How COVID-19 Has Permanently Upended the Fitness Industry

Male running on treadmill at the gym.
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Before the COVID-19 crisis, you probably didn’t think twice about attending a crowded exercise class or working out next to strangers in a busy gym, but things are different now. The pandemic changed the way fitness happens, as indoor workouts with people outside your household are largely considered unsafe.

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Since lockdowns began, there has been a 170% increase in demand for fitness equipment, according to Research and Markets. In addition to setting up home gyms, people are also seeking virtual workouts with savvy trainers who have pivoted to online instruction.

“I have been teaching classes to seniors online for the past 11 months,” said Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness trainer. “Yes, I’ve taught a group of people, many of whom are over 70 years old, how to use Zoom.”

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She said the social aspects of her classes have been just as important or even more vital than the exercise components. When it’s safe to do so, she plans to offer her classes both online and in person but thinks many of her students will continue virtually, even after the pandemic eases.

“The main thing is that my students have remained close to each other online and will stay a community whether online or in person,” said DePatie, who is also a professional speaker and author.

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Generally speaking, she believes more people will keep working out at home post-pandemic. She credits this to advances in video technology, virtual reality — especially the Occulus Quest 2 — and connected devices — i.e., Peloton and the Mirror.

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“These offer the social connectivity of meeting with teachers and participating in live classes, as well as the convenience of working out at home on your own schedule,” DePatie said.

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Joy Puleo, M.A., PMA-CPT, education program manager at Balanced Body, the world’s largest provider of Pilates equipment and education, echoed the sentiment that the pandemic has made fitness a more personal experience.

She said people are now relying on technology that has changed what a workout looks like — i.e., sleek apps that provide beautiful scenery for a morning run and gentle, enthusiastic computer-generated accolades that inspire you to push yourself just a little bit further.

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“Fitness is an internal and highly personal experience that can’t always be measured by an app or a monitor, but by how we feel about ourselves,” Puleo said. “I am hopeful that 2021 will center more on the emerging experience of our health and fitness, rather than the data.”

In-Person Workouts Will Return

When it comes to returning to in-person classes, Puleo believes re-entry will happen in small groups.

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“Our human nature will crave the attention and the camaraderie of others,” she said. “However, it will be a long time before we are comfortable in packed spin classes filled with sweaty people in small spaces.”

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Instead, she believes classes will be smaller and people will seek one-on-one private training.

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“People will want to have an experienced instructor paying attention to them and their unique experiences,” Puleo said. “The relationship between client and instructor will lose its ‘just tell me what to do’ quality and become more of a partnership built on trust and a true desire to create positive health and fitness changes.”

Omar Yunes, CEO of 54D, a nine-week fitness program founded and created by former professional soccer player Rodrigo Garduño, also believes the social component of fitness is highly valuable.

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“When the current situation fades and things slowly go back to normal, we will see that people will once again want to connect face-to-face,” Yunes said. “We are seeing this need not only in our brick-and-mortar locations but also in the online world.”

In addition to the physical benefits of fitness, he said people are also seeking a positive impact on their mental health.

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“Being part of a community is a key factor in generating that emotional well-being,” Yunes said. “If you don’t feel like you belong somewhere, the current isolation is felt even more.”

He said you can’t fully replicate the social component of a physical location online, which will inspire people to want to keep wanting to come into fitness studios for an in-person workout.

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Last updated: March 10, 2021


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