Woman doing a virtual workout in her living room

Virtual Workout Trends During Shelter-at-home

By Amaya Becvar Weddle

COVID-19 has upended the fitness industry. No longer able to visit their favorite studios and gyms, people are forced to work out in a new way—at home. While the general population may have dropped their fitness routines, our Mindbody app users tell a different story. These boutique fitness fanatics are going virtual to get their fitness fix. Video workouts are more popular than ever, and live streaming is becoming a major player. Attendance of virtual classes is growing each week; just because we’re at home doesn’t mean we’ve stopped needing physical activity.

Self-care and wellness are more important than ever, and the numbers show that Mindbody app users aren’t willing to give up their fitness classes. Prior to the coronavirus, only about 1% of bookings on Mindbody were virtual. Since mid-March, when most of the “shelter-at-home” ordinances hit the US, that number has exploded. Monday, March 23 saw a 230% increase in the number of attended virtual classes over the previous Monday!

Seeing these dramatic changes in our bookings data, Mindbody Research surveyed over 400 Mindbody app users who were self-quarantining or sheltering in place to get a sense of how their fitness routines have shifted in the pandemic and what trends are emerging in virtual workouts.

Fitness routines before and during COVID-19

Though they’re no longer able to frequent their usual fitness studios and gyms, the majority of Mindbody app users said they’re still dedicated to their fitness routines. It turns out that, despite what’s likely a near constant attire of stretchy pants, a quarter of people are working out more than they were before the pandemic (either more frequently or for longer durations of time).

Pie graph showing the percentage of people who are working out more, less, or about the same as before the pandemic

Before the coronavirus pandemic, in a July 2019 survey, 75% of Mindbody app users regularly exercised three or more times a week. During COVID-19, 78% of survey participants report the same.

During isolation, a larger percentage of Mindbody app users are working out daily or more. In 2019, only 5% of users worked out daily; now, we're seeing 23% work out this frequently. Overall, it seems the Mindbody app user population is still working out, on average, about the same during COVID-19; a notable difference from the general US population which some sources report as down 39%.

Bar graph showing how often Mindbody app users worked out before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Reasons for working out less

Forty-four percent say they’re exercising less than they were pre-pandemic. The top reason for not working out, unsurprisingly, was that their usual fitness locations were closed. Many also cited a lack of motivation and second to that, limited access to fitness equipment. It may be possible for fitness studios and gyms to address limited motivation with fitness challenges and live streams (which may hold people accountable). Many businesses are also temporarily loaning out their equipment to members while they’re closed or offering creative substitutes for weights with household items. Notably, there have been reported shortages of at-home equipment at major retailers and e-commerce stores, making free weights a scarce commodity (possibly second only to toilet paper).

Interesting, lack of time came in last; just months earlier, this was the number two obstacle to healthy living cited by 35% of Americans in our Healthiest Cities in America report. Quarantine seems to have given us quaran-time.

Bar graph showing the reasons people are working out less during the pandemic

The living room is most popular room to work out in at home

Finding a space to work out at home in can be tough. The majority (61%) say they’ve worked out in their living rooms. Less popular in-home options were a bedroom (25%) or office (8%). A few even reported working out in their kitchens. Fifty-five percent say they've worked out outside at least once since the pandemic began.

Despite social distancing, working out has remained social

Thirty-five percent report having worked out with a friend or family member in person, 32% with a remote group, and 14% with a family member or friend remotely. In our Fitness Trends report, we saw a correlation between exercise and connections with community, family, and friends. Fitness, even in a pandemic, seems to be inextricably linked to community and social wellness.

Virtual workouts have exploded in popularity—and they’re here to stay

Last year, we saw a minority of Mindbody app users using pre-recorded videos (17%) or live streams (7%) to work out. During the pandemic, 70% are exercising with pre-recorded workout videos, and 75% are taking advantage of live stream video workouts. That’s a crazy high adoption of virtual! As we’ve observed our Mindbody customers leaning into learning how to go virtual, it appears Mindbody app users have responded in kind, with demand going through the roof.

Mindbody app users are loving having a virtual fitness option, too. Forty-eight percent of Mindbody app users plan on bringing virtual fitness into their routines even after the pandemic.

Virtual workout types before and during COVID-19

There’s still room for growth, though; 27% of respondents aren’t using pre-recorded video, live streams, or audio training. Many are working out on their own. Sixty percent say they work out on their own outside, and 59% report exercising alone inside at least twice a week.

Yoga is the most popular type of online, video workout

The majority of respondents say they’ve taken a video yoga class during the pandemic. Yoga is popular, and this is not all that surprising, given its historically been the #1 most popular workout type year after year in our Wellness Index report. This an excellent time, though, for studios and gyms with video offerings to encourage people to try a new modality. Many may be intimidated to try something new; trying it at home might be a great way to sample (without a full room watching).

