The impact of 2020 has reshaped how we live, play, and work; the imposed restrictions, put in place due to the pandemic, have created a new reality that we have had to, and will continue to, adapt to. Some of these new behaviours will stick beyond Covid 19, while others will fade.  Although we know that restrictions will extend deep into 2021 in some form, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Change exposes us to different perspectives, new opportunities, and time to reflect on what we need and what we truly value.

A few of my thoughts on how I believe fitness has, and will continue to evolve post pandemic.

#1 A larger portion of the population will make activity a higher priority. 

Although Covid will eventually fade, the vulnerability felt by those who had underlying conditions, and to those whose health was affected directly or indirectly, will last. The messaging about how being active can help with and prevent chronic conditions, improve immunity and aid in mental health are hitting home during this pandemic.  The realization that activity, even in small amounts, can provide major benefits is here to stay.

  • Movement is Medicine Less focus on abs and buns and more focus on heart and lungs. All health professionals agree that physical activity is essential to one’s well being. No longer is fitness viewed primarily as a body transformation activity (washboard abs, weight loss). Instead the aesthetic results achieved through fitness is now secondary. Wellbeing (current and future health status) and Improved Performance (productivity, energy, mood) are equally as valued from those who participate or intend to participate.  This shift in perspective will be a key message in attracting the right clientele to your facility.
  • More people moving Walking is a great starting point for the inactive population (no prep, no learning curve or special equipment) and during the lockdown we wanted/needed to get out of the house so many people began walking. Beyond walking the pandemic has also broken down physical activity barriers for many with a plethora of online fitness options. People can participate in the comfort and anonymity of their home without feeling self conscious. The opportunities to explore and try a variety of activities online without buying a membership or specific equipment has been extensive. With more inactive people being introduced to activities, building confidence and realizing the benefits moving more provides it translates to an expanded market. This emerging untapped demographic will be purchasing professional  fitness services/memberships both online and in-person in 2021contributing to the rebound for many facilities.

#2 Social Connection is Vital

We have an innate need to belong, to be part of a community that provides a sense of acceptance, inclusivity and sharing common interests/goals. The Social Connection has long been a key component for many fitness participants because it provides another reason to attend,(it’s fun, it’s motivating and it feels good to sweat and accomplish with others). 

  • The social aspect is the key to virtual success. The emergence of Virtual Fitness skyrocketed in 2020. The need for people to feel connected to a familiar instructor or workout group was evident as people flocked to Zoom and recorded workouts. For many facilities this began as a band-aid solution until the return of in-person fitness could resume but there is no doubt that Virtual Fitness will remain as a permanent and popular option even after all restrictions have been lifted. Although Zoom fatigue and excess  of screen time is a challenge, facilities and professionals who continue to embrace the social aspect of online workouts, and refine ways to connect with people online, will separate themselves from the crowded field of virtual fitness  options. 
  • Working out (together) in-person will return and thrive. The impact of social distancing and lockdowns became and remains a heavy burden for many people. The lack of connection and social interaction due to working from home is a major dilemma. The need for a hub, for people to come together, will heighten and fitness facilities will become a popular option. During the lockdown those who valued and relied on this in-person element and did not make the switch to stay connected online struggled with consistency.  Whether it is working out and bumping into fellow members, planning a workout with a friend or attending a scheduled group workout, the positive reinforcement, shared challenge and accomplishment in a place that you are comfortable and feel you belong, is a much more powerful element then the actual workout itself. 

 #3 In-Person Facility Experience gets a reboot: It has been a devastating year for the Fitness Facility Industry, the lockdowns and safety protocols have made it extremely difficult for Studios and clubs to stay afloat. During the shutdown phases, fitness facility owners and operators quickly pivoted showing ingenuity by renting equipment, offering existing and new services remotely, and staying connected to their members.

  • Flexible Memberships– No one is looking for long term commitments. Month to month options will become the new norm. It will not be uncommon for members to have memberships at multiple facilities simultaneously or throughout the year.  Assessing the convenience of a facility, when working at home and/or when at the office, along with considering the interest in different activities and needs throughout the year, will shift consumers purchasing decisions. 
  • “Working out at home isn’t the same!!” is a phrase I keep hearing. The value of having a dedicated time and place to workout has proven to be critical for many. Working out alone at home with distractions is hard to adhere to. The structure, atmosphere and social aspect will be a major factor in the return of members to facilities.
  • Access to equipment– Although we have been exposed to creative and effective bodyweight and minimal equipment workouts, the love of using equipment to get more from a workout will remain. Some have purchased equipment for home but notice the quality of their Treadmill/Elliptical doesn’t compare to commercial equipment. It is hard to stay motivated doing activities that don’t feel good, or the same way you remember them. To progress towards our goals we need to be challenged in different ways, however, purchasing high quality equipment, and a variety of weights for home may not  be reasonable (space considerations) or affordable, making the existing fitness centres the most viable option.
  • Professional Instruction–  There are an abundance of fitness ‘coaches’ online however, a fit Instagrammer, athlete, celebrity or someone who has had a successful body transformation, does not qualify them to competently coach others. Reports from participants doing generic online workouts that are either “too easy”, “too hard” or “unsafe” are unfortunate but not surprising. Certified Fitness Pros in clubs and studios have extensive training and several have many years experience.  The realization is now more apparent than ever that trained professionals offer an abundance of value including being able to identify appropriate intensity, provide necessary adjustments to technique, modify for injuries, identify weakness/imbalances, provide timely motivation boosts, and create personalized workout design & instruction.  All of these offerings will lead to improved results, reduce risk of injury and provide a better experience overall.

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