Over 8,000 industry professionals from 80 countries attended the IHRSA 2023 convention in San Diego.
The high-energy convention that the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association (IHRSA) hosted from March 20 through March 22 in San Diego, California, was proof not only that in-person conferences have returned in full force, but also that the fitness industry is back in shape.
The unseasonable rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 8,000 industry professionals from 80 countries who attended the convention (one-third more than attended the 2022 Miami show). From early morning until late at night, fitness professionals worked out, attended over 100 education sessions, explored the mammoth exhibition hall at the San Diego Convention Center and then socialized the night away at of a number of invitation-only parties at local hot spots.
IHRSA President Liz Clark, in her welcome remarks to kick off the 2023 convention, pointed out that “gymnasium” comes from a Latin word meaning a place where people come together for supervised education and training in fitness. She called 2023 a “year of redemption,” after the pandemic proved to the world how essential exercise and wellness are to people and communities. “Being back together,” she said, “proves our resilience and fortifies what we all know: That we are essential.”
Clark went on to say that IHRSA’s work of advocating on behalf of the industry has never been more important. As one gym CEO said during a fireside chat later in the week, “Government advocacy is critical. If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re on the menu.”
Athletech News spent an exhilarating three days at the IHRSA 2023 in San Diego speaking with fitness brands and their suppliers about industry trends and the newest tech solutions and equipment innovations. Armed with cans of Celsius Fitness Drink, we logged tens of thousands of steps and learned what’s happening, what’s not and what’s top of mind in the fitness and wellness industry today.
Here are some of the themes that came up again and again during the show:
“Connected” was one of the most-uttered words during the three days at IHRSA 2023. It not only referred to wearables, biometric tracking, streaming content, gym management software, and hybrid workout tech enablers, but also to the way brands and companies in fitness and wellness are working together to integrate their products and services. More collaboration is underway to reduce friction, time and the expense required to develop new products and services. Brands like Fitness on Demand, Swerve, Myzone, POWR and others are helping customers be more efficient, work smarter and work out more effectively.
Strength training with weights or other resistance equipment has become the hottest workout trend in fitness, and it dominated the conversation at IHRSA. According to Technogym’s Fabrizio Cecchinelli, who led an education session on the topic, a key reason is that it’s social media-friendly. Strength training is an extremely photogenic type of exercise, which helps explain why the female GenZ cohort is its fastest growing segment. Another reason for its popularity is science. Studies like those of Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman have shown that weight training has many health and longevity benefits.
Technogym was one of many companies showing sophisticated new strength training products at the show. Life Fitness’s Hammer Strength training equipment is a customizable system suitable for a wide range of training requirements and space options. Total Gym showed how its ELEVATE platforms can bring strength training using body weight to a new level.
In keeping with the trend toward hybrid workouts and meeting consumers wherever they are, there were also a few notable innovations in portable and mobile strength training options, including Zerowheel, Max Pro Fitness, Arena, BeaverFit, and FitBench.
Many gym executives were talking about reducing the space dedicated to cardio workouts in order to meet growing consumer demand for strength training. The treadmills, stationary bikes, boxing and other heart-healthy workout tools that proliferated the show featured more versatility, smaller footprints, better connectivity capabilities and more engaging apps.
Wellness, Recovery and Nutrition
Cryotherapy, massage, relaxation and other wellness and recovery solutions had a big presence at the show. Brands like Theragun, Hyperice and Everest Alpine cryochambers were popular booths. There was a line of folks wanting to recharge in the massage chairs at Human Touch and the hydromassage beds at Wellness Space were full every time we walked by.
Several supplement brands focused on clean formulas, protein boosts and plant-based nutrition. Bulletproof had a dizzying array of powders and superfoods. 1st Phorm’s Level-1 protein meal replacement bar was one of the most delicious we’d ever tasted. The Smoothie Company’s blenders were going strong for three days, with interesting new flavors bound to convince gyms to open smoothie bars. Stronger U, now a division of Self Esteem brands, shared its nutrition counseling app’s latest features.
Attracting the 80%
Ever since Planet Fitness proved it’s possible to get people off the couch, motivating the 80% of the population that doesn’t exercise regularly to join a gym or studio has become the holy grail of gym and studio executives. At IHRSA, we heard an oft-cited goal of “converting 30% of the 80%,” which would more than double the size of the U.S. fitness market, a noble goal that would certainly be profitable, but no easy feat. BODi, formerly Beachbody, has rebranded itself to attract this market with its new Health Esteem program that helps people feel good about themselves. Canadian startup Safe Sweat has developed a private pod workout space concept to help people get over the self-consciousness of working out in front of others.
The Big (Re)branding
ABC Fitness, Xplor, and New York Sports Club are just a few of the companies who have decided in recent months that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts and that leading with your strongest asset beats trying to create differentiated messaging across multiple sub-brands.
Prior to the show, New York Sports Club CEO Bill McMenamy told Athletech News that the brand’s origin story is so strong that it no longer made sense to operate Philadelphia Sports Clubs, Boston Sports Clubs and others, so all clubs will rebrand under the original name. “When you think about other brands like LA Fitness, they’re from LA but they have gyms in Ohio and the Midwest, but the naming convention doesn’t stop them from continuing to grow. We have such an iconic and powerful word mark, why not rebrand and utilize it? The consumer understands and knows what it is. And then our messaging is much clearer.”
Many of the tech solutions providers, driven by the increased hybridization of fitness, are reorganizing their many divisions into sub brands under the parent, offering a suite of solutions that capitalize on economies of scale and remove decision fatigue for clients.
ABC Fitness Solutions launched its new branding at the show that includes its Ignite, Glofox, Trainerize and Evo platforms under the ABC umbrella. ABC Fitness CEO Bill Davis said, “We can solve common industry problems in a myriad of ways, ensuring the best fit for each specific customer.”
What We Didn’t Hear Enough About
Despite growing in popularity, yoga was virtually absent from IHRSA 2023, probably due to the fact that it doesn’t require much equipment.
Sustainability, a topic that is dominating most consumer product markets, was also a virtual no-show, with the exception of a few exhibitors that embraced going green. SportsArt’s Eco-Powr™ equipment line, which converts the human energy exerted during a workout into usable electricity. Germany-based NNOHrD, owner of the WaterRower, makes equipment and accessories that are beautifully crafted of renewable wood and leather.
We’re already looking forward to next year’s IHRSA convention, which will take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center from March 3-5, 2024. See you there!