To say the pandemic has “transformed the fitness industry” is an understatement. We know: thanks to COVID-19, everyone was forced to transact online and as a result there are now as many fitness apps as fish in the sea. We know the revolution has taken up residency for good and the mosaic of our lives is now omnichannel. We are fast moving to a world where we can get whatever we want, wherever we are.
And yet, it was just over 18 months ago when clubs were forced to close their doors and the digital flywheel was set in motion turning Peloton into a household name and ushering in the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon as digital fitness players.
Looking back, it’s astonishing how quickly the digital adoption happened – on both: the consumer and operator sides. Working out to a screen is no longer weird, and you’d be hard pressed to find a club operator without some form of digital platform.
But while most of 2020 and the early 2021 were dominated by a push to make on-demand (and some, live) content available to consumers, the market is – as we speak in in Q3 2021 – already developing. It is moving onto the next stage.
Digital is now going interactive.
Until now, having a library of on-demand workouts with the option to watch (and join) a live class in progress has been all consumers have really expected. These “broadcast-only” options were welcomed and inhaled by the gym-rats denied their beloved access to gyms and studio classes during lockdowns.
But now that gyms are open again, people have flocked back to bathe in the camaraderie, the banter, the guidance and the vibe of being together again. The high fives are a little higher and the squats are a little lower. Such is human interaction.
So far, most digital fitness apps and platforms – whether B2B or B2C – are mostly one-way traffic. The broadcaster broadcasts and the consumer consumes. Sure, there can be some general-level engagement – the Peloton “shoutouts” being the classic example – but these are nothing to do with coaching, or form, or advice.
Therefore, the next step, as the market gets even more contested and saturated, is a move from the broadcast-only platforms to two-way coaching models. The call and respond. The circle of energy. Action, reaction.
We’re already seeing this happen. Take myFitApp, which has launched a new chat function to its streamed fitness content, making it easier to create workout communities online. It allows users to chat live with instructors, enabling them to ask questions. In return, instructors have the opportunity to offer feedback during and after the workout. Users can also chat to other participants, a feature designed to increase member motivation by creating an experience as close to an in-studio class as possible.
Meanwhile, Mirror has launched a one-on-one personal training feature, with two-way audio and video, allowing coaches to lead users through sessions while giving feedback. Users can also choose trainers based on workout activity preferences (be it yoga, strength training, barre, etc.) as well as session length, trainer motivational style, and schedule. While sessions are priced at US$40 each, they are not cheap compared with typical digital options – but still a fraction of the cost of a session with a live PT.
Then there’s Motosumo and its dynamic, interactive platform offering live, instructor-led classes which can be joined by anyone on a stationary bike. The platform taps into the motion sensors inside smartphones to measure and report a range of performance metrics, fully independent of any branded equipment. Real-time interaction with instructors and teammates makes the Motosumo experience feel like an in-person class – with the added fun of live leaderboards and interactive features like emojis and 3D races.
Interactivity is also entering the well-tech space. YogiFi is being marketed as the world's first smart yoga mat, capable of delivering personalized yoga sessions with an immersive virtual studio experience at home. The mat uses AI to automatically recommend personalized wellness programs based on the user's history, current limitations and future goals. Programs are delivered via an app or wrist wearable. YogiFi also provides real-time feedback and automatically correlates vital signs and breathing patterns through the wrist wearable.
And there are already digital fitness brands which are building their entire eco-system around interactivity. One of these is German fit tech firm Vaha – which features tennis legend Steffi Graf as an investor and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as partner. The Vaha interactive fitness mirror is designed to act as a virtual personal trainer, using a "hologram" to guide exercisers through workouts. Users can also book personal training sessions, with trainers connecting live to the mirror and providing users with individual workouts. Vaha also offers community functionality, with participants able to see the names of their "fellow classmates," live on the screen, replicating the experience of a real group training session.
Another one is Bande, which offers intimate livestream classes in a wide variety of formats, optimized for in-home participation. The platform uses cutting-edge tech to encourage meaningful connections between members, their peers and instructors. With tight-knit classes and unique social features like group chats, private voice messaging and a "friending" function that offers visibility to others' workout schedules, members and instructors have the ability to interact with each other before, during and after class.
So, we think that interactivity will be the next big shift in the digital fitness space. It will result in consumers increasingly moving away from a “one-way”, broadcast model in search of services which offer one-to-one, personalized and immersive experiences which include coaching and advice. Data and tracking tech will also likely play a big part in this, as people look to analyse their performances and progress.
From an operator and service provider point of view, we think that early adopters of the interactive and one-to-one digital services will have the jump on late arrivals. Having interactive elements in tech solutions, apps and fitness platforms will also differentiate brands in a marketplace which is becoming increasingly saturated.