It’s also possible that the limited space and minimal equipment required in yoga make it particularly accessible, and many of the other most popular modalities follow a similar pattern. Studios and gyms in all modalities should overtly communicate what equipment and space are necessary, as these are major reported obstacles. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing that equipment-heavy modalities are less popular for in-home (pre-recorded and live stream) workouts versus in-studio: weight training, cycling, and Pilates being a few.

Bar graph of most popular fitness modalities for virtual fitness versus in-studio

The most popular way to find online workouts is through social media profiles or websites of local gyms and fitness studios

Sixty-three percent of those who are doing live stream workouts and 53% who are doing pre-recorded workouts found them through a local studio’s website or social media. Recommendations from friends and family are particularly influential when it comes to picking a live stream (26% find them this way compared to only 13% for pre-recorded videos). Survey respondents are far more likely to discover pre-recorded videos than live streams through Google or YouTube searches (38% versus 12%).

This is an optimal time for fitness studios and gyms to bring in new, local clients through virtual workouts now and work to convert them to in-studio members later.

Learn more about how to promote your video offerings.

Do customers expect virtual workouts to be free? Not necessarily

Forty-one percent of those who are joining live streams are doing so through a monthly membership, 19% are using class packs, and 15% are purchasing individual classes. When it comes to pre-recorded workouts, 36% are using a monthly membership, 7% a class pack, and 5% are paying per video.

Mindbody app users are significantly more likely to say they expect to pay less for pre-recorded workouts and live stream workouts than they would for an in-studio workout. The data indicate a slightly higher price expectation may be placed on live streams, and in fact, the average class price we’ve measured on the Mindbody platform for live stream classes is about $12. There might be additional value perceived in getting feedback from an instructor in real-time. Extra benefits for members (and an understanding that the video-only constraint is temporary) may allow for higher price points than post-COVID-19. It might also be that there’s so much on-demand content already available that live streams are more desirable.

See more on what to do about memberships here.

It’s important for fitness businesses to think about pricing carefully as they begin to offer new, virtual workouts. While it may be tempting to offer classes free to continue activating your community, experience shows it's hard to start charging for something that you’ve previously offered for free.

See best practices for pricing video during COVID-19.

The type of workout is the most important factor in picking an at-home workout

We asked survey respondents to choose the top five factors in choosing a workout. Here’s how they ranked them:

  1. Type of workout (most important)
  2. Equipment/space required
  3. Time of day
  4. Length of time
  5. Knowing the studio
  6. Knowing the instructor
  7. Doing something familiar
  8. Finding something free
  9. Doing something within my budget
  10. Class level (beginner, intermediate, advanced)

It’s crucial that studios and gyms communicate what equipment is necessary for the workout. The less required, the better. Notably, being free for Mindbody app users isn’t everything; seven factors (including the type of workout and the studio and instructor) are far more important.

93% say they’re eager to get back to their former fitness routines as soon as they can

Many fitness businesses may have held off in investing in virtual in fear of cannibalizing their in-studio attendance. Despite many Mindbody app users enthusiastically moving to video workouts during this time, 50% say that if sheltering at home were to end today, they’d go right back to their previous routine, pre-social distancing. For about half video is great for now, but they see it as purely temporary.

Fitness studios and gyms should consider continuing with their virtual offerings, however. Many see it adding value for them. In fact, 43% say they’d go back to their previous routine and add video fitness.

Video fitness is far from a replacement; only 5% say they’d decrease or discontinue their previous exercise routines and rely solely on video instead.

The best news of all, perhaps? A combined total of 93% of Mindbody app users say they intend to return to their previous wellness routine once they can return to the studio.

The fitness businesses of the future will likely offer both in-person and virtual workouts. These businesses can enjoy clients from their local areas and bring in virtual clients from around the world.

The need to stay home has created incredible opportunity for virtual fitness with video. By this point, we’ve all read (or at least scanned the headlines) of dozens of articles along the lines of “How Coronavirus Is Changing ______ Forever.” In the case of fitness, it’s certainly true that we’re likely to see some lasting changes, but a better headline might be “How Coronavirus Is Enhancing Fitness Forever.” In this pandemic more people are trying video workouts than ever before. Some love them, some can’t wait to get back to the studio.  It’s the optimal option for now; and in the long term, video may give more people an opportunity to work out when and where they are able to, even more frequently.  

Mindbody. “App User Survey.” July 2019.

Mindbody. “COVID-19 App User Survey.” March 2020.

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About the author:

Amaya Becvar Weddle

Vice President, Research & Product Marketing

Amaya Weddle earned a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction & Cognitive Science from UC San Diego in 2007 and has spent the last 12 years working in research leadership roles in software and technology companies. A listed inventor on over 40 technology patents in the US and internationally, Amaya’s passion is in technology innovation inspired by deep research—the intersection of human cognition, behavior, culture, technology, and market trends. Amaya came to Mindbody in 2014 and is now Vice President of Research & Product Marketing. She leads a team of researchers and strategists who are building technology to transform the wellness industry, connecting people to wellness providers that help them live happier, healthier lives. 

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