As 2020 comes to a close, Athletech News spoke to fitness industry executives and complied five trends to monitor across the industry in 2021.
The fitness business was stretched and crunched and transformed by COVID-19 in 2020. While the virus forced many fitness clubs and studios to close—some permanently—the coronavirus also opened new opportunities for the at-home workout segment, which enjoyed significant growth.
A new year is expected to bring vaccines and an expected return to normalcy. As the calendar flips to 2021, here are five trends to monitor across the fitness industry.
1- Home fitness will continue to thrive
In 2020, an overwhelming majority of fitness enthusiasts said they would continue to work out at home even after their old gyms reopened when normal life resumes. According to a Beachbody study, 9 out of 10 respondents said they would prefer to stick with the stay-at-home program, continuing the trend that started in 2020 with the explosive popularity of home-based brands like Peloton.
“A lot of our members who are in the home fitness market have seen sales increase five-fold, numbers they could never have expected in a million years,” says Alli Schulman of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. “Hand weights at Target and Dicks and major retailers, people haven’t been able to find them in months. Bikes have been sold out everywhere. Anything you can do at home, this is the time for them.”
2- Omnichannel will be omnipresent
COVID forced the issue on many fitness clubs and studios, but the future of the industry points to the “omnichannel” approach, which is a combination of virtual and brick-and-mortar programming, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.
“In 2021, [we expect] an omnichannel approach to delivering health and fitness programs to become the norm for health clubs and gyms,” says IHRSA spokesperson Sami Smith.
The IHRSA’s 2020 Health Club Consumer Report found 20 percent of health club members already use a premium online fitness service.
“Offering virtual fitness training and exercise classes will continue,” Smith says. “Considering the boost that home fitness equipment sales met over the pandemic, clubs stand to gain from this development. It shows the importance of physical activity and overall well-being resonates with consumers.”
3- Gyms still have to be creative
Once COVID restrictions are lifted, IHRSA expects consumers seeking social activity will return to gyms for small group exercise programs, and that will require club managers to be creative in their offerings.
“The fitness market as we know it is going to be different, but in a good way,” Schulman says. “We don’t think this is going to be the end of box gyms and fitness studios, but this is going to cause for a whole new innovative perspective from both the gym owners, people who work at gyms and people who go and are looking for fitness opportunities.”
Many clubs offered a mix of outdoor classes and online programs throughout the pandemic, which should continue and expand in the new year.
“The virtual and outdoor options allow members to continue utilizing their membership, get in their necessary activity, and stay healthy, but simply don’t cover everything as a revenue source,” Smith says. “However, it is likely that the move to clubs providing more virtual options will continue after the COVID-19 crisis ends.”
4- Health and safety are critical
Among fitness trends to monitor in 2021 is fitness clubs paying their utmost attention to the health and safety of their employees and members, and that means they can be seen making sure facilities are clean. IHRSA maintains a database of resources including club cleaning and safety guidelines, case studies of how other club owners have safety operated, and more.
“One of the most significant issues that the health and fitness industry will need to overcome is the public’s negative perceptions of health and fitness clubs,” Smith says. “Even though data shows that clubs with risk mitigation guidelines are operating safely, some media outlets and misinformed lawmakers portrayed these facilities as high-risk for COVID-19 transmission.”
5- Being fit can save your life
The pandemic taught many that being fit improved your chances of fighting off COVID-19. That awareness is expected to continue into 2021 with a new importance on fitness and being active.
Industry leaders are hoping legislation like the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act gains some traction in Washington as a result of the pandemic. Introduced in 2018, PHIT would allow Americans to use up flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for their physical health maintenance. It would allow individuals to use up to $1,000 per year—$2,000 for families—to spend on physical activities like health club memberships, fitness equipment, exercise videos, and even youth sports.
“We’ve heard from medical experts during this pandemic that healthier individuals are safer from suffering the brunt of this disease,” Schulman says, “so our industry is one of the most important aspects of protecting people from this disease.”