Will gyms follow the path of arcades and movie rental shops?

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) – Going to the gym has always been part of Kari Hamra’s routine until last year’s government-ordered closures forced him to replace workouts with daily walks on his Peloton stationary bike.

It was then that she discovered something surprising: she did not miss the gym. At least not going back and forth, filling water bottles, changing clothes and above all, getting away from her husband and her two boys.

Now that her gym in Springfield, Missouri is open again, she is slowly coming back. But finding a more convenient exercise schedule at home and seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in her hometown this summer has left her wondering how much she needs the gym. She thinks that if there had never been a coronavirus epidemic, “I would still be a gym rat.”

The pandemic has reshaped the way Americans exercise and revolutionized the fitness industry, accelerating the growth of a new era of high-tech home workout equipment and virtual classrooms.

Thousands of small fitness centers and studios that were forced to close a year ago now are gone for good. Others are struggling to stay afloat and have redesigned their spaces, turned to more personal workouts, and added online training.

The question is whether they will survive the onslaught of apps and expensive bikes and treadmills or will they follow the path of arcades, video rental stores and bookstores.

Interactive fitness equipment maker Peloton is betting the home training trend is here to stay. It opens its first US plant on Monday just outside Toledo, Ohio, where it plans to begin production in 2023 and employ 2,000 workers.

Demand increased so much during the pandemic that some Peloton customers had to wait months for their bikes. While the company said the order backlog had shrunk, it said sales continued to soar, rising 141% in the first three months of this year.

Company founder and CEO John Foley believes it’s inevitable that tech-driven home fitness will become mainstream, just as streaming services have changed movie viewing, calling the idea to go. at a “broken model of yesteryear” gym.

Its next steps are to bring more of its equipment to gyms in hotels, apartment complexes and college campuses and launch new workouts through its app. At the end of last year he acquired Precor, a company with manufacturing and product development sites in the United States

“Fitness is one of the few remaining categories that is going to be massively disrupted by a digital experience,” Foley told The Associated Press.

In the first few months of the pandemic, most small independent gyms and studios turned to Zoom and other video platforms for yoga and Pilates classes and workouts because that was the only way for them to connect with their members.

“Now there’s a wait for it,” said Michael Stack, CEO of Applied Fitness Solutions, which owns three fitness centers in Southeast Michigan.

Smaller gyms can’t match the production quality and visual appeal of high-tech companies, but they can counter with online offerings that provide personal attention and closer relationships between their members and staff, did he declare.

“I think that’s how we level the playing field,” Stack said.

Not all gym operators are convinced that virtual training will play an important role in their offering.

“We don’t have the budget to do it at the same price and with the same quality,” said Jeff Sanders, CEO of Apex Athletic Health Club in Penfield, New York. “Digital is great, but we’ve seen polls that show people want to stay active, but lack the interaction and closeness to others. “

His company plans to open a third, smaller location near Orlando, Florida that offers a more intimate experience. This type of studio-boutique could be the wave of the future, he said.

The pandemic has changed the way the fitness industry views itself and right now “everyone is making decisions just to survive,” Sanders said.

About 9,000 health clubs – 22% of the national total – have closed since the start of the virus outbreak and 1.5 million workers have lost their jobs, according to the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

The industry group is pressuring Congress to approve a $ 30 billion relief fund for the fitness industry as many clubs struggle to recover from months of lost revenue and downturns. staff and still have to reimburse the rent.

While more closures are likely this year and could number in the thousands without government help, the emergence of the home training trend will not be doomed to fail for fitness centers, a said Helen Durkin, executive vice president of public policy for the association.

Many exercise fanatics, she said, will always do both – 40% of Peloton users have a gym membership, according to the company.

There is no doubt that digital fitness is here to stay, said Michelle Segar, director of sports, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan.

“People integrate their lives with technology. That’s where the company is, and it’s just going to fit in more, ”she said.

The biggest benefit of virtual workouts is that they provide more flexibility when it comes to sticking with workout routines and can draw more people into fitness, including those who can’t keep up. a rigid schedule.

“That’s why people don’t stick with it,” she said.

Cindy Cicchinelli, who became a dedicated Peloton user after attending her gym in Pittsburgh for years, said convenience was what sold her.

“I can get out of bed and not worry about running to the gym,” she said. “And I don’t need to add an extra half hour for my commute to work.”

Fitness industry leaders say research has shown health clubs are no more at risk of spreading the virus than other public spaces. But San Francisco gym owner Dave Karraker believes it will be a long time before many people are comfortable stepping into a large, busy fitness center.

“They’re going to think about ventilation and air purifiers and how long has this equipment been disinfected,” he said.

He reconfigured the two small studios of MX3 Fitness and created personal training spaces. It has become so popular that he is looking for a third location.

He is not surprised that people are returning even though safety remains a concern.

“They don’t want to live this lonely existence anymore,” he said. “There are all kinds of motivations. Let’s face it, gyms are a great way to meet new people, especially if you’re single.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.


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