Here’s How COVID-19 Has Changed Fitness
By Lauren McAlister
As fitness studios and gyms reopen across the country, things look different. Heightened cleaning protocols and contactless experiences are the new norm. Smaller class sizes, face masks, and BYOP (bringing your own props) are common practices in the industry, too.
In this new landscape, our collective mental health has been impacted as well. In fact, nearly half of consumers report their mental health is worse now than before COVID-19. What hasn’t changed during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, though, is how important fitness and wellness services are for overall well-being.
From live stream and on-demand classes, to now modified, in-person offerings, business owners and instructors have been a light for many—and have the opportunity, and responsibility, to continue to do so.
In turn, consumers remain loyal to their favorite fitness studios and gyms.
How do we know?
We surveyed over 700 Mindbody app users in May and asked about their wellness routines during and post COVID-19 shelter-at-home. Have virtual workout trends changed? Are consumers maintaining their same workout schedules from home? Are they ready to return to their local fitness spots? What expectations do they have of these reopened fitness businesses? Will they continue to engage with virtual offerings moving forward?
Here’s what we found.
Those sheltering at home work out more.
Does sheltering-at-home impact workout routines? It turns out, yes—in a positive way. Thirty-three percent of consumers in communities with continued COVID-19 restrictions report working out more. They say having more free time is the top reason they’re getting their sweat on more often. Access to virtual content and mitigating stress were listed subsequently, too.
Virtual fitness quickly became the “new normal.”
Speaking of virtual trends, there’s been a dramatic and swift adoption of virtual fitness—specifically live streaming—during shelter at home. In 2019, a mere 7% of consumers used live streamed workouts. During COVID-19, this increased to over 80%.
In April, a whopping 85% of consumers reported live streaming on a weekly basis. Yoga and HIIT (high-intensity interval training)/Tabata/bootcamp were the most popular modalities. And many consumers don’t plan to stop—43% expect to go back to their previous routines and add pre-corded videos and/or live streaming, post COVID-19.
Consumers are loyal to their local studio or gym.
With access to workouts from all over the world, one might guess consumers would switch up their routines entirely.
That’s not the case; three quarters of consumers reported attending live stream workouts from their go-to fitness business, with 45-65–year-olds being the most loyal (83%) and 18-24–year-olds being the least (53%).
And while some consumers are sampling other fitness offerings, 62% of consumers participated in virtual offerings (live streamed and/or pre-recorded workouts) exclusively from businesses they had physically visited before.
Consumers much prefer in-person—but not everyone is comfortable yet.
Live stream classes have been a much-needed substitute to keep clients healthy during this time; however, 78% of consumers say they usually or almost always prefer in-person options. A greater sense of community and accountability are cited as the top reasons why.
So, it's understandable why consumers are excited about returning to their favorite gym or studio.
Consumers have new expectations of the fitness industry.
How will in-person fitness look?
Fifty-eight percent of consumers feel more comfortable returning to boutique fitness studios as opposed to only 25% who feel comfortable returning to multi-plex facilities and health clubs.
This is likely due to the controlled environment of a smaller studio versus a large, open facility. Boutique studios also mean clients are more likely to take class together and become familiar with one another. There may be an added element of trust.
To remedy this, health clubs might consider ways to create a more intimate experience for customers, including appointment-only visits and/or classes with strict capacity limits.
Not surprisingly, 92% of consumers are most concerned with rigorous cleaning guidelines in their decision to return to a fitness business, followed by reducing the number of clients allowed in the business (76%), and making changes to the physical layout to allow for adequate social distance (75%). Here’s how some fitness businesses are addressing the capacity challenge.
Consumers will continue to invest in fitness.
Upon return, most consumers expect their fitness spending to remain the same as it was before lockdown (68%). Some (13%) are even expecting to spend more after restrictions are lifted. Only 11% expect to spend less.
For those expecting an increase in spending on fitness, increased frequency of classes and a desire to support local businesses are the top reasons they expect to spend more.
There’s a huge opportunity for fitness businesses moving forward.
And while consumers look forward to returning to their local studios, 40% are paying for virtual workouts at businesses they've never visited before.
That means there’s a significant opportunity for fitness businesses to reach customers they’ve never met—globally. Some studios or gyms will meet prospective customers in a virtual setting who later become in-person clients, too.
For most consumers, live stream and on-demand workouts won't replace in-person workouts. That said, they do serve as a complement—and a significant opportunity for fitness business growth. A diversified revenue stream in a time of uncertainty is certainly welcome.
More than ever, consumers are seeking wellness to get through this coronavirus pandemic. Whether reopened or not, this is an opportunity for the entire industry to rethink what it means to be a fitness business. Most importantly, it’s a chance to consider the changing needs of consumers and evolve with them. Those that do will have an advantage in the months and years to come.
Mindbody. “App Consumer Survey.” 2019.
Mindbody. “COVID-19 App User Survey.” April 2020.
Mindbody. “COVID-19 Fitness Consumer Survey.” May 2020.