The Good Soul IHRSA Series - Part 3: Digital is here to stay and its bringing backup

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

We humans do like to have our cake and eat it too. This is the theme for our third article, whereby today’s fitness evangelists welcome their new fitness fix as a combo of “bricks and digital”.


In the first two articles, we’ve covered:

• What fitness looks like ATM, 18 months into the pandemic (To read Part 1, click HERE)

• How clubs are still people’s favorite place to exercise (To read Part 2, click HERE)


These articles mark our roll into IHRSA in Dallas (13-15 October), and IHRSA Smart Summit in Munich (17-19 November), where we look forward to fist bumping you IRL. We’re hosting short, sharp mobile meetings to share the epic shifts in talent acquisition and look forward to raising a glass with you at the bar.


So, let’s sharpen our focus on digital.


Putting the F in Friend


Let’s be bold and set the stage:


1. Future fitness consumers will want to consume fitness in the way they consume all things - on their terms. Whatever they want, wherever they are with whom they choose be it in the club, at home or on the go.


2. Operators who understand this new need – and customize their wellbeing offer to meet it – will prosper. Whether this is going it alone or partnering with digital brands and platforms to build out the ecosphere.


Let’s face it: as clubs were closed during lockdowns, the digital world did us a favor.


The explosion of at-home and digital fitness services during the pandemic kept the metabolic and motivational fires burning when the clubs were shut. And, when the in-person experience was no longer an option, it forced digital adoption and showcased the many advantages of exercising on demand - like convenience and variety of exercise genres, instructor, duration and intensity.


Additional engagement tools like leaderboards, integration of wearables, meditation and mindfulness apps and remote coaching have all helped round out a more holistic wellness practice.


Now we find ourselves having established another delivery arm for fitness, reaching a broader audience that we previously failed to attract, ushered in a bunch of investment from the deep pockets of adjacent tech industries, and upskilled instructors and coaches to be more tech savvy.


Additionally, in some cases, stronger communities have been built online. Cue: Peloton, Zwift, Strava and the newly launched BOD Interactive with Beachbody.


We need to embrace digital and create phygital environments, by using the digital world to enhance the physical. The winning formula for the future of fitness is to ensure a symbiotic relationship, in which the divide between the two worlds is bridged and seamless - “connected fitness 2.0”.


It has also been a call to action to up our live game. When our eager members flock back, and they are as markets open up again, it’s up to us to make it worth the trip. Just like a live rock concert - we need more highs, more social vibe, more fun and more special improvised moments that happen on that day. In short - we need to be more human.


Any operator who continues to spell doom with digital is missing the point. Rather than war, see digital as an ally. An additional way to stay connected to your member, an insurance policy if one method is taken away again, the ability to enhance each experience based on context, a friend with benefits if you like.


Tap into an engaged crowd


As Tony Holbrook, a Fortune 100 VP, Silicon Valley Executive and CEO and co-founder of BestBox Fitness puts it (writing in Forbes): “Consumers want their workouts in gyms and at home, on their phones and their tablets, and on demand — whenever, wherever. Fitness has gone digital, and there's no going back. You've got behemoths like Apple competing with established brands like Peloton as well as scrappy new startups and local mom-and-pop gyms down the street. The whole market has shifted massively, and the power lies in the hands of the consumer.”


This view is also laid out in The Next Fitness Consumer report, published last month and compiled by ClubIntel, the IHRSA Foundation and ABC Fitness Solutions. Conducted in June 2021, the study examines the exercise motivations and preferences of US fitness consumers post-lockdown and beyond.


Among the key findings is that, currently, the use of at-home workout options in the US still exceed those of health clubs and studios. When compared with pre-COVID levels, the use of at-home fitness equipment is (in June 2021) up by 13 percent. The number of consumers using free online services is up by 15 percent. Meanwhile, in-person gym usage is down by 8 percent.


Another figure in the study worth noting is that 49 percent of physically active consumers in the US have purchased at-home equipment during the pandemic.


“Convincing the at-home user to return to and/or use brick-and-mortar gyms will require clear messaging on the benefits and value proposition of what gyms have to offer,” the report states.


Omnichannel – all roads lead to fitness


It’s clear, as consumers begin to return, that operators who are prepared to employ an all-encompassing, omnichannel approach can benefit from the staying power of the digital revolution. Future fitness consumers will demand a connected fitness service that allows them to train wherever they are.


Club operators who can successfully connect in-gym workouts to exercise sessions which take place outside of the four walls of their facility will be the winners of the brave new fitness world.


Writing in Club Industry, Freemotion from iFIT’s Jeff Esswein puts it eloquently: “Omnichannel means shifting from a purely brick-and-mortar offer to a model in which operators provide an entire ecosystem of fitness options in order to meet the increasingly diverse needs and expectations of exercisers. Any genuine omnichannel approach needs to cater for consumers who see the gym floor and/or group classes as one of many channels delivering their overall fitness experience.”


Stay tuned for the next Part of this series, in which we deep-dive further into the findings of The Next Fitness Consumer report and explore the factors that will drive consumers’ motivations to stay physically active (including a look at the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic behaviors).






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