Thank you for following the first three parts of this blog series.
Part four looks at the opportunities that are available as the industry recovers from the Coronavirus pandemic, and how we manage to put rapid, digital development into practice in our mainly analogue environment, with ideas and approaches to solutions also provided.
The fitness industry has been hit hard by measures put in place as a result of COVID-19. But this is nothing new. Many operators have created outdoor training areas and online offerings, and they have shown a lot of creativity in developing solutions. In many cases, however, all that was created was something "new but old".
Operators have moved their equipment from indoors to outdoors, and let classes take place outside. Trainers are streaming their classes; PTs are sending out online training plans and equipment manufacturers are designing and building weatherproof equipment.
But is that enough? Aren't there many more opportunities in the current situation, instead of just recreating the tried and tested in a different setting?
This article aims to shed light on the opportunities in the sector and to map the development so far in what is now an even broader field of offerings. We will look at…
- Digitality is not a trend
- Digitality is reality
- Starting signal and departure
- Challenge target groups
- The new political mindset
- The chance: newcomers
1. DIGITALITY IS NOT A TREND
Is it realistic to think that we can return to the tried and tested gym experience we’re all used to after the impact of the past 12+ months?
Providers' services have changed since the beginning of the pandemic. They are now mainly:
- more accurately represented.
However, despite all the digital solutions we have gained, we have also lost something.
Sport and fitness have become lonely
The pandemic meant that sport and fitness were no longer very experience-oriented, and ultimately for many, became less fun because there was no sense of ‘we’. Sport is not very innovative digitally, even with the new developments we’ve seen over the past year. The desire and motivation of each individual to develop skills or to top their previous peak performances have become less in this time. There are no experienced coaches on-hand to encourage success, and this has also meant that a lot of the training has become skill-poor. Individuals have had to rely on apps and online training plans to manage weight, prevent muscle loss and even for pain management.
The isolated nature of this has meant exercisers are no longer encouraged by their peers in group settings; they’re less likely to push themselves and reach or exceed their goals and hit new PBs.
Even the groups in which shared experiences were possible have been on hold, and this goes for the full spectrum of sport, from local and community clubs through to professional level.
But people still need this interaction, engagement and peer support, and the excitement and enjoyment that comes from exercising in a group will be even stronger as COVID restrictions are lifted.
2. DIGITALITY IS REALITY
Digital on-demand services are the new normal, both during and likely after COVID-19.
No one will question the expensive home trainer, the remote coaching with the PT, the expensive membership for the online indoor cycling club. During the pandemic, we’ve had no other option than to give ourselves fully to this form of exercising.
The biggest question now is: will this pattern of use continue when gyms (and alternative sporting activities) once again become part of our everyday lives? Or will the gyms remain empty after they reopen?
Certainly not. People follow people. People are looking for people. And this is the case now more than ever!
Digital fitness is now well established. However, other forms such as outdoor training or so-called individual sports (running, cycling, swimming) have always been and will remain so. Nevertheless, in Germany (the world’s second biggest market in terms of number of gym members), 11.66 million people were members of a gym in 2019 and, despite the pandemic, 10.31 million people were still members at the end of 2020. (Source: DSSV 2021).
3. STARTING SIGNAL AND DEPARTURE
So in the future, digital offers will complement the portfolio of the fitness industry and its users (equipment manufacturers, fitness studios, members) like a new family member. And that’s a good thing! Where we used to lose customers/members to software/app providers because we couldn't serve early adapters and tech lovers, in the future members will be able to get more comprehensive support from a single source.
This should also put a smile on the face of the operators. Before COVID-19, only a small number of clubs were able to meet the demands with digital programmes. The last 12 months were used by many studios to upgrade, try out, develop the trainers and the technology and create targeted offers.
Similarly, in the last 12 months, technical problems, app updates, and poor picture and sound quality in streaming were forgiven. On both sides of the streams, people were allowed to learn and try things out. Such a phase of digital gold rushes and new beginnings has probably only happened before in Silicone Valley.
However, in the new "post-Covid era", this is the new standard that every club must meet.
Here lies the biggest opportunity for the fitness industry in recent decades. Let's see the lockdown as:
- Starting signal and departure of the analogue fitness world into the digital future
- An opportunity to establish new concepts in the studios.
