Digital Exercise Brands Get Pumped Up As In-Person Fitness Loses Muscle

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Just when it seemed America was starting to actually use gym and fitness studio memberships that so often fall dormant after a few visits, COVID-19 shut down the workout industry hardcore.

Consider the empty gyms and studios of 2020 as compared to mere months ago.

“In 2019, U.S. health club membership reached an all-time high of 64.2 million, an increase of 28 percent since 2010,” according to The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). “Health club visits also peaked in 2019 as more than 73 million users frequented their health club, gym, or studio for a total of 6.7 billion visits for the year.”

But that national network of body-sculpting palaces is in disarray today, with major chains including Gold’s Gym and 24-Hour Fitness filing for Chapter 11 relief due to the coronavirus pandemic, along with a slew of other operators from privately owned yoga studios to fitness centers. The latest casualty is New York Sports Club, which filed Chapter 11 on Monday (Sept. 14).

Upsetting though this all is, closures of in-person fitness facilities coast-to-coast are an absolute boon for the at-home connected fitness industry, which is becoming its own healthy ecosystem.

Apple provided the latest endorsement of at-home connected fitness, announcing on Tuesday that Apple Fitness+ will launch in time for the winter gift-giving season. Jay Blahnik, Apple’s senior director of fitness for health technologies, said in a statement that “with diverse studio workouts that are suitable for all ability levels, led by a phenomenal group of unique trainers, and an approachable program designed for beginners all the way through to the fitness enthusiast — as well as the flexibility to work out anywhere — there’s something for everyone. We know Fitness+ will take working out with Apple Watch to the next level with unparalleled engagement, convenience, and inspiration.”

It’s all part of the streaming fitness trend that’s beefing up as COVID fears linger.

Healthy Financials For Connected Fitness

As PYMNTS reported in early July, the ongoing consumer lockdown led connected-bike company Peloton to register $524.6 million in Q1 sales, which marked a 66 percent year-over-year increase. Peloton’s stock price doubled on that news.

With athleisure brands like Lululemon doing better than expected numbers on the strength of “lockdown chic”– running shoes and yoga pants — trendlines continue to point to permanent digital shifts in how we do fitness. It doesn’t necessarily spell the death of the gym as much as it signals reinvigorated commercial activity in other areas of the fitness landscape.

Major brands like Apple and Peloton have the resources to provide unique fitness experiences featuring instructors that achieve celebrity status. That’s left boutique yoga and bar-method studios scrambling to reinvent by shifting their courses online as well.

ClassPass CEO Fritz Lanman recently told Karen Webster that the expansion of digital workouts is the industry doing its part to bridge the pre- and post-COVID workout worlds.

“What we are hearing from our customers is that they’re dying to go back to studios,” Lanman told PYMNTS. “The majority are getting bookings through the digital classes, which has been great for just keeping customers engaged and keeping partners’ revenue flowing to them.”

Jay Ablondi, the IHRSA’s executive vice president of global products, noted that “even though the 2020 pandemic has hit the fitness industry particularly hard, the industry is demonstrating the important role it plays in helping people live healthier. Going forward, the priority consumers place on safeguarding their health will be paramount and health clubs are uniquely positioned to address the health and wellness needs of the public.”

Peloton: A Connected Fitness Bellwether

While gyms and in-person fitness centers wrestle with reopening regulations that differ between states and even counties, connected fitness continues its brisk run.

Recently crossing the 1 million subscriber mark, Peloton just reported that revenue was $607.1 million in the company’s Q4, a 172 percent year-over-year growth rate as the continuing presence of the pandemic kept consumers working out at home.

“The connected fitness segment revenue was $485.9 million in Q4, representing 199 percent quarterly growth and 80 percent of total revenue,” the company said. “The connected fitness segment reflects both a carryover of undelivered bikes from Q3 as well as continued strong demand due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

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