefits packages.”

Athleisurewear gets a pandemic-era boost

Remote workers, in particular, embraced the comfort of sweatpants and leggings during the many months of COVID-era video conferences, elevating sales of athleisurewear.

Both men and women lifted up brands like Lululemon online, propelling DTC apparel companies like Rhone and Betabrand to new heights, just as legacy retailer Gap benefited from the pandemic-accelerated “casualization of fashion,” Chris Goble, chief product officer, told CO— earlier this year.

Indeed, the athleisure sector was on a growth trajectory even before the pandemic, according to earlier research by Morgan Stanley.

That growth is poised to continue: The global athleisure market is projected to reach a whopping $517.5 billion by the year 2025, according to a report by Million Insights.

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