4. CHALLENGE TARGET GROUPS
Over the coming months, facilities need to focus on two key elements: the safe conduct of training sessions, as well as adherence to hygiene rules, in parallel with the development of new social groups within the studios.
Previously existing groups (e.g. pumpers, class participants, cardio lovers) may now find they have different attitudes - even within their groups - as a result of the pandemic. What may have been a homogenous group pre-COVID, may now be less so as people’s perspectives of the restrictions and anti-COVID measures may differ.
It must be clear to every studio operator that nothing is like it was before and may not be like it again. The re-launch of the training area, the classes and the offers in general must be preceded by a redefinition.
Questions and statements from members such as: "Why, that was possible before!" or "Why is the workout class no longer available in its previous form? Wasn't it always there?" and "Why is the leg press now somewhere else?" will be common in the coming months.
Once it is recognised that a digital offering can support the portfolio, it is important to create an offer in the studio that facilitates the restructuring of the members into a group.
This is because the previous allocation by members according to their motivators and preferences such as data, facts and figures; innovation diversity; target achievement and group dynamics no longer count exclusively.
5. THE NEW MINDSET
We must now recognise another filter, as described above: the new mindset of our members. This manifests itself in how members see, act and behave in the gym, and can be grouped in three ways:
The ‘act like nothing’s happened’ member: The pandemic hasn’t changed the behaviours of this group. Adhering to rules, safety distances and training times is difficult for them. They can be dismissive of restrictions and may confront those who adhere to them, sometimes in a challenging way.
The ‘nervous’ member: Danger may be lurking around every corner for this member. Besides a mask, a face shield is the least protective measure for this "doubter type". Gloves and disinfectant are part of the basic equipment, and they’ll do all that they can to adhere to the social distancing rules. Those who don’t observe the rules are pointed out and reprimanded.
The ‘getting the balance right’ member: Coronavirus and its effects are taken seriously by the "reality guy", but not dramatised. Public protection is paramount, the rules are followed as best they can and as long as it is practicable. Registrations, training times and disinfection sequences are adhered to and the specifications for a quick opening are implemented without restrictions in training operations.
But they all have one thing in common. They want to train! And they will meet again. On the training floor, in the changing room and in the classes.
This is the biggest challenge for the studio owner. Everyone behaves differently during training, each member has a different level of understanding, and empathy and mutual consideration are vital elements of a successful reopening.
So, we realise that there are people who are motivated by different goals, and this has to be flexible in this current situation.
Since we can't have a 1:1 conversation with every single member, it helps if facilities can provide members with opportunities to choose where they want to reassign themselves according to current events (funnelling).
When forming new groups, it is therefore important to achieve a quick allocation according to objectives.
6. THE CHANCE NEWCOMERS
Health, as well as staying healthy, is on the priority list of members this year like never before. New prospective members will visit gyms and health studios to look for opportunities for a suitable training location. To catch the "newbies" here, they need a lot of support, help and guidance. There are some basics to consider here:
The redesigned concept/offer should:
- Have a low-threshold (to be experienced by every level of performance)
- Be epidemiologically justifiable (number, distance, intensity)
- Create a "we" feeling (enable courses with fixed participants for community building)
- Ensure health success (include progression in programming, conduct testing)
- Made fun (ensure ease of implementation)
In order to meet the requirements, the concept, whether already existing or planned as an innovation, should be adapted to the above-mentioned requirements.
One possibility to use a new concept in various ways and to make it available for the three types of use mentioned would be the Official Hammer Strength Box.
From an epidemiological point of view, the following groupings or forms of training can be mapped in the Official Hammer Strength Box:
1:1 Personal Training
1:3 Small Group Training (3 participants)
1:12 Group fitness (12 participants)
By being safety-relevant and offering a group dynamic at the same time, we introduce a new concept here, which makes it possible to bring together a new group of interested people.
In the future, together with the operators, we would like to give fitness a new responsibility. The future demands a redefinition to support society. We should use this time to give something back. Together, let's see the post-Covid era as an opportunity to kick-start and develop innovations and restructuring.
Author: Marc Rohde