How the Outlook Of the Fitness Industry Changed in 2020, and What To Hope From 2021

Indian fitness service providers are rising to the pandemic-related challenges and adapting to the increasingly digital-first, post-COVID-19 world

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To say that the pandemic propped up several unexpected challenges for the fitness industry would be an understatement. The primary shock for the industry in 2020 was the realization that it could be brought to a complete standstill, as seen during the COVID-related lockdowns. The viral outbreak also revealed the predicament of the urban middle class that comprises a majority of the fitness consumer base. Regular gym-goers were confined to their homes, disconnected from their trainers as well as their favourite stamping grounds.

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The effect of the pandemic-induced disconnect upon the fitness players was no less disconcerting. While many small gyms and fitness centres owners were forced to shut shop completely, their larger peers fared little better with mass layoffs and widespread scaling-down of operations.

A major factor behind this sudden collapse was the low-to-zero adoption of relevant digital and fitness technology tools before the pandemic; they were embraced at scale only after the viral outbreak forced a closing-down of the physical spaces. However, in keeping with the ‘go big or go home’ mentality that exemplifies the fitness space, Indian fitness service providers are rising to these challenges and adapting to the increasingly digital-first, post-COVID-19 world.

The evolving outlook of the fitness industry

Once the initial shock of the pandemic had passed, fitness brands quickly upgraded their existing digital infrastructure to drive user engagement and experience. Many premium brands have driven growth by bringing fitness home with ‘live’ celebrity and expert trainer-led workouts.

But, while larger players in the space leveraged their considerable resources to adapt to COVID-19, the situation remained worrisome for medium-to-small players who lacked the big dollars and the patronage enjoyed by their more established peers. Thankfully, fit-tech companies stepped in to address the need-gap by providing fitness businessowners with innovative digital solutions to tide through these turbulent times.

As a result of this tech-led intervention, many fitness chains are now able to deliver wide varieties of bespoke virtual fitness programs to their patrons. Many gym owners are also opting for cloud-based gym management solutions with contactless technology to automate repetitive administrative tasks and create a safer workout experience for their members. Essentially, technology is helping them optimise resource utilisation, ensure adequate social distancing, elevate the fitness experience of their customers, and achieve more efficient operations.

The message is clear: the fitness industry is evolving in pace with the disruption, banking on new developments to navigate the choppy waters at present. Here’s looking at some of the current and emerging fitness trends that will shape the industry for years to come

Online fitness programs and gym-based workouts to complement, not compete

Pandemic-induced lockdowns have changed how people exercise. As work from home and remote working pushed people to find ways to stay active, fit, and healthy, they realized how feasible, convenient, and easy it is to include online fitness classes in their daily schedules. These online fitness solutions gave users the flexibility to work out according to their convenience while significantly improving the choices available to them.

This convenience is something that most fitness enthusiasts are unwilling to let go of, even as they go back to physical gyms and studios. According to a recent study by Gympik, 60 per cent of fitness consumers were open to continue spending on digital fitness even after the gyms reopen while 52% were willing to pay more to avail hybrid memberships at their gyms. At the end of the day, the customers’ preference varied depending on how devoted they are to their fitness regime, as well as their specific fitness needs and sensibilities.

As the world moves towards pre-pandemic normalcy over time, people will want the option to choose between centre-based and online fitness as per their demand. This shift in consumer behaviour will result in online fitness programs complementing physical centre operations for gym owners in 2021. Doing so will provide their customers with more choice and flexibility while enabling them to amplify their reach. Fitness business owners – currently struggling with revenue shortfalls and high operational costs – will also benefit from a more viable, sustainable, and future-ready business model.

Holistic fitness plans to become a staple, as ‘mind-body-soul’ becomes more popular

The pandemic has adversely affected the mental health of all; 64 per cent of the respondents to a recent survey felt that the COVID-19 situation has worsened their mental health. To counter this, the adoption of wellbeing-oriented digital apps focusing on mindfulness and meditation also boomed in 2020. The same survey revealed that 42 per cent of the respondents reported using them at least once every two days. Aligned with this trend, gyms are warming up to the idea of providing holistic fitness plans to customers that target one’s overall wellbeing focused on mental and emotional health alongside physical fitness and nutrition. Brands that focus on such a holistic view of healthy living will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.

This focus on holistic wellbeing in 2021 will also drive a significant growth in workout routines designed with a ‘mind-body-soul’ approach to fitness. These exercises will not only serve to make the body fitter but also provide the mental relaxation and soulful recalibration required for more comprehensive wellness. As more and more people look to break through the inertia, mental baggage, and emotional damage of spending almost an entire year in the lockdown, these exercises will find more favour with the new-age fitness consumer.

The use of wearable devices and connected technology will spike

As fitness-enthusiasts become more attuned to their fitness needs, they are embracing wearable technology and connected devices to track their workout metrics in real-time. Fitness centres are, in turn, harnessing the data generated by these devices to glean valuable insights and using them to enhance their patron’s fitness journey through real-time feedback, updates, sharing offers, etc.

As a result of this data-driven shift to fitness, the demand for fitness wearables grew by 60 million units in 2020 according to a recent IDC report, a trend that is expected to continue well into 2021. We can expect gyms to tap into advanced technologies to deliver consistent, elevated, and personalised experience to members, thereby driving brand loyalty and enhanced member experience.

Touchless technology to gain momentum, as high hygiene standards become the norm

The novel coronavirus outbreak has people hesitant about sharing public spaces such as gyms; a recent survey by Gympik highlighted how only 8 per cent of fitness consumers felt it was safe enough to get back to physical fitness centres at present. In 2021, this shift in behaviour will drive the fitness industry to win back consumer trust by maintaining high hygiene standards in physical centres.

We can expect comprehensive facility sanitisation between workout sessions, as well as the emplacement of sanitisers at regular intervals, becoming the norm. Contactless and low-touch technologies will also be in demand to mitigate hygiene-related concerns by minimising the physical contact environment. Gym members and employees will be able to enter the gym or access their preferred sections without needing to punch into a biometric system, thus reducing the risk of accidental transmission. A seamless contactless payment infrastructure will also play an important role in making hybrid fitness businesses a success in 2021.

Growing awareness about lifestyle diseases and the rise in preventive healthcare amid the post-pandemic world will encourage more and more people to join the fitness wagon in the coming years. The expanding consumer base is expected to see an increased concentration of millennials and genZennials in it as the modern generations grow older and recognize the value of holistic fitness as the key to a healthy and happy life.

With the inoculation drive finally beginning in Britain, the pandemic will be relegated to history sooner than later. Once vaccinations become widely available, people will seek to engage in healthy social interaction as well as outdoor group fitness activities, driving the resurgence of pre-pandemic fitness trends. Considering these trends, the fitness industry, after tiding through a turbulent 2020, can look forward to 2021 with prospects of growth and rejuvenation.