TOLEDO, Ohio — Going to the gym was always a part of Kari Hamara’s routine, until a government-ordered shutdown last year forced her to replace workouts with daily rides on her Peloton stationary bike.
That’s when he found something surprising – he didn’t leave the gym. At least driving back and forth, filling water bottles, changing clothes and above all, taking time off from my husband and two boys.
Now that her gym in Springfield, Missouri is open again, she’s slowly making a comeback. But finding a more convenient exercise program at home and seeing the rise of COVID-19 cases in her hometown this summer, the question on her mind is how much she needs a gym. She explains that if there had never been a coronavirus outbreak “I would still be a gym rat.”
The pandemic has reshaped how Americans exercise and upended the fitness industry, accelerating the development of a new era of high-tech home workout equipment and virtual classes.
Thousands of small fitness centers and studios that were forced to close a year ago are now gone for good. Others are struggling to move on and have redesigned their spaces, turning to more personalized workouts and adding online training.
The question is whether they can survive the onslaught of apps and expensive bikes and treadmills or will they go the way of arcades, video rental stores and bookstores.
Interactive fitness equipment maker Peloton is betting that the workout from home trend is here to stay. It is breaking ground Monday at its first US factory just outside Toledo, Ohio, where it plans to begin production in 2023 and employ 2,000 workers.
Demand has soared during the pandemic that some Peloton customers have had to wait months for their bikes. While the company said the backlog has dwindled, it reported that sales continued to grow, up 141% in the first three months of this year.
John Foley, the company’s founder and CEO, believes it’s inevitable that technology-driven home fitness will become dominant in much the same way as how streaming services have changed movie watching, the idea of going to the gym. It has been called “a broken model of the old year”.
Its next steps include bringing more of its equipment to gyms at hotels, apartment complexes and college campuses, and launching new workouts through its app. Late last year, it acquired Precor, a company with manufacturing and product development sites in the US.
“Fitness is one of the few remaining categories that’s going to be largely disrupted by the digital experience,” Foley told the Associated Press.
During the early months of the pandemic, most small and independent gyms and studios turned to Zoom and other video platforms for yoga and Pilates classes and training sessions because it was the only way they could connect with their members.
“There’s a hope for that now,” said Michael Stack, CEO of Applied Fitness Solutions, which has three fitness centers in Southeast Michigan.
Small gyms can’t match the production quality and visual appeal of high-tech companies, he said, but they can compete with online offerings that feature the personalized attention and closer relationships between their members and employees.
“I think that’s the way we are even on the playing field,” Stack said.
Not all gym operators are convinced that virtual training will play a significant role in what they have to offer.
“We just don’t have the budget to do it at the same price and the same quality,” said Jeff Sanders, CEO of Apex Athletic Health Club in Penfield, New York. “Digital is great, but we’ve seen surveys that show people want to be active, but miss out on conversations and being around others.”
His company plans to open a third, smaller location near Orlando, Florida, that offers a more intimate experience. He said that these types of boutique studios could be the wave of the future.
The pandemic has changed how the fitness industry evaluates itself and right now “everybody is making decisions just to survive,” Sanders said.
Roughly 9,000 health clubs – 22% of the total nationwide – have closed since the start of the virus outbreak and 1.5 million workers have lost their jobs, according to the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association.
The industry group is lobbying Congress to approve a $30 billion relief fund for the fitness industry as many clubs struggle to recover from months of lost revenue and a drop in membership and still want to pay back. Huh.
Helen Durkin, the association’s executive vice president of public policy, said although more closures are likely this year and without government help there could be thousands, the home-workout trend will not be doom for fitness centers.
That said, a lot of exercise fanatics, will still do both — 40% of Peloton users have a gym membership, according to the company.
There’s no doubt that digital fitness is here to stay, said Michelle Seger, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy.
“People are integrating their lives with technology. That’s where society is, and it’s going to get more integrated,” she said.
One of the biggest positives with virtual training sessions is that they offer more flexibility when it comes to sticking to a workout routine and can attract more people to fitness, including those who follow a rigorous schedule. can not do.
“That’s why people don’t stick with it,” she said.
Cindy Cichinelli, who has become a devoted Peloton user after visiting her gym in Pittsburgh for years, said the facility has sold her.
“I can roll out of bed and not worry about going to the gym,” she said. “And I don’t need to add an extra half hour to my commute.”
Fitness industry leaders say research has shown that health clubs do not have a higher risk of spreading the virus than other public places. But San Francisco gym owner Dave Karrakar thinks it will take a long time for many people to move to a large, tightly packed fitness center.
“They’re going to think about ventilation and air purifiers and how long ago this equipment was cleaned,” he said.
They reconfigured MX3 Fitness’ two smaller studios and created individual workout spaces. It has become so popular that it is looking for third place.
They are not surprised that people are coming back, even though safety remains a concern.
“They no longer want to live this solitary existence,” he said. “There are all kinds of motivations. Let’s face the facts, gyms are great ways to meet new people, especially if you’re single.”