Recovery-focused brands are thriving as consumers – and gym operators – increasingly seek cutting-edge wellness products
This article is part of ATN’s DISRUPT 2023 video series, which features key conversations with executives from the most successful brands in fitness and wellness. To watch more videos, click here
Many of the newest products and services that are helping the fitness industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic had their origins, ironically, from a surge in interest in how to recover from workouts.
Post-exercise and injury-prevention treatments like massage, heat, cold, infusions and electronic stimulation, as well as products and apps for mental wellness, nutrition and stress reduction, are outperforming other modalities and channels in the fitness and wellness business today.
During a panel discussion entitled “The Business of Recovery,” part of Athletech News’ DISRUPT 2023 video Series, a trio of executives driving growth in this booming space talked about the spike in interest in recovery (and its alter ego, prevention), and their predictions about the future of this fascinating category.
Ryan Duey, co-CEO and co-founder of cold plunge brand Plunge, said that the industry’s longtime focus on the actual act of working out is starting to change.
“Now we’re getting a more holistic understanding of what goes into being a healthy body,” Duey said. “We know now that sleep is the time we’re actually growing our muscles that we tear down during the workouts, so they go hand in hand. A lot of studies and information are coming out. There’s an acceleration of awareness, and a better understanding of the holistic picture of how to be a healthier, more active human. It’s not just the act of working out.”
Plunge introduced its first product, an affordable in-home cold plunge tub, 3 years ago during the COVID pandemic. Primarily a DTC product, it tapped into the increased interest in cold plunge as an energy enhancement, immunity builder and recovery therapy with a unit that people could install and use conveniently in the comfort of their homes.
Restore Hyper Wellness director of research and wellness Dr. Rachel Pojednic is a muscle physiology scientist who specializes in the intersection between exercise and nutrition, and an expert on the impact that stimulus, or working out, has on muscles.
“We know that when you exercise really hard, your muscles are going to be broken down and you need to give yourself some time in order to recover,” Pojednic said. “And if you’re a good strength trainer, you know you can’t do that kind of effort over and over again. And there is growing recognition that we need stimulus plus recovery in order to have long-term adaptation.”
Although the interest in recovery seems to have come out of nowhere, it’s actually been brewing for a while, said Paul Lunter, founder and CEO of WellnessSpace Brands, previously known as HydroMassage, whose flagship product is a bed or lounger chair inside of which jets of warm or cold water pulsate and move, giving the user a targeted massage (think hot tub without getting wet or having to change position).
“When we launched our products to the fitness market 15 years ago, recovery was the focus,” Lunter noted. “At first everybody asked ‘Why are you here? Why is HydroMassage a product that we should be looking at in fitness?’ It took a lot of education. In the beginning, we were talking about tear and repair, it was all about recovery. And over time people understood that having a wellness product rather than a recovery product is where the benefit is.”
Gyms and studios that offer HydroMassage as part of a premium membership or add-on service have had little problem monetizing once members experience the products. Some find that it increases member engagement in unexpected ways.
“In every conversation we have, they say at some point and always a bit sheepishly, that they have people that don’t even work out, but come in before work or on their lunch break,” Lunter said. “We do a lot of tracking and our products are being used on a regular basis at three o’clock in the morning in some of the 24/7 clubs.”
The Restore Hyper Wellness business started with cryotherapy, which remains, along with heat and red light therapies, its most popular products, but interest is starting to shift more toward prevention, according to Pojednic.
“As people start to think about this proactive and preventive space, they’re experimenting with a lot more of our medical therapies, so we’re seeing that the I.V. micronutrients, NAD, and injectables are also really important for this type of self-care,” Pojednic noted. “We see interest in products that you need a prescription for from our medical team increasing and certainly not slowing down anytime soon.”
Regarding the market potential of the wellness segment, WellnessSpace Brands’ Lunter feels it will “triple in size between now and 2030,” thanks to Gen Z, a cohort that is rapidly gaining in importance to the fitness and wellness industry:
“They’re not as much into getting a new house as they are about ‘What can I do today to make my life or my day better?’” Lunter said. “And so the products of all three of our companies are fantastic and right in line with that.”
Plunge has several growth initiatives underway.
“We’re now getting into the sauna category, and that was directly from our customers,” Duey said. “They were emailing us asking us for recommendations, and asked if we were planning to build one. We surveyed them, and 40% were in the market to buy right now, giving us the ability to readdress our existing customers.”
B2B is a key focus of Plunge moving forward. With 90% of its business in residential, there is a big opportunity in the commercial sector which, until now, has been handled opportunistically. Duey noted the release of the Plunge All-In Commercial, a new product that’s specifically built for commercial facilities.
“It’s app-enabled, and maintenance is much more seamless,” Duey said.
For Restore Hyper Wellness, the importance of personalization, technology and data to the customers at its 200-plus franchised locations is driving many of the company’s new initiatives.
Pojednic said that increasingly, people are looking for a hyper-personalized journey and quantifiable results.
“They’re looking for the data to show them that what they’re doing is working,” she said. “So as they have a child, suffer a stressful event, or change their exercise regimen, they want that feedback so that their journey can change. What we’re thinking about for the future is how can we help people understand what’s going on with their body with their own data, and really personalize their day-to-day with all that information to effect change, and show them evidence that their body is in fact responding rather than just giving them gimmicks and headlines.”
“I’m a scientist, and this is why I’m at Restore,” Pojednic added. “For me, data is destiny.”