The future of fitness: 7 ways COVID-19 will change the face of the global personal fitness industry

A 2009 UCL study found it takes an average of 66 days to do something in a new way before it becomes a habit. The coronavirus pandemic could last many months, which will instil new habits in over 2.4 billion people across the globe.

For the fitness industry, this will have profound implications. I predict many gym-goers will change their perceptions of training in their homes. Equally, people who have never exercised before will start for the first time. In this article, I will explore the seven main ways these habits will change the fitness industry forever.

1. More people will take up fitness

I’ve spent many years in the gym industry and throughout those years I noticed that the percentage of the population that attends gyms tends to stay fairly steady - around 7% of the UK population. Taking that wider into people who exercise for around 150 minutes a week, that increases to 14%.

Enter coronavirus. The only way for most of the population to get out of the house is to exercise (or to pretend they’re exercising, at least). Also, the government is telling people to exercise as it’s a great way to build your immune system to protect you from the virus.

Government-mandated exercise, combined with a huge increase in awareness of the benefits to our immune systems, more time than ever before to take up exercise, and an abundance of accessible online content = the ceiling being broken in terms of the number of people who exercise regularly. And as per my earlier point, these habits will become deep-rooted and, therefore, hard to shake afterwards.

2. There will be more white noise, and more injuries

The other result of self-isolation is the fact all the personal trainers and fitness influencers will be stuck inside and looking to keep their income going. The new fitness enthusiast will have an abundance of choice from these content creators, but much of this choice will be poor, and some potentially even dangerous to your health.

Someone new to home training could try something more advanced than their fitness level allows and cause themselves an injury. Initially, there will be a scramble for content, then the market will mature somewhat and new fitness enthusiasts will look to the more seasoned and qualified content curators to get a guaranteed high-quality experience.

3. Physical wellbeing will be forever connected to mental wellbeing

Self-isolation is mentally tough. One of the reasons we’re being encouraged to exercise is due to the mental health benefits as much as to strengthen our immune system. It’s not exactly earth-shattering news to hear of the connection between body and mind - we’ve known this for years. However, knowing something isn’t enough to affect change. You’ve got to actually get out and do it.

Many people who would have been anxious about self-isolation will have found they’re coping better than they expected. They will notice the endorphin hit they get immediately after exercise. That connection will be hard to forget.

4. Some gyms won’t survive

Make no mistake, a lot of gyms will go out of business as a result of coronavirus. Specifically gyms with multiple expensive leases in prime locations, who are likely over-leveraged. Some people will likely see the end of their favourite fitness brands.

Bally Total Fitness was one of the largest fitness chains in the US in 2007, but their model relied on huge numbers of expensive leases, around 325 in total. The publicly listed company was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2008 when the Great Recession took its toll. Even with government assistance, I still expect many gyms will fail over this difficult period.

5. Gyms will offer ‘blended’ memberships

The chains that own their own properties, and are nimble and quick to adapt, will survive. These gyms are contacting us at the moment to tap into our expansive content, with a view to offering their members ‘virtual’ memberships so they don’t lose their customers.

Many of their customers might have been reluctant to train at home before, but as a result of Covid-19, new habits will form and they’ll be far more likely to train both at the gym and at home to balance the convenience with the physical gym environment they enjoy so much.

6. Influencers will lead classes, personal trainers will become facilitators and coaches

I predict the education sector will experience a change in the coming months. As students are forced to learn from some of the greatest online educators, when they go back to the classrooms they will take a backwards step. It stands to reason - even the best teacher at your local school might not have the same skills, experience or charisma as a global influencer.

The same thing will happen in fitness. The best personal trainer in a gym can’t hope to compete with the world’s best trainers. As we transition from being digitally-enabled consumers to digital-first consumers, our expectations on our face-to-face training will change. We will expect them to be curators of content, coaches and nutritionists, but choosing the best online content to fit with the specific needs of the client.

7. Companies will take more responsibility for their employees’ physical and mental wellbeing

Before coronavirus, there was already a trend towards companies setting up wellbeing departments to look after their employees. Just as the lines between work and home environments were blurring, so too where the lines between corporate responsibility and personal responsibility over wellbeing. However, it was slow-moving, and only a few companies were doing it.

With the onset of coronavirus, HR departments are going into overdrive, suddenly acutely aware of the link between employee wellbeing and their ability to do a good job. Again, these habits will become fixed, with both employees expecting more of their employers and companies doing more to retain their talent and boost the productivity of their staff.

These are just some of my predictions for how the world will change post-coronavirus. But who knows how long it will last and just how fundamentally society will shift when the pandemic dies down? It’s both an exciting and terrifying time to be alive.

Ultimately, however, humans always adapt to new conditions and the market always adapts to new human behaviour. My hope is that we will emerge from this crisis more compassionate, with better habits…and much fitter than we were before!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Weir has over 20 years of international marketing experience in the health and wellness industry. His career in this sector includes the major role he played in the creation of health clubs, which were sold in 2015. In two years his latest venture, TV.Fit, has grown to a community of 10m followers, earning partnerships with the likes of ITV, Move GB, and leading US gym chain Tru Fusion in the process. Pioneering fitness for the body, fitness for the mind, the subscription service consists of 150 guided workouts for every goal and ability, available to stream from any device, wherever and whenever it suits.